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24 November 2004

Congressional Report, November 24: Intelligence Overhaul

Congress to consider legislation on intelligence reform in December

U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert says Congress will return for a two-day session beginning December 6 and will consider legislation designed to overhaul the U.S. intelligence community.

On November 29, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives ended brief post-election sessions to wrap up pending legislation before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday recesses. Long-debated legislation to reform the nation's intelligence community was pulled from consideration by Hastert that day when members of the House Republican leadership raised objections to some provisions.

"It's hard to reform; it's hard to make change. We are going to keep working on this," Hastert said after the session ended. "We will ask the negotiators to keep working. We will ask the president to get personally involved."

And, Hastert said, he would not adjourn the House for the year until lawmakers complete several legislative matters, including intelligence reform.

Any legislative measures not passed when the 108th Congress adjourns would have to start all over again in the 109th Congress that convenes in January because Congress conducts its business in two-year sessions to coincide with the terms of office for members of the House.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said "our members want us to continue, the speaker wants us to continue to negotiate, and so does the Senate, so we're going to continue to negotiate and see if we can get a bill in December."

The bill, which has been agreed to by a House-Senate conference committee, would create a national intelligence director with broad powers; set up a national counterterrorism center; call for a broad, centralized information-sharing intelligence network; expand public diplomacy programs throughout the Islamic world; heighten protections of U.S. civil liberties; enhance terrorist threat briefings during presidential transitions; and accelerate plans to expand immigration and border security measures.

Several aspects of the bill have created concerns among some senior members of the House. Those issues revolve around how much authority would be given to the national intelligence director over the 15 organizations in the intelligence community, and several immigration and border security measures.

The bill is Capitol Hill's effort to respond to recommendations by the 9/11 Commission, formally known as the National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Congressional committees held more than two dozen hearings during Congress' August recess on the recommendations.

The commission's report, analyzing the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, recommended a major restructuring of the U.S. intelligence community. The report also included a critical review of actions by the White House, the Congress, and other elements of the U.S. government.

The report specifically called for establishment of a national intelligence director to oversee all U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center, because of the central role strategic intelligence plays in foreign policy-making.

President Bush said November 22 that he would work to gain passage of the bill. "The president's views remain that he believes we should have a strong national intelligence director with full budget authority that also preserves the chain of command," said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said November 23 at a Pentagon briefing, "I support the president's position" on the intelligence overhaul legislation. He was responding to criticisms that he had attempted to block passage of the bill.

"Without question, I favor reform in the intelligence community, as the president does," he said.

Rumsfeld said that negotiations in Congress are still evolving and that is forcing the president's position to evolve as well.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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