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RESPONSE TO TERROR | CAPITOL HILL

Senate OKs More Money for Spy Shops

Security: Measure is seen as part of a push for a major overhaul of the intelligence business.

November 09, 2001|GREG MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted unanimously Thursday for a bill that would boost funding for the nation's intelligence agencies and devote more of their resources to acquiring technology and spies for the war against terrorism.

The vote marked an early step in what many expect to become a major push by Congress to overhaul the nation's spy capabilities in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"The world is a very different place than the last time Congress passed an intelligence authorization bill," said Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee. "Our intelligence community has changed far less rapidly than the world around it."

The bill would increase funding for the nation's 13 spy agencies by about 7%, roughly equal to what President Bush had requested, according to congressional sources. Spending on intelligence agencies is classified, but it is believed to total about $30 billion a year.

A similar intelligence spending bill that cleared the House last month calls for a 9% increase in the budgets of spy agencies, sources said. The two measures must now be reconciled by a House-Senate conference, a task that members from both chambers said could likely be handled quickly.

The Senate bill was drafted before hijacked planes plunged into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon two months ago. But sponsors of the legislation said it addresses many of the changes that intelligence experts have called for since the attacks.

The bill would require the CIA to place greater emphasis on so-called human intelligence--the recruitment of spies and informants. Many consider such traditional cloak-and-dagger techniques crucial to cracking terrorist organizations that have proved adept at evading high-tech surveillance systems.

The bill also calls for bolstering the intelligence community's roster of analysts and translators--especially those who speak Middle Eastern languages and dialects--at a time when critics say the agencies' collection of information often outstrips their ability to make sense of the information.

Another key provision in the bill sets a five-year plan for a "revitalization" of the National Security Agency, which is responsible for collecting foreign communications and signals. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the NSA's capabilities have deteriorated since the end of the Cold War. The agency was for years focused on intercepting Soviet signals over the airwaves, Graham said, and is ill-equipped for the modern age of encrypted computer communications.

The bill cleared the Senate at a time when the intelligence community is facing growing scrutiny for failing to provide any warning of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft has been tapped by Bush to lead an exhaustive study of the country's spy shops, and many in Congress are eager to begin hearings of their own next year.

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