US congress approves sweeping intelligence bill
The U.S. Congress approved the biggest overhaul of U.S. intelligence agencies in over 50 years on Wednesday, sending the bill that creates a new director of national intelligence demanded after Sept. 11 to President Bush.
The Senate voted an overwhelming 89-2 for the bill despite concerns by some lawmakers that the power of the new spy director falls short of what the Sept. 11 Commission recommended. The House of Representatives approved the bill on Tuesday despite opposition from some of Bush's own Republicans because some immigration measures were omitted .
Bush called it landmark legislation and is expected to sign it with great fanfare at a White House ceremony.
"We remain a nation at war, and intelligence is our first line of defense against the terrorists who seek to do us harm," he said in a statement.
Bush, who initially opposed creation of the commission, and, at first, balked at giving full budget authority to a new spy director, made last minute appeals to lawmakers to pass the bill.
It was the last major act of the current Congress. The new Congress will convene in January
It is the biggest revamping of U.S. intelligence since the beginning of the Cold War. In response to the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, Congress earlier created the Homeland Security Department that brought together various federal law enforcement agencies to improve focus and coordination.
"Just as the National Security Act of 1947 was passed to prevent another Pearl Harbor, the Intelligence Reform Act will help us prevent another 9/11," said Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who helped negotiate the final compromise with the House.
But some senators complained that the reforms do not go far enough and questioned whether the new intelligence director would have sufficient power and independence from the White House to avoid the intelligence failures cited by the commission and critics of the Iraq war.
"While this bill has many good provisions, what it fails to do is create a leader of the intelligence community who is clearly in charge and as a result is fully accountable," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said during the Senate floor debate.
He said Congress would most likely weigh in with further changes in the future. Representatives of Sept. 11 victims' families who backed the compromise and fought for its passage said they would return next year to seek more reforms.
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, expressed concern that the new spy director would not have enough independence from the White House.
"The creation of a stronger intelligence director makes it even more important that we enact reforms to ensure that intelligence assessments are not influenced by the policy judgments of whatever administration is in power," Levin said during the Senate debate.
U.S. intelligence agencies have been accused of overstating the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which Bush cited in pushing his case for last year's invasion, and no such weapons were found.