WASHINGTON – In a dispute over money for intelligence, House Democrats criticized the Republican majority Wednesday for providing only a fraction of the counterterrorism dollars the agencies say they need.
Republicans say the bill provides more money to the 15 intelligence agencies than any similar measure before and any additional money will be provided in later legislation.
"We will fully fund the war on terrorism," said Rep. Jim Gibbons (search), R-Nev., who is on the House Intelligence Committee.
Many important details about the bill, expected to be voted on Wednesday evening, are not known publicly. The legislation provides broad outlines for intelligence spending in the 2005 budget year, which begins in October.
Intelligence budget information is traditionally classified, though experts have suggested it totals at least $40 billion. It covers agencies including the CIA (search), the Defense Intelligence Agency (search) and the National Reconnaissance Office. (search) In a procedural debate, Democrats said they were outraged that the House was poised to approve a bill that would authorize less than one-third of the money needed for a contingency fund used in emergency intelligence operations around the globe.
"It is irresponsible of us to shortchange our counterterrorism efforts, particularly when we know Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are planning terrorist attacks against us right now," said California Rep. Jane Harman (search), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Republicans defended the amount set aside for counterterrorism. By giving intelligence agencies "smaller pieces of the pie," with opportunities for more money later, Gibbons said the bill offered Congress the chance to exercise its oversight and to control spending.
The committee chairman, Rep. Porter Goss (search), R-Fla., is retiring at the end of the year. He is believed to be a candidate to succeed to CIA Director George Tenet (search), who is leaving his post next month.
Goss, a former CIA officer, has declined repeated requests for interviews on whether he in interested in the job. His Republican colleagues lined up to praise him Wednesday.
The bill, according to a Republican fact sheet, increases investment in human intelligence capabilities, improves intelligence analysis and strengthens agencies' language capabilities.
One section is critical of the agencies' handling of human intelligence operations, or HUMINT, that use people to collect information.
"The damage to the HUMINT mission through its misallocation and redirection of resources, poor prioritization of objectives, micromanagement of field operations and a continued political aversion to operational risk is — in the committee's judgment — significant and could likely be long-lasting," the bill says. "Immediate and far-reaching changes can still reverse some of the worst factors eroding its capabilities, however."
CIA officials contend that such a characterization is ill-informed.