Overhaul of spy agencies easily clears Senate

Wide margin of support masks deep divisions

December 09, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis | Julie Hirschfeld Davis,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Senate approved yesterday the broadest reorganization of the nation's intelligence network in more than a half-century, sending President Bush a measure that some lawmakers and experts worry fails to fix shortcomings that allowed the Sept. 11 attacks.

The measure, approved by an 89-2 vote, enacts several recommendations of the independent commission that investigated the attacks. It creates a director of intelligence with broad authority over the nation's 15 spy agencies, requires the agencies to share terrorism information and establishes a national counterterrorism center.

Proponents called the overhaul a historic and long-awaited remaking of an intelligence system whose techniques, priorities and organization were stuck in an antiquated Cold War mindset that was insufficient to meet modern threats.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions incorrectly described the House of Representatives' vote on a bill to overhaul of the nation's intelligence agencies. More Republicans than Democrats opposed the measure, but the majority of Republicans supported it. The Sun regrets the error.

But the wide margin of support masked deep divisions over whether the changes would make Americans safer. Some backers said the bill did not give the intelligence director enough authority, while others worried that consolidating power under one spymaster without strengthening congressional oversight could lead to abuses.

"While this bill has many good provisions, what it fails to do is to create a leader of the intelligence community who is fully in charge and therefore fully accountable," said Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee. "If we are not diligent, our newly created director of national intelligence could end up a director in name only. Our national security surely demands better."

Bush praised Congress "for passing historic legislation that will better protect the American people and help defend against ongoing terrorist threats."

But even the president, who intervened late in the negotiations to help push through the measure, hinted through a spokesman that he does not believe it solves all the nation's intelligence problems.

"This legislation is a major step forward in our efforts to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect the American people," said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman. "But the president is always looking at additional steps that we can take."

Now, speculation shifts to whom Bush will pick for the new Cabinet post. CIA Director Porter J. Goss, a former Florida congressman and one-time spy, and Frances F. Townsend, Bush's homeland security adviser, have been named as contenders.

Other names that are circulating, according to lawmakers and aides, are those of the leaders of the independent 9/11 commission, including Thomas H. Kean, the commission's chairman and former New Jersey governor, Lee H. Hamilton, the panel's vice chairman and a former congressman who now heads the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and former Navy Secretary John F. Lehman.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, the House Intelligence Committee's senior Democrat and a leading negotiator on the measure, also has been mentioned.

McClellan declined to speculate on the appointment.

The new intelligence director will face daunting challenges, said Tim Roemer, another 9/11 commissioner and former congressman.

"You've got a political challenge of working with the president and gaining his trust and working with Congress, you've got a big management challenge of staffing and making the centers work, and there's a major bureaucratic challenge of bridging this abyss among the intelligence agencies so that we can have the coordination we need," Roemer said. "That's a lot to bite off. This person's going to have their mouth under the waterfall for some time."

The director "needs to be able to function as a chief executive officer," setting a strategic plan for the entire intelligence network and making sure everyone reporting to him is fulfilling its goals, said Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the chairman of House Intelligence Committee.

A `quarterback'

Supporters of the measure, including the 9/11 commissioners, argued that the lack of a single, overarching spy director prevented the government from connecting important intelligence dots in the months leading up to the attacks that could have averted the tragedy.

With enactment of the bill, said Sen. Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican who was one of its chief sponsors, "there will be an empowered quarterback in charge of our intelligence efforts - someone who will be both responsible and accountable."

But questions about the extent of the director's authority sparked fierce turf wars on Capitol Hill and in the government, particularly between the Defense Department, which controls about 80 percent of the roughly $40 billion intelligence budget, and civilian intelligence officials. Some of those battles remain unresolved.

Under the measure, the director would have control and budgeting authority over the intelligence community, but he would not direct the operation of any one agency.

GOP opponents

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