WASHINGTON – The House passed legislation early Friday which seeks to fix intelligence problems that became apparent with both the Sept. 11 attacks and recent FBI spy scandals.
The bill authorizing intelligence programs for fiscal 2004 would boost information sharing among federal, state and local officials and strengthen language and analytical skills at intelligence agencies — all problems identified by a congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
It also calls for new steps to protect the United States from spies, including the creation of an FBI counterintelligence office to investigate spying within the bureau.
Passed by a 410-9 vote, the House measure still has to be reconciled with a bill awaiting action in the Senate.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss (search) said the need to improve counterintelligence became apparent with the cases of Robert Hanssen (search), an FBI counterespionage official who spied for Russia, and Ana Belen Montes (search), a spy for Cuba who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
"These cases did do us damage and there are others that can as well," Goss, R-Fla., said during debate on the bill.
Most of the bill remains classified, including its cost, estimated around $40 billion. Goss said it would meet Bush's funding request and a member of his committee, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., said it represents "a significant increase over the past years."
Goss said the House bill "will allow us to process and disseminate the information collected in a more efficient, hopefully wiser and more timely fashion and make sure all interested parties have access."
He said the bill "postures the United States for the future with a unified overhead imagery intelligence architecture" — an apparent reference to a spy satellite network.
The bill calls for the CIA director to submit a report on how intelligence was handled during the Iraq war. Goss' committee and two Senate committees are also reviewing intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons were the main reason for the war, but none have been found.
Democrats failed to win support for additional inquiries. An amendment proposed by Rep. Barbara Lee of California to require the U.S. comptroller general to study U.S. intelligence-sharing with U.N. inspectors was defeated 239-185.
By a 347-76 vote, the House rejected an amendment by Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio to require the CIA's inspector general to audit all telephone and electronic communications between the CIA and Vice President Dick Cheney relating to Iraq's weapons. Kucinich is a presidential candidate and an outspoken opponent of the war.
Despite differences on the Iraq intelligence, Democrats and Republicans were largely agreed on the overall bill.
It includes two pilot programs to improve intelligence sharing with state and local authorities. One would encourage the authorities to "to lawfully collect and to pass on to the appropriate federal officials information vital for the prevention of terrorist attacks." The other would provide intelligence reports to the authorities without revealing intelligence sources and methods.
On counterintelligence, in addition to creating the new FBI office, the bill calls for the creation of a process to inspect all U.S. agencies that handle classified information on national security matters, requires that annual reviews be conducted to ensure that classified information is provided only to individuals who have a "particularized need to know," and requires the establishment of a financial disclosure system for intelligence employees.
Goss and members of his committee said while intelligence improvements have been made in recent years, some problems remain.
For example, Boehlert said intelligence agencies have avoided congressional efforts aimed at improving foreign language skills.
"This year we insist that the (intelligence) community leadership resolve to fix the language inadequacy," he said. "No more finessing, no more fudging. Just do it or else."