WASHINGTON – The House voted to give the intelligence community a few billion dollars more Thursday than the White House wanted for next year's budget — a price tag that covers the range of intelligence needs from the CIA to the high-tech satellites that spied on Osama bin Laden's compound.
The White House registered its objection before the vote, but did not threaten to veto the bill, which the House passed 386-28.
The bill now heads to the Senate, which will vote on its own version of the 2013 intelligence budget.
The White House had asked for $72 billion to fund spying activities in 2013, but the House voted for a "modest" increase to pay for satellite and other spying technology, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said.
The House request is classified. But the amount is 4 percent less than last year's budget, added Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md. The Associated Press has reported last year's total budget as just under $80 billion. A decrease of 4 percent would put this year's House request at about $77 billion.
Last year, Congress said no to White House requests that would have expanded an intelligence community that's been growing exponentially since Sept. 11, 2001.
This year, under the threat of automatic spending cuts, it was the White House's turn to try to make reductions.
The main sticking point is the cost of commercial satellite imagery, according to Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. "The industry and its congressional supporters want this area fully funded," he said.
"The biggest sources of continuing differences involve some of our technical capabilities," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said, but he would not provide details since the programs are classified. "There is less disagreement over human intelligence."
The bill also would add a small number of high priority positions, such as FBI surveillance officers to keep watch on terrorists, and increased counterintelligence staff to detect foreign spies, Rogers said.
Counterintelligence teams will also be on the lookout for corporate espionage responsible for ripping off U.S. companies' designs and producing them more cheaply in places like China, according to Ruppersberger.
It also "restores funding" for threatened programs like the FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center, added Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif.
Rogers warned against the perils of automatic spending cuts, saying the legal procedure which would trigger the cuts in the defense budget would mean that "thousands of intelligence officers and specialized technicians would be laid off."
He said that would leave the National Security Agency without enough staff to translate key counterterrorist intercepts, among other fallout.