Senate approves intelligence reform bill

The Senate Wednesday afternoon voted to clear the measure overhauling intelligence operations, culminating a dramatic turnaround for a bill that had appeared dead only to be resuscitated by compromise and lobbying from the White House and families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The House passed the measure Monday on a 336-75 vote, so it now heads to President Bush for his signature.

"We are rebuilding a structure that was designed for a different enemy at a different time, a structure that was designed for the Cold War and has not proved agile enough to deal with the threats of the 21st century," said Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., promised senators who were uneasy with the legislation that his committee would "need to nurture this new intelligence structure over the years" through the intelligence reauthorization process.

Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Carl Levin, D-Mich., who refused to sign the intelligence conference report, said today he would vote for the bill, but not before voicing his objections to language excluded from it because of White House opposition.

Levin said the rejected Senate language would have given Congress the ability to hear "unvarnished testimony" from witnesses who do not have to first clear their statements with the White House. Levin also said other deleted language would have created a national intelligence director with more independence from the White House.

Levin said past administrations, including those involved in the Vietnam and Iraq, have "shaped and distorted [intelligence] to support administration policies." Levin said of those and other omissions, "It seems to me the bill is weakened as a result."

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., also raised his concerns about the legislation, which he said he would vote against.

Collins and Governmental Affairs ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. -- who together led a bipartisan effort to pass the legislation -- said that the bill largely would reflect the 41 recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission by creating a national intelligence director with strong budgetary authority, a national counterterrorism center, an independent civil liberties board and provisions to ensure the nation's 15 intelligence agencies better share information to prevent another terrorist attack.

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner Wednesday kept up his fight against the bill, even after it was approved by the House Tuesday night. Sensenbrenner fought to the bitter end for provisions to ban states from giving drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants and to mandate stricter criteria for immigrants claiming asylum. He said he would offer the two items as stand-alone legislation on the first day of next year's session.

"We'll have this teed up for the first must-pass legislation," said Sensenbrenner, referring to a promise made by House Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader DeLay to include the items on the first legislation to be voted on by the House next year.

Sensenbrenner said the items should not be included in immigration overhaul legislation President Bush would like to craft next year because immigration change should not be "mixed up" with national security issues.

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