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Lawmakers report little progress made in intelligence overhaul

WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators conceded Friday that despite two weeks of closed-door bargaining they have made little progress in bridging major differences over an overhaul of the nation’s spy agencies.

But the four principal House and Senate negotiators insisted their stalemate has not doomed the possibility Congress could still implement the Sept. 11 commission’s recommendations this year.

Though they initially hoped to have a bill on President Bush’s desk before Election Day, they now are setting their sights on finalizing a package for Congress to consider when it returns in mid-November.

“We believe that it is possible – it is difficult, but it is possible – that a bill can be completed,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich.

He acknowledged an impasse remains on the most vexing issue: how much budget and personnel authority to grant a new intelligence director.

House Republicans, deferential to the Pentagon’s view, insist the Defense Department must retain significant control over its piece of the intelligence puzzle – which accounts for 80 percent of U.S. intelligence spending. Any muddling of the military intelligence mission could harm troops in the battlefield, the Pentagon and its defenders say.

But the Sept. 11 commission and Senate negotiators, Republican and Democrat, insist the only way to remedy the miscommunication and missed handoffs evident after the Sept. 11 attacks is to give an intelligence czar a strong voice in how intelligence assets, military and civilian, are deployed.

Hoekstra described the gulf between the House and Senate as “a rather significant gap.”