WASHINGTON – The Senate wants to create a national database of known and suspected terrorists in an attempt to fix some of the communications problems that became evident after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It will solve a problem that we have identified in our committee of the proliferation of watch lists in our government -- all with different suspected terrorists names, used by different agencies for different purposes," said Sen. Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The database was part of the 2003 intelligence authorization bill passed by the Senate late Wednesday. The bill will have to be reconciled with a version approved by the House in July.
Both bills call for large increases in intelligence spending, but the actual amount is classified. The figures are believed to be more than $35 billion.
More money and workers "can provide momentum for a range of intelligence efforts against those individuals, groups and states -- to include Al Qaeda and Usama bin Laden -- that threaten our security and safety," Graham said.
The bill's passage comes as the Senate and House intelligence committees are holding a joint inquiry into the intelligence failures leading up to the attacks. Some of the biggest concerns raised by lawmakers are about the failure of agencies to communicate.
In one example, inquiry staff director Eleanor Hill said last week that the CIA failed to fully share information with the FBI about two of the future hijackers after they were seen attending a January 2000 Al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia.
The terrorist database would create a list of all known or suspected international terrorists. The information would be available to federal, state and local agencies and, in some cases, to foreign governments.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who had proposed that database, said he was not concerned that agencies might withhold names from the list.
"I think now there is real awareness that the Congress is not going to accept any agency with this kind of information sitting on the sidelines," he said.
Another provision is intended to address the difficulties faced by agencies in rapidly translating massive amounts of intercepted foreign-language communications.
Steven Aftergood, who monitors intelligence for the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists, said changes in the intelligence bill are relatively minor.
"There is a feeling that the intelligence agencies require some fundamental reorganization rather than tinkering at the margins," he said. "There are no fundamental changes in this bill."
In a separate matter, the Senate on Thursday passed without dissent an $8.6 billion bill authorizing State Department programs for next year. An additional $5.2 billion was authorized for counterterrorism and military aid to U.S. allies.
The bill authorizes payment of $244 million to the United Nations, the final part of the $926 million in back dues the United States agreed to pay in 1999. In exchange, the United Nations agreed to reform its bureaucracy and reduce the United States' financial obligations.
The bill was approved Wednesday by the House and now goes to the president for his signature.