- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The House passed an intelligence bill yesterday that would dramatically boost the money available to the new spy chief and require the Bush administration to consider blocking the pensions of government workers who leak classified information.

Democrats made an unsuccessful last-minute push to block the bill to protest that Republicans wouldn’t allow adequate debate on the legality of the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program.

The legislation was nevertheless approved by a 327-96 vote. It provides budgeting guidelines for 16 U.S. spy agencies and the office of National Intelligence Director John D. Negroponte. The bill’s total cost is classified, but intelligence agencies’ spending is thought to top $40 billion a year. Under the legislation, Mr. Negroponte’s office would get nearly $1 billion.

Democrats expressed outrage that Republicans would not allow any of their five proposed amendments to be considered by the full House, including measures to expand congressional oversight of the NSA program and the intelligence on Iran.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, supported the bill during the panel’s deliberations. Yet she ultimately voted against it, saying intelligence officers aren’t served by a bill “that does not protect the Constitution they are fighting to defend.”

Republicans insisted on the legality of President Bush’s surveillance program. Intelligence committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, said charges that the operations are abusive or unconstitutional are “absolutely outrageous.”

Mr. Hoekstra also said the bill sends a signal that the vision of the intelligence overhaul law in late 2004 “was about building qualitative, better intelligence establishment — and not building a bureaucracy.”

The bill provides more than $990 million in the primary account that funds Mr. Negroponte’s office, which was created to organize the spy agencies under one leader. Other money for his office might be elsewhere in the bill.

The bill would require Mr. Negroponte to study administrative punishments for government employees who leak classified information, including the revocation of their pensions.

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