- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 7, 2004

The Senate passed its bipartisan intelligence reform bill on a 96-2 vote last night, before heading out to recess for the November elections.

The bill restructures the national intelligence community, now divided among 15 agencies, by placing nonmilitary agencies, such as the FBI and CIA, and the control of their budgets under a new national intelligence director.

It also creates legislative and budgetary guidelines for a national antiterrorism center and would create a national counterproliferation center to track and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Sens. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, and Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, chief sponsors of the bill, fought several battles to keep the bill intact and to address all the recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

“This bill builds upon the rock-solid recommendations of the 9/11 commission and the 20-month investigation it conducted,” Mrs. Collins said. “An intelligence community designed for the Cold War had to be transformed to deal with the war on terrorism and new emerging security threats. This bill does that, but it is important to remember that it is an ongoing process.”

Both chambers of Congress are moving quickly to get the bill to President Bush’s desk before Nov. 2, in no small part to win points with their constituents.

Democratic Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the most senior member of the Senate, and Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina were the only opponents of the bill. They said Congress was acting “like a whipped dog” in complying so thoroughly with White House demands.

The counterproliferation center amendment was introduced by Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and passed on a voice vote. Some senators expressed concern about the haste in that vote and about additional powers being granted to the civil liberties oversight board that President Bush created last year.

“We should slow down on the counterproliferation center’s creation,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. “The commission did not discuss this in its recommendations.”

Mr. Frist said that because the bill does not call for the center to open for another year, there is plenty of time for Mr. Bush to fine-tune its operations and makeup.

The bill will require the immediate creation of a consolidated terrorist watch list and annual reports from the attorney general on the FBI’s progress in translating intercepted foreign correspondence.

The Senate now awaits final passage of the House bill, which is being debated today and tomorrow, with a vote expected at the end of the week, even if members have to work Saturday.

There is speculation that the House-Senate negotiations will be dicey. The House version of the bill contains several immigration reforms questioned by Senate leadership and most Democrats.

That bill calls for a crackdown on driver’s licenses being issued to illegal aliens, easier deportations of terrorists, and limits on the use of foreign consular identification cards. Millions of consular IDs have been issued by foreign governments despite security and counterfeiting concerns, the Government Accountability Office has said.

The White House had asked House leaders to remove the provisions, but they have refused.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, wants more stringent oversight powers for the civil liberties board, despite warnings from Republican Sens. John Kyl of Arizona and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who envision bureaucratic blockades for intelligence officers worldwide if Mr. Leahy has his way.

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