Senate panel approves intelligence authorization measure

Bill would require the disclosure of the overall funding requested, authorized and appropriated for intelligence.

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday approved its fiscal 2008 authorization bill, which would grant more flexibility and authority to the national intelligence director while requiring greater accountability from the intelligence community.

Congress has failed to reauthorize funding for the nation's intelligence agencies for two years, but committee Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he and ranking Republican Christopher (Kit) Bond of Missouri are "committed to making sure that it doesn't happen again."

The House earlier this month passed its own intelligence bill, with Democrats hailing it as the largest measure of its kind ever written. The total amount of authorized funding is classified, as are much of its contents, but it is estimated to be about $44 billion.

The Senate legislation would require the disclosure of the overall funding requested, authorized and appropriated for intelligence. Lisa Graves, deputy director of the Center for National Security Studies, said it is "undemocratic" for those statistics to be kept secret.

The bill would fund information-sharing efforts across the intelligence arena; change requirements for redirecting money to address emerging needs; allow interagency funds to go toward national intelligence centers; and establish a rainy-day fund for emergencies.

The legislation also would boost the penalty for disclosing the name of a covert agent, as happened to former agent Valerie Plame in 2003, and require the CIA to make public a declassified summary of the agency inspector general's accountability report of the events associated with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The position of inspector general would be created for the intelligence community, National Security Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, Defense Intelligence Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

"Intelligence authorization bills are the most important tools we have in Congress to strengthen existing programs and better prepare for the future," Rockefeller said in a statement.

Bond said committee members worked to limit the bill to "just those provisions that had strong bipartisan support," but a few amendments slipped in that he believes will make final passage more difficult. Bond's spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment on the problematic amendments.

A Rockefeller spokeswoman said the measure probably will not come up for a Senate floor vote until late June or early July.

Intelligence and National Security Alliance President Timothy Sample called the panel's passage of the measure "good for the oversight process" but said he would have to wait to see whether the bill "will strengthen our intelligence capabilities and Congress' oversight, or if it adds more politics to the process."

The legislation is "a real test for the intelligence oversight process," added Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. "If Congress proves unable to enact a bill for a third straight year, then oversight will be truly broken."

On the House side, meanwhile, the Intelligence Committee on Wednesday announced plans to hold a series of hearings beginning next month on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Since the law was enacted in 1978, Congress has updated it more than 50 times, but concerns persist about whether current rules and practices are adequate to track terrorist communications while protecting Americans' privacy.