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Senate takes up 9/11 reform bill today
Updated: 2004-12-08 21:31

WASHINGTON - The Senate is expected to pass the 9/11 intelligence reform bill late this afternoon after the House passed the legislation 336-75 last night.

Four months after the Sept. 11 commission urged drastic changes to protect the nation from another terror attack, Congress neared final passage of the far-reaching legislation overhauling the nation's intelligence network and instituting new border and aviation security safeguards.

"We have walked a long and winding road to get to this day, but ultimately we've gotten to exactly where we wanted to be, which is on the verge of adopting legislation that will reform America's intelligence assets," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, one of the lead Senate negotiators on the bill.

A compromise bill that seemed to be dead two weeks ago was getting a final vote in the Senate late Wednesday before being sent to President Bush for his signature.

The House passed the bill overwhelmingly on Tuesday after Bush endorsed it and House Republicans satisfied themselves that the measure would not negatively affect the nation's military.

The president "greatly looks forward to Senate passage and ultimately to signing the bill into law," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said late Tuesday as the president flew back to Washington from a visit with Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The legislation would:

_Create a new national intelligence director.

_Establish a counterterrorism center.

_Set priorities for intelligence gathering.

_Tighten U.S. borders.

It would implement the biggest change to U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis since the creation of the CIA after World War II.

The bill also included a host of anti-terrorism provisions, which would:

_Allow wiretaps of "lone wolf" terrorists not associated with groups or states.

_Improve airline baggage screening procedures.

_Increase the number of full-time border patrol agents by 2,000 a year for five years.

_Impose new federal standards on information that driver's licenses must contain.

The Sept. 11 commission, in its July report, said disharmony among the nation's 15 intelligence agencies contributed to the inability of government officials to stop the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania.

The new structure should help the agencies work together to prevent such disasters in the future, lawmakers said.

"This legislation is going to make a real difference to the security of our country," said Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chairwoman Susan Collins. "It is going to improve the quality of intelligence provided to our military and it will help to keep civilians safer here at home."

Senators said Tuesday they were confident the bill would pass. But because Congress had to hold a special session to get a final agreement, Wednesday's vote was expected to be extended to late in the day to accommodate senators rushing back to the Capitol from across the nation.

Heavy and persistent lobbying by the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission and families of attack victims kept the legislation alive through the summer political conventions, the Nov. 2 elections and a postelection lame duck session of Congress.

Families of several Sept. 11 victims held hands and wept as the House passed the legislation. Bill Harvey, a New Yorker whose wife, Sara Manley, was killed at the World Trade Center a month after the couple wed, said the victory was also a sad reminder.

"The vote took 15 minutes, and it was pretty emotional. I thought about her during the 15 minutes of the vote," he said.

House GOP leaders held up action on the bill for two weeks because Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., was concerned that the new intelligence director might be inserted into the chain of command between the president and military commanders in the field.

Hunter and the bill's negotiators came to an agreement Monday on language clarifying the president's control.

Some Republicans, however, still weren't satisfied. House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, was upset because the bill wouldn't prohibit states from giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants or change asylum laws to make it more difficult for terrorists to get into the country.

Other Republicans said they opposed the entire overhaul bill because they saw it as useless.

"I believe creating a national intelligence director is a huge mistake," said Rep. Ray LaHood. "It's another bureaucracy, it's another layer of government. It would not have prevented 9/11 and it will not prevent another 9/11."

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