WASHINGTON – Congress was set Friday to authorize what lawmakers called the biggest-ever increase in intelligence spending, seeking to fix counterterrorism weaknesses that may have allowed the Sept. 11 attacks to occur.
The bill also would create an independent commission to conduct a broad, 18-month investigation of the attacks. A now-resolved dispute between lawmakers and the White House over the commission's structure had blocked passage of the intelligence bill.
The House approved the bill 366-3 early Friday morning. The Senate was expected to approve it late Friday or early next week. It would then go to President Bush for his signature.
Most details of the bill remain classified, including the spending total. It is believed to authorize more than $35 billion in programs.
The money is intended to make up for a decade of inadequate spending on intelligence, House and Senate intelligence committee members said in a statement accompanying the bill.
"Although the end of the Cold War warranted a reordering of national priorities, the steady decline in intelligence funding since the mid-1990s left the nation with a diminished ability to address emerging threats — such as global terrorism — and the technical challenges of the 21st century," the statement said.
The measure seeks to correct some of the biggest problems identified by the committees' inquiry into why intelligence agencies failed to stop the Sept. 11 attacks: the failure of agencies to share information, a lack of linguists and inadequate attention to traditional, human spying.
The statement said intelligence agencies' work is "generally conducted in isolation from one another and, most disturbingly, existing rules and procedures often restrict information from the community's depth and breath of analytic talent."
In one public effort to improve communication, the bill would create a database of known or suspected international terrorists. Two of the Sept. 11 hijackers were placed on a State Department watch list in the weeks before the attacks, but other agencies — including the Federal Aviation Administration — were not warned about them.
It also would establish a National Virtual Translation Center to help intelligence agencies quickly translate foreign languages, and would provide $10 million for scholarships to encourage the study of languages needed for national security reasons, such as Arabic, Korean and Farsi.
The bill also calls for developing a standard method of transliterating names from other alphabets. Information sharing is sometimes impeded because agencies use different spellings for the same name. For example, hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar's last name can also be spelled al-Midhar or Almihdhar.
The Sept. 11 commission would build on the work of the committees' one-year joint inquiry but with a broader scope, examining issues such as aviation security and immigration in addition to intelligence.
It would have 18 months to complete its investigation. The members would be evenly divided between Republicans and Democratic appointees, with President Bush naming the chairman.