WASHINGTON – Breaking a monthslong deadlock, key congressional negotiators reported agreement Saturday on legislation to overhaul the nation's intelligence agencies along lines recommended by the Sept. 11 commission (search).
The agreement, reached in the waning hours of a postelection session of Congress, would create a powerful position to oversee the CIA (search) and several other nonmilitary spy agencies. A new national counterterrorism center would coordinate the fight against foreign terrorists.
The agreement is subject to approval by both the House and Senate before legislation can go to the White House.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the lawmakers involved in the talks, said President Bush had been in touch with negotiators by telephone from Chile, where he was attending a meeting of leaders from Asian and Pacific nations.
Collins said the commission — a bipartisan group that sharply criticized intelligence agencies — has endorsed the emerging compromise.
A final agreement on legislation has been held up for weeks while House and Senate negotiators wrangled over how much authority the new intelligence director should have over budget matters.
In private meetings, negotiators also clashed over whether to include an overhaul of the nation's immigrations laws and whether to increase penalties against terrorists.
No specific details were immediately available on the outcome of those issues.
The agreement was reached between Collins and Democrat Joe Lieberman (search) of Connecticut — the lead Senate negotiators — and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., and Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., early Saturday.
A larger group of Senate negotiators signed on; House bargainers were reviewing the terms.
If approved, legislation probably would win approval over the weekend.