Menu
Home

Intel Reform Bill Passes Congress

Senators on Wednesday voted 89-2 in favor of the largest changes to the intelligence community since after World War II, incorporating into an intelligence reform bill many of the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission (search).

After months of negotiations, leaders taking the bill through the legislative process praised the final outcome.

"I am very proud of the legislation we produced," said Sen. Susan Collins (search), R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

"Praise the Lord, we passed the bill," said Sen. Joe Lieberman (search), D-Conn., ranking member of the committee and a chief co-sponsor of the measure.

The House passed the legislation on Tuesday, 336-75, after President Bush endorsed it and House Republicans satisfied themselves that the measure would not negatively affect the nation's military. President Bush could sign the measure as early as next week.

"We remain a nation at war, and intelligence is our first line of defense against the terrorists who seek to do us harm. I am pleased the measure also contains many critical law enforcement tools that I have called for that will help make America more secure. I look forward to signing this landmark piece of legislation into law," Bush said in a statement after the Senate vote.

The two dissenters were Sens. Robert Byrd (search), D-W.Va., and James Inhofe, R-Okla.

"No legislation alone can forestall a terrorist attack on our nation," Byrd said.

The bill is the result of suggestions from the Sept. 11 commission for sweeping changes in the nation's intelligence network, including the creation of a director of national intelligence and the implementation of new border- and aviation-security measures, both of which are addressed in the bill.

However, even a member of the commission said the bill is not ideal.

"This is a step in the right direction but it's not perfect," former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer, a Democratic member of the Sept. 11 commission, told FOX News after the vote. "What's missing? We need to see congressional oversight and improvement there ... that will be something that the commission and the 9/11 families will work on in the future."

The legislation would:

— Create a new national intelligence director.

— Establish a counterterrorism center.

— Set priorities for intelligence gathering.

— Tighten U.S. borders.

It would implement the biggest change to U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis since the creation of the CIA after World War II.

The bill also included a host of anti-terrorism provisions, which would:

— Allow wiretaps of "lone wolf" terrorists not associated with groups or states.

— Improve airline baggage screening procedures.

— Increase the number of full-time border patrol agents by 2,000 a year for five years.

— Impose new federal standards on information that driver's licenses must contain.

The Sept. 11 commission, in its July report, said disharmony among the nation's 15 intelligence agencies contributed to the inability of government officials to stop the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Heavy and persistent lobbying by the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission and families of attack victims kept the legislation alive through the summer political conventions, the Nov. 2 elections and a post-election lame-duck session of Congress.

The new structure should help the agencies work together to prevent such disasters in the future, lawmakers said.

"This legislation is going to make a real difference to the security of our country," said Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine. "It is going to improve the quality of intelligence provided to our military and it will help to keep civilians safer here at home."

Families of several Sept. 11 victims held hands and wept as the House passed the legislation.

Bill Harvey, a New Yorker whose wife, Sara Manley, was killed at the World Trade Center a month after the couple wed, said the victory was also a sad reminder.

"The vote took 15 minutes, and it was pretty emotional. I thought about her during the 15 minutes of the vote," he said.

House GOP leaders held up action on the bill for two weeks because Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., was concerned that the new intelligence director might be inserted into the chain of command between the president and military commanders in the field.

Hunter and the bill's negotiators came to an agreement Monday on language clarifying the president's control and enabling.

Some Republicans, however, still weren't satisfied.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., was upset because the bill wouldn't prohibit states from giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants or change asylum laws to make it more difficult for terrorists to get into the country. On Wednesday, he held a press conference outlining a bill he will introduce in the next session that addresses the issues omitted from the intelligence reform bill.

Other Republicans said they opposed the entire overhaul bill because they saw it as useless.

"I believe creating a national intelligence director is a huge mistake," said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill. "It's another bureaucracy, it's another layer of government. It would not have prevented 9/11 and it will not prevent another 9/11."

Bush has not yet decided whom to nominate to be the first intelligence director, spokesman Scott McClellan said. "We will move as quickly as we can, obviously, to implement the provisions and move forward on the steps it calls for in this legislation," he said.

Several names have been suggested, including two of the Sept. 11 commissioners, Thomas Kean and John Lehman, and a few lawmakers at the forefront of negotiations about the bill, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Reps. Jane Harman and Pete Hoekstra. Gen. Michael Hayden and CIA chief Porter Goss have also been named as the possible DNI.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.