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Bush signs bill extending FBI powers

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has signed legislation making it easier for FBI agents investigating terrorism to demand financial records from casinos, car dealerships, and other businesses.

The changes were included in a bill authorizing 2004 intelligence programs. Most of the details of the bill are secret, including the total cost of the programs, which are estimated to be about $40 billion. That would be slightly more than Bush had requested.

Bush signed the bill Saturday, the White House announced.

The bill expands the number of businesses from which the FBI and other US authorities conducting intelligence work can demand financial records without seeking court approval.

Under current law, "national security letters" can be issued to traditional financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, to require them to turn over information. The bill expands the definition of financial institution to include other businesses that deal with large amounts of cash.

Supporters of the change say it will help authorities identify money laundering and other activities that fund terrorism. But some lawmakers and civil liberties advocates say the change does not provide enough safeguards to ensure that authorities will not violate the privacy of innocent people.

In other provisions, the bill:

* Requires the CIA director to prepare a report as soon as possible on what intelligence agencies have learned from their experiences in Iraq.

* Creates a Treasury Department office to work with intelligence agencies on fighting terrorist financing.

* Creates pilot programs to share raw data between agencies.

* Authorizes agencies to continue research on computerized terrorism surveillance suspended by the Pentagon.

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