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Congress making progress on intel overhaul

Congressional leaders in both houses on Wednesday indicated they were making progress on plans to reorganize the  nation’s fractured intelligence community.
/ Source: The Associated Press

House leaders on Wednesday promised to overhaul the nation’s fractured intelligence community before going home to campaign for re-election, while Senate leaders unveiled an intelligence reorganization plan they intend to have approved before the end of the month.

Senators plan to start voting on final language next week that would create a national intelligence director with spending authority over much of the nonmilitary intelligence agencies, with a target date of Sept. 27 for final Senate passage.

The House is not that far along on its plan to create an intelligence director to force intelligence agencies to work together as envisioned by the Sept. 11 commission.

But “we will vote on a final bill before Congress adjourns in October,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. “We’re going to make sure we do the job right, and we will do it before Congress adjourns.”

The Sept. 11 commission recommended creation of a national intelligence director to control almost all of the nation’s intelligence agencies because it said the 15 U.S. intelligence agencies did not work together properly to stop the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington.

Committee vote next week
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, plans to have her committee vote next week on final legislation to create the national intelligence director. She and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the panel’s ranking Democrat, announced a plan, similar to the recommendation of the 9/11 commission, to create a strong national intelligence director with spending power over the agencies the person would control.

Giving the intelligence director power to decide how much money each agency receives and how that agency can spend that money will force the intelligence agencies to follow the director, they said.

“Without budget authority, we would just be creating another level of bureaucracy,” Collins said.

However, Collins and Lieberman spurned the 9/11 commission’s recommendation that all of the nation’s intelligence agencies be under control of the national intelligence director, leaving the Pentagon in control of some of the military intelligence agencies.

The intelligence director would control the budgets of the CIA, the National Security Agency, the FBI’s Office of Intelligence, the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence directorate, the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates spy satellites, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which analyzes satellite pictures, and any other agency that has a “national” scope.

Pentagon would still control military intelligence
The Defense Department would keep control of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which collects intelligence for military planning and operations, and other intelligence agencies solely used by the Pentagon or the military.

“What we want to make sure is that what we would call ‘national’ intelligence assets, i.e. those used by more than one agency or department and the president, are under control, the budget for that is under control of the NID,” Collins said.

The Defense Department controls 80 percent of the money spent on intelligence, estimated at roughly $40 billion annually. Much of the information is used mainly by the military as it tracks foreign arsenals and weapons development.

Much of that money “would now switch to the national intelligence director,” Lieberman said.

Aides suggested that the Defense Department would only get about 20 percent of the intelligence budget under the Senate plan, while the national intelligence director would control the rest.

Senators also adopted a suggestion of President Bush’s to create a Cabinet-level joint intelligence council of officials such as the secretary of state, the secretary of energy, the secretary of defense and the secretary of the treasury to advise the intelligence director.

The committee plan does not deal with reorganizing Congress’ oversight responsibilities, another concern of the Sept. 11 committee. The Senate’s assistant leaders, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada, will come up with suggestions for the Senate to consider for consolidating its intelligence oversight.

“If we’re going to do some construction on the executive branch, we ought to do some construction on the legislative branch,” Reid said.