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House Passes New Intelligence Bill

A new intelligence bill passed unanimously by the House places new emphasis on traditional human spy networks in combatting terrorism.

It would increase spending by 8 percent - higher than the 7 percent President Bush sought. Besides focusing new attention and funding on human spies, it aims to increase the portion of collected data that gets analyzed and turned into useful information.

The voice vote Wednesday was on final passage of a conference bill worked out by House and Senate negotiators. The Senate still must pass the compromise bill before it can be sent to President Bush for his signature.

"The events of Sept. 11 are a sad reminder of what happens when we let our intelligence guard down," said Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., a former CIA officer who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "Intelligence is our first line of defense and it must be treated as such, particularly in this war against terrorism.

"The fact that the first casualty was a CIA officer speaks to the fact that intelligence is in fact in the lead in this war," he said. "There is no argument about that."

The final bill dropped a House proposal for an outside panel to assess why the intelligence community failed to uncover those attack plans in advance, but the Senate and House Intelligence committees will study that as they determine reforms needed to enhance intelligence capabilities.

Intelligence spending is generally kept secret. But the CIA revealed, after being sued by the Federation of American Scientists, that spending totaled $26.6 billion in 1997 and $26.7 billion in 1998, said the federation's Steven Aftergood. Since then, it's been estimated at about $30 billion a year.

The measure sets out four priorities:

  • Revitalizing the National Security Agency, which gathers and analyzes information from broadcasts, computers and other electronic means of communication, shifting the focus from intercepting broadcasts to tapping fiber-optic communication lines.
  • Correcting deficiencies in human spy networks. Among other things, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, the nation must "ensure that case officers receive the training they need, especially in foreign languages, to be able to do their jobs effectively."
  • Increasing the percentage of data collected that is converted into useful intelligence.
  • Funding for a research and development initiative, reversing declining investment in this area.

    The bill also calls for a review of new guidelines on recruiting foreign assets and sources, even though CIA Director George Tenet in September revised 1995 rules that limited recruitment of foreigners who had committed human rights abuses.

    The rules "have had a chilling effect on our ability to gain access to vital intelligence," Goss said.

    The bill would also make it easier to get a roving wiretap, amending a law that requires agents to list the instrument's location. Since roving wiretaps are aimed at moving objects such a cell phones, locations keep changing. Under the bill, if agents don't know where it is, they would not have to list it.

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