- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

The annual legislation that governs the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and their new boss, the director of national intelligence, is stalled again in the Senate, where efforts to pass it in the past two years also died.

“We’re still working it,” said a senior staffer from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which voted the bill out 12-3 last month, adding that the new committee chairman, Sen. John D. Rockefeller, West Virginia Democrat, continued to hope the bill could be passed after the Presidents Day recess.

The staffer, who was authorized to speak only on the condition of anonymity, said committee members were working on a unanimous-consent agreement — a procedural measure whereby noncontentious bills are brought to the floor of the Senate and voted on without time-consuming debate.

“It’s cleared on our side,” said the staffer of the committee majority, adding that a provision in the bill temporarily suspending some federal privacy protections would be removed as part of the deal. Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, said in additional views submitted with the bill that they believed this provision “merit[ed] further study and debate” before being passed into law.

The staffer said other Democrats had been prevailed upon not to force the issue of congressional access to the presidential daily briefings about pre-Iraq war intelligence.

But a unanimous consent agreement, as its name implies, can be halted by any objection, and the Senate’s arcane rules allow the objector to remain anonymous.

In the previous two years, under the chairmanship of Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, the committee’s efforts to move the bill have been blocked by holds from Republican senators.

The same issues are behind the holdup this year, according to sources from both sides of the aisle: There is concern about what some Republican senators see as the bill’s excessive reporting requirements, both on intelligence agencies about their detention and interrogation of terror suspects, and on the administration as a whole. The new law would require much wider congressional notifications about the most secret oversight briefings of all.

The staffer said the committee leadership hoped to address those concerns by “tweaking the language” in a couple of parts of the bill “to make clear that sources and methods will be protected.”

“Our Republican colleagues [on the committee] are working on” overcoming Republican objections, said the staffer. The committee’s senior Republican, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, was traveling in East Asia this week and could not be reached. His staff declined comment.

Although U.S. intelligence activities are funded from a special secret annex of the vast defense appropriations act, the authorization law is the only vehicle for public legislative oversight and guidance to the sprawling and sometimes fractious collection of agencies dubbed by insiders as the “U.S. intelligence community.”

The hiatus in the legislation has meant, for instance, that lawmakers have not yet been able to make a series of fixes and adjustments to the new intelligence structure they put into place in the huge 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

The 2007 authorization bill contains additional clarified budget re-programming authority for the new director of national intelligence and creates an inspector general for his office.

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