Congress revolts on US intelligence bill

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The drive towards sweeping reform of America's intelligence apparatus came to an abrupt halt at the weekend after conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill withdrew their support, delivering an embarrassing slap in the face to President George Bush, who had strongly advocated the changes.

The rebellion appeared to have killed a bill designed to implement the recommendations of the panel that investigated the 11 September 2001 attacks. Notably, it would have created an intelligence tsar, with cabinet status, to oversee the intelligence agencies.

As late as Friday, President Bush was urging Republican opponents of the billto support it. When it became clear that they would not, the House Speaker, Dennis Hastert, said that no vote would be taken.

The failure is critical because Congress, following the elections, has expired. Mr Hastert may call back members in December to try again. Otherwise, a new Congress will have to restart the process of negotiating reforms.

Prominent conservatives argued that the new intelligence director would have muddled the Pentagon's ability to control the intelligence flow to and from the battlefield, and that provisions to clamp down on illegal immigration had been dropped.

The 9/11 Family Steering Committee, which represents families of victims of the attacks, said that Republicans were "pursuing an agenda contrary to the express wishes of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney".

The Pentagon is suspected of working behind the scenes to see off the bill, which would have shifted powers away from it to the new director in the cabinet.