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Senate Panel OKs 'Dramatic' Increase in Funds for Spy Agencies

The bill includes money for a suspected-terrorist 'watch list' and other post-Sept. 11 reforms.

May 02, 2003|Greg Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted unanimously Thursday to approve what members described as a "dramatic" increase in funding for the nation's spy community, along with a prescription for a number of Sept. 11-related reforms.

The panel included specific funding for the creation of a government-wide "watch list" for terrorist suspects, as well as money to improve information-sharing among government agencies, including the CIA and the FBI, that were faulted by a congressional panel last year for their performance leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.

The level of funding in the 2004 intelligence authorization bill, which defines spending priorities but does not specifically approve expenditures, was not disclosed. The budgets of the nation's 13 spy agencies are classified; the nation's total spending on the intelligence community in the current fiscal year is believed to be about $35 billion.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chairman of the committee, said the bill reflects the expanded demands on the intelligence community from the ongoing war on terrorism and the continuing military operations in Iraq.

"This nation has been and remains at war, and I believe that this bill reflects that reality," Roberts said in a written statement. "We are better than we were on Sept. 11, but we still have a long way to go."

Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the panel's vice chairman, said the bill "dramatically increases funding to improve collaboration and data-sharing, analysis and penetration of terrorist organizations."

The funding for the watch list mandates the creation of a single database for tracking terrorist suspects. One of the principal findings of a joint congressional inquiry last year was that the CIA had known that two of the Sept. 11 hijackers had entered the United States, but for months had not placed their names on watch lists that would have called them to the attention of the FBI or immigration authorities.

The bill, approved in a 19-0 vote, requires a report on lessons the intelligence community learned in the war in Iraq, where the nation's spy agencies appear to have had a mixed record. The CIA was credited with gathering intelligence from Iraqi informants that led to two airstrikes on compounds where Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and possibly his two sons, Uday and Qusai, were believed to be.

But intelligence officials acknowledge that they do not know whether either strike succeeded in killing Hussein or his sons, whose whereabouts remain unknown.

There is also growing pressure on the CIA and other agencies because U.S. forces have yet to find evidence of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq. The White House made the allegation that Hussein's regime possessed such weapons its primary justification for the invasion.

One novel component of the bill earmarks $8 million in funding for the creation of a program to encourage college students to pursue intelligence careers. Roberts said the program is designed to be the spy community's equivalent of the military's Reserve Officer Training Corps.

Other provisions would allow defense intelligence agencies to quickly hire linguists, weapons experts and other specialists on short notice; would call for the creation of pilot programs allowing analysts direct access to raw intelligence data collected by other agencies; and would require an assessment of the vulnerability of classified computer networks.

The bill must now be considered by the full Senate. A vote has not been scheduled. The House Intelligence Committee has yet to vote on its version of the authorization bill.

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