- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

President Bush yesterday urged Congress to pass legislation overhauling the nation’s intelligence operations, saying the reform bill is necessary to “strengthen the safety of our citizens and defend our nation from harm.”

“To protect America, our country needs the best possible intelligence. The recommendations of the 9/11 commission chart a clear, sensible path toward needed reforms to our government’s intelligence capabilities,” the president said in his weekly radio address.

The intelligence bill remains stalled in Congress, with some House Republicans objecting because of concerns about provisions that could delay intelligence reaching troops in the field and the decision to drop provisions on immigration and law enforcement.

Several Republicans continue to insist the legislation include strict national standards to ensure illegal aliens don’t acquire driver’s licenses.

Yesterday’s comments are the first Mr. Bush has made publicly about the stalled bill in about a week.

“I will continue to work with the Congress to reach an agreement on this intelligence bill. I urge members of Congress to act next week so I can sign these needed reforms into law,” he said.

The House will return tomorrow to decide whether to vote on a House-Senate compromise to create a national intelligence director position to coordinate the nation’s spy agencies and enact other anti-terror measures.

“Congress made good progress toward a new strong bill,” Mr. Bush said. “Our intelligence efforts need a director of national intelligence who will oversee all of the foreign and domestic activities of the intelligence community.”

The president said he supports preserving the existing chain of command within the intelligence community, “yet the director of national intelligence will oversee all of America’s intelligence efforts to help ensure that our government can find and stop terrorists before they strike.”

In order to be effective, Mr. Bush said the position “must have full budget authority over our intelligence agencies.”

“The many elements of our intelligence community must function seamlessly, with an overriding mission: to protect America from attack by terrorists or outlaw regimes,” he said.

Even if the House can overcome its reservations, the bill faces problems in the Senate.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Friday he shared some of the concerns raised in the House, which could further complicate efforts to approve the bill.

Democrats have charged that the president — along with the Republican-controlled House — has failed to make an effort to pass the bill.

“It has not passed because the House Republican leadership is refusing to bring it up for a vote — and because, until now, the president has not been willing to use his political capital to make it happen,” said Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.

“Bush must make clear to House Republican leaders that there is no room for politics on this issue. He must end the deception and delays of his party and get this bill passed,” Mr. Menendez said.

Also yesterday, Mr. Bush met Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in the Oval Office and commended Pakistan for its cooperation in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, despite the inability of the allies’ troops to find the al Qaeda mastermind.

The meeting between Mr. Bush and Gen. Musharraf came just days after Pakistan’s army said it was pulling out of an area along the border with Afghanistan. Still, Mr. Bush praised Pakistan and Gen. Musharraf as critical to the search and the overall fight against terrorism.

“The president has been a determined leader to bring to justice not only people like Osama bin Laden, but to bring to justice those who would inflict harm and pain on his own people,” Mr. Bush said. “I am very pleased with his efforts.”

The allies emerged from their hourlong meeting highlighting the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as an obstacle to world peace.

“I assured President Musharraf that there is an opportunity at hand to work toward the development of a Palestinian state and peace in the Middle East,” Mr. Bush said. “I told him this will be a priority of my administration. The goal is two states living side by side.”

In addition, Mr. Bush played down a comment by outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who said in a speech Friday that he worries “every single night” about a possible terror attack on the food supply.

“Tommy was commenting on the fact that we’re a large … country, with all kinds of avenues where somebody can inflict harm,” Mr. Bush said. “There’s a lot of work to be done. We’ve made a lot of progress in protecting our country, and there’s more work to be done. And this administration is committed to doing it.”

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