Tensions arise over revised intelligence measure
House version of authorization bill would require development of system to detect unauthorized release of government secrets.
House and Senate lawmakers are moving legislation forward that would authorize programs and spending for U.S. intelligence agencies for the current fiscal year -- even though it is nearly half over.
Notably, the House-version of the fiscal 2011 intelligence-authorization bill would require the Obama administration to develop a uniform system across intelligence agencies to detect the unauthorized release of government secrets. The requirement was put in the bill in response to the leaking of secret government documents to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
But the process of putting together the bill has sparked partisan tensions in the House. Democrats argue that the legislation -- which authorizes the spending of tens of billions in taxpayer dollars -- was not considered under regular order and that Republicans are rushing it.
It marks the first public dispute between House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., since they took over the committee.
"Eight of the 20 members on the Intelligence Committee are new to the committee this year," Ruppersberger said in a statement. "They were asked to vote on something they had barely seen." He said no hearings were held on the bill in the current Congress.
"In fact, the final classified annex which contains the figures for the budget was only provided to members the morning of the markup proceeding," Ruppersberger added. "Members were asked to vote on a bill that authorizes tens of billions of dollars without having a chance to even read it."
The House Intelligence panel approved the bill last week, and the Senate Intelligence Committee gave the bill its nod on Tuesday.
Rogers defended the decision to go forward with the bill.
"We decided in a very congenial way that we're going to go ahead with the '11 budget so that we can reestablish the committee [and] so the intelligence community has the resources it needs for the rest of the fiscal year to initiate programs which [were] really already approved last year," Rogers told National Journal Daily.
"There are programmatic things that need to happen around the world that are classified that need steady streams of funding for the remainder of the fiscal year," Rogers added. "This should have been done last year. It wasn't done. I think it's important that we do this so we can give [intelligence agencies] the certainty they need to keep America safe."
Rogers said that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is looking for time to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote.
A Republican aide on the House panel said that work went into crafting the bill during the last Congress and that the GOP majority made "an aggressive effort" to bring all panel members up to speed.
"This wasn't something that was done at the last minute," the aide said.
Lawmakers have decided to strip the bill of most controversial provisions in order to ensure that it advances.
"If this committee can't pass authorization bills … which give the scope and force of law to what we do, we are in fact a paper tiger," Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in an interview.
"We have preconferenced with the House and I think we are in relatively good shape," Feinstein added. "We know the only way we can do it is get it through unanimously, which means there isn't going to be an overridingly big issue in it this year."
She noted there "are issues that need to be resolved" in the classified portion of the bill but would not discuss them.
In response to the disclosure of thousands of secret documents by WikiLeaks, the House version of the bill would require the director of national intelligence to create "an effective automated insider threat detection program for the information resources in each element of the intelligence community in order to detect unauthorized access to, or use or transmission of, classified intelligence."
"We need to make sure we learn the right lessons from WikiLeaks," Rogers said. "The road to achieving smart access begins with the insider threat detection system described in our bill. It includes tools like auditing controls to detect the misuse of our sensitive data, similar to the systems credit-card companies use to detect fraud."
He added: "The provision in the committee's FY11 bill sets a deadline for establishing both an initial and full operating capability for this system, and is a part of my larger efforts to achieve smart access."