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Senate Blocks Bid to Boost Intelligence Czar's Power

Amendment to a post- Sept. 11 bill would have taken day-to-day control from the Pentagon.

September 30, 2004|Mary Curtius | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday blocked an attempt to give a new national intelligence director day-to-day control over all the nation's intelligence agencies, including those reporting to the Pentagon.

It was the first test of strength between those seeking to preserve the authority of the Defense secretary and those who want to centralize the 15-agency intelligence community under a new director.

Seventy-eight senators, including Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, voted to table an amendment offered by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to broaden the intelligence czar's authority. Nineteen lawmakers backed the proposal.

The Senate voted 93 to 4 to kill another Specter amendment that would have given the national intelligence director a single 10-year term. Boxer voted with the majority, but Feinstein voted against tabling the measure.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) warned that any Senate bid to give more power to a national intelligence director would jeopardize the effort to finish legislation restructuring the intelligence community before Congress takes a preelection recess in early October. The House version of the legislation gives the national intelligence director more limited authority.

Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the bill's coauthors, said their intent was to strike a balance between those who want to keep the Pentagon's powers intact and those who would strip the Defense Department of any intelligence oversight. Of the 15 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, eight come under the purview of the Defense Department. The Pentagon controls about 80% of the estimated $40-billion intelligence budget.

The reform legislation, designed to coordinate intelligence collection and analysis in government, would create the position of national intelligence director and a national counter- terrorism center. Lieberman and Collins said the bill responded to the core recommendations made by the bipartisan commission that investigated intelligence failings leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) warned that he would hold voting sessions Friday and Monday because senators had offered so many amendments and were debating the bill at a slow pace. He added that he might have the Senate stay in session through the weekend to finish work on the bill.

Senators have declared their intention to file as many as 300 amendments, Frist said. The Senate got through only a handful of them Wednesday.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, signaled that he was prepared to fight as long as it took against the restructuring bill, which he described as creating a massive government bureaucracy and confusing the chain of command.

Stevens attacked the bill for granting the national intelligence director the authority to set security, personnel and information technology standards across the intelligence community. Concentrating that much authority in the hands of a single bureaucrat, he said, "may create more problems than it solves."

As the Senate began its third day of debate Wednesday, half a dozen committees in the House began considering that chamber's more comprehensive intelligence reform bill. In the House Judiciary Committee, Democrats offered a series of amendments -- most of them defeated by the Republican majority -- on the bill's law enforcement and immigration provisions.

In the Judiciary Committee and several other panels, efforts by Democrats and some Republicans to replace the Republican leadership's bill with one that more closely tracked the Senate bill were rejected by House committee chairmen.

"The biggest thing that bothers me about this bill is the process," said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-North Hollywood), a member of the Judiciary Committee. "There are dozens and dozens of changes in existing law, and I might support a lot of them. But there's no way I'll do that when we don't have any expert witnesses, any hearings, any chance to ask questions."

The House Republican majority, Berman said, "has dredged up what different people have wanted over the years and glommed them on to this bill in the name of implementing the 9/11 recommendations."

But Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the House bill was superior to the Senate's. The House bill, he said, would better protect the American people by including provisions that would strengthen border controls, increase the number of Border Patrol officers and immigration agents, create national standards for issuing state driver's licenses, and give law enforcement better tools for tracking suspected terrorists.

"The Senate version chooses to ignore some of the most important findings of the 9/11 commission," Sensenbrenner said.

Several immigrant advocacy groups Wednesday protested that the House bill was rife with anti-immigrant legislation.

"The House Republican leadership's bill ... is a disaster," said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum. "It recycles an anti-immigration wish list from the anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party," she said in a statement. Kelley singled out a provision in the bill that would expedite the deportation of any immigrant suspected of having entered the country illegally within the last five years.

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