WASHINGTON – The House unanimously passed an intelligence bill Wednesday that will boost spending by 8 percent and emphasize rebuilding traditional human spy networks as intelligence takes the lead in the war on terrorism.
"Our intelligence community has got to be better focused on ... what's going on in the mind of the evildoers, the mischief-makers," said Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "We want to stop the tragedy before it happens."
The voice vote was on final passage of a conference bill worked out by House and Senate negotiators. The Senate still must pass the compromise bill before it can be sent to President Bush for his signature.
Goss said none of the progress in the war on terrorism seen in TV reports and during Pentagon briefings would have been possible without intelligence, noting that the first combat casualty was an intelligence officer, Johnny Micheal Spann.
"The fact that the first casualty was a CIA officer speaks to the fact that intelligence is in fact in the lead in this war," he said. "There is no argument about that."
The measure that emerged from the House-Senate conference -- which resolves differences between bills approved by both chambers -- dropped a House proposal for an outside panel to assess why the intelligence community failed to uncover the Sept. 11 terror attacks in advance.
Instead, the Senate and House Intelligence committees will study that as they determine reforms needed to protect Americans.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House committee's top Democrat who had pressed for the outside panel, said she had misgivings about the plan.
"I am concerned that an independent review would have the credibility with the American people that a congressional review, no matter how professionally done, will not," she said. "This is not about fingerpointing or assigning blame," but the need to find out if there were gaps that need to be addressed to prevent a repetition of Sept. 11."
Intelligence spending is generally kept secret. But the CIA revealed, after being sued by the Federation of American Scientists, that spending totaled $26.6 billion in 1997 and $26.7 billion in 1998, said the federation's Steven Aftergood. Since then, it's been estimated at $30 billion a year.
The 8 percent increase in authorized spending in the compromise bill is higher than President Bush's request for 7 percent. The Senate originally sought a 7.7 percent increase, while the House bill called for a 9 percent rise.
The measure sets out four priorities:
• Revitalizing the National Security Agency, which gathers and analyzes information from broadcasts, computers and other electronic means of communication, shifting the focus from intercepting broadcasts to tapping fiber-optic communication lines.
• Correcting deficiencies in human spy networks. Among other things, Pelosi said, the nation must "ensure that case officers receive the training they need, especially in foreign languages, to be able to do their jobs effectively."
• Increasing the percentage of data collected that is converted into useful intelligence.
• Funding for a robust research and development initiative, reversing declining investment in this area.
The bill also calls for a review of new guidelines on recruiting foreign assets and sources, even though CIA Director George Tenet in September revised 1995 rules that limited recruitment of foreigners who had committed human rights abuses.
The rules "have had a chilling effect on our ability to gain access to vital intelligence," Goss said.
What is needed is a new balance between potential gain and risk, "a balance that recognizes concerns about egregious human rights behavior and law breaking, while providing much needed flexibility to take advantage of opportunities to gather important information," the conference committee said.
The bill would also make it easier to get a roving wiretap, amending a law that requires agents to list the instrument's location. Since roving wiretaps are aimed at moving objects such as cell phones, locations keep changing. Under the bill, if agents don't know where it is, they would not have to list it.