- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

For the first time in 27 years, congressional officials fear that an Intelligence Authorization Act will not be passed before the session ends.

Lawmakers and staff from both parties said the bill was blocked in the Senate before the holiday recess by a Republican lawmaker involved in a dispute about amendments that would require reports on secret detention facilities and access to prewar intelligence briefings on Iraq.

Now some fear that further efforts to pass the bill will become captive to the debate over the Bush administration’s use of warrantless national security wiretaps.

“I think we might have missed an opportunity at the end of last year,” said one Democratic Senate aide who deals with intelligence issues. “The window might have closed by now.”

The annual authorization bill, which has passed every year since the establishment of the House and Senate committees on intelligence in 1978, provides the framework within which intelligence agencies carry out their missions and spend the money Congress appropriates for them.

Congressional officials say that if the bill fails this year, several important reforms and innovations will be shelved.

Its authors say this year’s bill would set up an inspector general for the nation’s new spy chief, strengthen counterterrorism information-sharing by temporarily suspending parts of the Privacy Act, and make the directors of the three biggest-spending military intelligence agencies subject to Senate confirmation.

The bill has been blocked by a senator who exercised the right to remain anonymous, Republican staff said.

Because of the way Senate rules are designed to ensure that debate is difficult to curtail, moving a bill through the chamber expeditiously requires a parliamentary procedure known as unanimous consent. A single objection can force Senate managers to contemplate a lengthy floor debate and effectively preclude consideration of a bill altogether if they think the legislative agenda is too crowded.

Before the recess, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Select Committee on Intelligence, said the bill was blocked to prevent passage of three amendments added with the consent of committee Chairman Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican.

Two of the amendments deal with reports to Congress about the purported overseas network of secret CIA detention facilities. Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte would submit a report about the facilities, and intelligence agency inspectors general would describe the welfare of individual detainees. These classified reports would be submitted to the intelligence committees of both chambers.

The third amendment requires the White House to give the two committees copies of presidential daily briefing items about Iraq from Jan. 20, 1997 — the beginning of President Clinton’s second term — to March 19, 2003 — the date of the U.S. invasion.

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