Thursday, October 07, 2004

Senate Approves 9/11 Bill at Odds With House Version

The New York Times
October 7, 2004
Senate Approves 9/11 Bill at Odds With House Version

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 - The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to approve a sweeping bipartisan bill to reorganize the way the nation gathers and shares intelligence, enacting the major recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, including the creation of the job of national intelligence director and the establishment of a national counterterrorism center.

The lopsided Senate vote, 96 to 2, is likely to increase pressure on House Republican leaders to adopt a similar measure, especially since the Senate bill had the support of all 51 Senate Republicans, as well as the endorsement of both the White House and the leaders of the Sept. 11 commission. The pair of votes against the bill were cast by Democrats.

Opinion polls show that the independent commission, which used its final report in July to catalog years of incompetence and turf battles among the nation's intelligence and counterterrorism agencies, has widespread support among likely voters in next month's election. And the commission's members have proved themselves potent lobbyists for their recommendations.

Still, House Republican leaders insisted again on Wednesday that they intended to press forward this week with their own, very different version of the bill that includes law enforcement provisions that were not recommended by the Sept. 11 commission. Those proposals have drawn harsh criticism from Democrats and civil liberties groups.

The House bill, which was drafted without the involvement of House Democratic leaders, would also more sharply limit the budget and personnel authority of the national intelligence director.

The partisan split in the House became more theatrical on Wednesday, with the House majority leader, Tom DeLay of Texas, calling a news conference at which he held up a summary of the House bill and ripped the papers in two, suggesting that Democrats were trying to shred the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. "The Democrats want to rip up the 9/11 commission recommendations that they don't like and throw them out," he said.

The rancor in the House was in stark contrast to the harmony on the floor of the Senate, where lawmakers from both parties praised the spirit of bipartisanship that allowed them - like the Sept. 11 commission - to reach agreement on the need for the most comprehensive changes in the structure of the nation's intelligence community since the creation of the C.I.A. in 1947.

"We are now on the threshhold of getting the job done and getting it done right," said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and the principal Republican author of the bill.

In a separate joint statement with the bill's key Democratic author, Senate Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Senator Collins said, "Our legislation reorganizes an intelligence program designed for the Cold War into one designed for the war against global terrorism."

The Senate bill would establish the job of national intelligence director to serve as the president's chief intelligence adviser and to oversee the coordination of all 15 of the government's intelligence agencies, including the C.I.A., the National Security Council and the intelligence units of the F.B.I. The intelligence director would take over the oversight job now held nominally by the director of central intelligence, Porter Goss, who would answer to the new cabinet-level intelligence director.

The establishment of the job was the key recommendation of the Sept. 11 commission, which harshly criticized the C.I.A. and F.B.I. and found that lack of communication among intelligence agencies explained why Qaeda terrorists were able to enter the United States undetected and carry out the suicide hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001. The commission showed that several clues warning of an imminent terrorist attack were ignored or not shared about intelligence agencies in the months before the attacks.

The Senate bill would enact another key recommendation of the commission: establishment of a national counterterrorism center, where all intelligence involving terrorist threats would be drawn together and acted on. The bill would also create a civil liberties oversight board to "ensure privacy and civil liberties concerns are being protected," a provision House Republicans have said they may not support.

In a statement, the Republican chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, Thomas H. Kean, and the Democratic vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, praised the Senate bill and its authors, describing the legislation as "a giant step forward in implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission."