WASHINGTON – The Senate's efforts to wrap up an intelligence spending bill hit a snag this week when a Republican lawmaker blocked legislation that would force the Bush administration to divulge more about secret CIA prisons and the prewar Iraq intelligence.
It's unclear who the senator is or what the precise objections are.
Two separate amendments -- from Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and John Kerry, D-Mass. -- would require the national intelligence director to provide classified information on secret CIA prisons to congressional intelligence committees. The agency has not acknowledged that the sites exist.
Another Kennedy-sponsored provision would require the White House to give the Senate Intelligence Committee copies of the president's intelligence briefings that discussed Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion. The measure requests the documents from Jan. 20, 2000, through March 19, 2003, covering parts of the Clinton and Bush administrations.
Kennedy is pushing for amendment to show that Congress did not receive the same prewar intelligence that the White House did, as some administration officials have stated. He wants the President's Daily Briefs, or PDBs, as part of a Senate inquiry into the Iraq intelligence.
The intelligence bill, much of which is classified, broadly sets spending for the more than $40 billion U.S. spy agencies.
Congressional aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity while the legislation's status was in flux, said at least one unidentified Republican is objecting to some portion of the bill, which could otherwise be passed unanimously by voice vote. That process would allow the Senate to quickly finish the legislation before the holidays and begin negotiating its differences with the House early next year.
Bill Duhnke, majority staff director for Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said the senator "is hopeful that we'll have an intelligence authorization bill this year."
The holdup comes as the White House and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ended a standoff over legislation that will ban cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign suspects in the war on terror.
Kerry's spokeswoman April Boyd noted the Senate already approved his secret prisons amendment on another bill this year. "He would welcome another vote and another strong message from Congress to the administration that they cannot keep Congress in the dark," she said.
On Wednesday, Kennedy said he could find no reason why Congress shouldn't have the presidential briefings "now that the president's insisted that we had all the information."
Democrats on Thursday also circulated a 15-page memo from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service that said the president and his most senior advisers have access to "a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information" than Congress.
The memo was written by Alfred Cumming, once a senior aide to former Senate Intelligence Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla.