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Bin Laden Tape Refocuses Attention on Intelligence Reform

The first videotape to appear in more than one year showing Osama bin Laden threatening new attacks on the United States is already causing renewed concern on Capitol Hill. At the same time, the videotape has thrown more attention on the failure so far of congressional negotiators to finalize legislation to reorganize the U.S. intelligence community.

Among criticisms Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry continues to use against George W. Bush in the race for the White House is that the president's policies failed to find Osama bin Laden.

Now, a new videotape of the terrorist leader has refocused attention on the fact that the al-Qaida figure remains free and able to at least attempt to influence the U.S. election and threaten Americans.

In his first public reaction to the videotape on Friday, President Bush said Americans would not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of the United States.

"We are at war with these terrorists, and I am confident that we will prevail," said president Bush.

For his part, Senator Kerry said he would stop at nothing to hunt down terrorists, and continued to criticize President Bush on his handling of Iraq and the fight against terrorism.

But efforts to prevail depend on reforming the U.S. intelligence system, based on recommendations of the independent September 11 Commission. On that point, Congress has yet to send the president final legislation he can sign.

House and Senate negotiators have all but formally declared dead efforts to reconcile differences between House and Senate bills to create a new national director of intelligence, among the more than 40 major recommendations of the commission.

House Republicans were due to submit another proposal to the Senate on Friday, including some concessions on controversial provisions that have held up agreement.

But in a telephone news conference Friday, all acknowledged hope is gone for any compromise before November 2, saying a post-election session, known as a "lame duck" session of Congress will have deal with the issue.

Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman describes failure to reach a compromise as "a deep disappointment," but adds any failure to act after the election would be worse, and would leave Americans vulnerable to more terrorism:

"What the September 11th Commission has told us are the vulnerabilities that allowed the terrorists to strike on September 11, and will allow them to strike again unless we better organize our intelligence assets and community," he said.

Whether President Bush remains in the White House, or John Kerry wins on November 2, failure to act after the election would mean the issue might have to be tackled by the new 109th Congress next year.

Senator Susan Collins, the Republican who with Senator Lieberman crafted a bipartisan Senate bill, does not want that to happen.

"I am pessimistic that if we have to start all over again next year, that we would be successful," said Senator Collins.

Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra, says lawmakers will continue working to ensure that Congress can consider a final bill in November:

"The four of us are committed to doing everything we can, from Tuesday through when the lame duck [session of Congress] ends, to try to make this bill a reality," he said.

Congress' failure to get a final deal on intelligence reform was not raised in debates between President Bush and Senator Kerry, being largely eclipsed in the presidential campaign by events in Iraq and other issues.

As for the Bin Laden videotape, as of late Friday neither Republican nor Democratic congressional leaders had issued written public statements through their offices. But against the backdrop of inaction on intelligence reform, it's certain to be causing discomfort on Capitol Hill.