updated 10/6/2004 6:21:41 PM ET 2004-10-06T22:21:41

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a massive reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community Wednesday to address the Sept. 11 commission’s complaints that the nation’s spy agencies did not work together properly to deter terrorist attacks.

The bill, approved on a 96-2 vote, would create a national counterterrorism center and a position of national intelligence director, who would coordinate most of the nation’s nonmilitary intelligence agencies.

The House is expected to take up its version of the legislation this week. But differences between the Senate version of the bill and the House version, which includes additional anti-terrorism and illegal immigration powers, could preclude getting the recommended changes to President Bush before the presidential election in November.

The Senate bill, pushed by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., would create a national counterterrorism center and also a position of national intelligence director, who would coordinate most of the nation’s non-military intelligence agencies.

The independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks contended that the 15 military and civilian intelligence agencies’ failure to cooperate precluded an effective defense that might have prevented the strikes on New York and Washington. The panel recommended creating a position of national intelligence director to control and coordinate all the agencies.

Some senators warn against rush
Several of the Senate’s senior members — many of whom would lose some power over the intelligence community — opposed the bill, warning that the legislative process was moving too fast.

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the Democrats’ senior senator, argued that his colleagues moved too quickly on the resolution authorizing the war in Iraq and the creation of the Homeland Security Department.

“Like a whipped dog fearing its master, the Senate obediently complied with the demands of the White House,” Byrd said. “Hindsight reveals the mistakes the Senate made two years earlier.”

The Homeland Security Department is stymied by “bureaucratic infighting, unresolved turf wars and insufficient funding,” Byrd said, while the White House’s arguments of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have “disintegrated into a mess of lies and hot air.”

Byrd and Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., were the only senators to vote no. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts and his running mate, John Edwards of North Carolina, did not vote.

Big differences with House
The Senate bill must be reconciled with House legislation before it can go the White House for Bush’s signature, and the two bills are very different.

The House also plans this week to approve legislation to create an intelligence director position and a national counterterrorism center. But the Republican Party also would add provisions on anti-terrorism, identity theft, illegal immigration and border security, measures that Democrats and some Republicans think should not be included.

House Republican leaders already are preparing to fight for their provisions.

“It’s real simple. The House bill — every single word of it — will make the American people safer,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

But opponents of the Republican bill say the provisions were included to force Democrats into a difficult election-year vote that could have political consequences.

“The 9/11 commission urged Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to implement all of its recommendations,” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said. “In contrast, House Republicans have turned this into a political exercise.”

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