By a 96-2 vote on Wednesday, the senate passed a bill approving the creation of the post of a new powerful national intelligence director.

The bipartisan senate bill was backed by members of the commission which examined US intelligence before the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and found a failure of agencies to share information that might have prevented them.

The bill creates a new position of national intelligence director with strong budget and personnel authority as recommended by the commission.

It also creates a new counter-terrorism centre that would coordinate intelligence capabilities in that area and plan operations. 

Criticism

But some say lawmakers should take more time to work through the ramifications of the most sweeping change in US intelligence in more than 50 years.

The CIA, under ex-chief George
Tenet, failed to prevent 9/11  

"We are too focused on the failings of 9/11," said Senator Robert Byrd.

"The senate has not focused enough attention on the intelligence failures leading to the war in Iraq. We have not focused enough attention on the nuclear threat posed by Iran and North Korea. We have not focused enough attention on China."

But the bill's chief sponsor, senate governmental affairs committee chairman Susan Collins, disagreed that lawmakers were moving too fast and said that the passage of the reforms would ensure the victims of the September 11 did not die in vain.

"The timetable was tight," she argued. "But the stakes were so high and the times so dangerous that we simply could not delay this urgent task."

A competing legislation before the US House of Representatives also envisages the creation of a new national intelligence director post but suggests much of the budget be kept in the hands of the Pentagon.

The senate and congress would have to work out differences before sending the bill to President George Bush.