Senate OKs revamping spy agencies

96-2 vote approves steps outlined by 9/11 panel, but House bill goes further

October 07, 2004|By Mary Curtius | Mary Curtius,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The Senate, determined to galvanize the nation's intelligence-gathering capabilities for the war on terror, approved a far-reaching restructuring of the nation's spy agencies yesterday.

Little more than two months after the Sept. 11 commission said that poor intelligence coordination made it easier for al-Qaida to carry out its 2001 terrorist attacks, the Senate adopted its core recommendation: to give a new national intelligence director authority over the budgets and senior personnel of most of the nation's 15 domestic and international spy agencies.

The bill also would create a national counterterrorism center to coordinate the agencies' intelligence collection and analysis. And it would establish a board to ensure that the war on terrorism did not infringe on civil liberties or privacy.

The vote was 96-2. The two dissenters were Democratic Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina.

The Senate bill must still be reconciled with the different version of intelligence reform that is moving through the House and is expected to come to a vote this week.

Congressional leaders hope a compromise bill can be passed and sent to the White House before Election Day.

Like its Senate counterpart, the House bill would create a national intelligence director and a counterterrorism center. But it would give the intelligence director less authority over budgets and personnel than the Senate bill. And it includes controversial new powers for law enforcement to track suspected terrorists and new measures that would make it easier to deport foreigners.

"I think we're quite close to the end," said Thomas H. Kean, the former governor of New Jersey who chaired the Sept. 11 Commission. "But having said that, the hardest part may be still to come."

Kean and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana, the commission's vice chairman, welcomed the passage of the Senate bill, which they have said more closely tracks the commission's recommendations than the House version. Both men said they believed it was public pressure that moved Congress to respond quickly to the commission's recommendations.

"There is tremendous demand by the public to have the president sign a bill that is going to make them safer," Kean said.

Republicans and Democrats hailed the Senate's work as a rare feat of bipartisanship in the heat of national elections.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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