Group of 9/11 Relatives

Faults House GOP

Relatives of terrorism victims accused House Republicans yesterday of blocking progress on legislation to restructure the nation's intelligence community. Congressional negotiators reported little progress after hours of closed meetings to discuss major differences in the extensive House and Senate bills.

"With only 12 days remaining until the election, we are extremely concerned about the slow pace of action, the lack of a public process, and the direction this conference is taking," the 9/11 Family Steering Committee said in a letter to lawmakers.

The committee is the best-known group representing victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The letter said most senators and House Democrats "are focused on the core recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission," but "a minority faction comprised of House Republicans is thwarting the process."

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said through a spokesman that the conference committee's chairman, Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), "has been working in a bipartisan fashion" on the bill and "negotiating day and night to find common ground and to get a good law that will make the country safer."

Labor Department Cites

Protected Benefits

The Labor Department announced that it recovered or protected $2.85 billion in workers' retirement and health benefits from illegal transactions or fraud in the past year, more than doubling its results from 2003.

Settlements reached this year with Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc., which were involved in corporate scandals costing workers millions of dollars in retirement plans, are not included in the figures released by the department's Employee Benefits Security Administration.

Administration Mum

On Castro's Health

The Bush administration chose to urge change in Fidel Castro's Cuba rather than speculate on the health of its 78-year-old leader.

Expressing uncertainty as to the seriousness of Castro's condition after a fall that left him with a fractured knee and arm, Pentagon spokesman Richard Boucher said, "I guess you'd have to check with the Cubans to find out what's broken about Mr. Castro."

Levin Assails Pentagon

On Prewar Intelligence

A top Senate Democrat is alleging that a Pentagon policy office ignored corrections requested by the CIA on information linking Iraq to al Qaeda, renewing complaints about the administration's handling of intelligence before the Iraq invasion.

Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, contended in a report that high-level Pentagon officials exaggerated the intelligence on the connection between Iraq and al Qaeda to support the Bush administration's goal of removing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The White House declined to comment on the report, which was completed by the committee's Democratic staff; it has denied that intelligence was misused or manipulated. Republican senators noted that the report was issued just before the Nov. 2 elections.

-- Compiled from reports

by staff writer Charles Babington

and news services