TOPICS > Politics

Congress’s Recent Intelligence Reforms

October 8, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
REALAUDIO SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

KWAME HOLMAN: For two days, the House of Representatives debated intelligence reform in the same way it has most important legislation this year: Sharply divided along partisan lines. Republican leaders brought to the floor a sweeping reform bill they claimed would fix many of the intelligence-related problems that allowed plans for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to go undetected. Majority Leader Tom DeLay:

REP. TOM DE LAY: Every provision, every word of this bill will make America safer and help to prevent terrorism from ever striking our soil again as it did on 9/11. It makes tough choices, it sets tough policy, and it reaffirms the one fact that often is ignored by too many: We are at war.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats complained bitterly that Republican leaders ignored their input on the bill, rejecting their amendments and stripping away much of the work Democrats and Republicans had achieved together in committee. Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen:

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Apparently the real test being applied here by the House Republican leadership is not bipartisan cooperation, but where there is bipartisan cooperation in the committee, let’s get rid of that provision of the bill because it doesn’t fit with the overall objective, which is to use this bill and use national security purely for political purposes.

KWAME HOLMAN: Intelligence reform legislation is a response to the work of the independent 9/11 Commission. Once they issued their final report in July, commissioners became intimately involved in pushing Congress to adopt a long list of recommendations to improve intelligence gathering and sharing. The House Republican bill did adopt the commission’s number- one recommendation, creating the position of national intelligence director– or NID, as it’s called– to oversee operations of 15 separate intelligence agencies, including several within the Pentagon, where 80 percent of the intelligence budget is spent. Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter endorsed the powers the house bill granted the new intelligence director.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: A director who can set rules for the dissemination and information across the broad scope of American agencies, so that an agency that can use a piece of information can get it without going to great lengths.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Democrats argued the house bill gives very little authority to the new director.

REP. JOHN SPRATT: He doesn’t have the power to set priorities or make programmatic budget decisions. He’s basically a facilitator, a coordinator. And the same diminished powers apply to personnel, the hiring and firing and promoting, putting the team together that can get the job done. He’s not a CEO, he’s not even a coach or a quarterback, he simply doesn’t have the power that the Commission conceived necessary.

KWAME HOLMAN: And the House bill also contains several controversial provisions that were not among the 9/11 Commission recommendations: New immigration laws that speed up deportations; new law enforcement surveillance powers; and national standards for driver’s licenses. Indiana Republican Mark Souder:

REP. MARK SOUDER: These immigration reforms and security changes are absolutely essential because everything we’re spending on homeland security breaks down if we don’t know that the person is actually the person who they say who they are. We’re dependent then on them telling them the truth about their background. We need secure ID’s, and we’re trying to address that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats argued GOP leaders had different motives. Barney Frank of Massachusetts:

REP. BARNEY FRANK: The majority’s bill is an example of a tactic that has been used repeatedly. You take controversial things, things that ought to be fully debated, things that many members would not support on their own, and you wrap them in something which has a great deal of political appeal to try and coerce members into voting for it.

KWAME HOLMAN: And on it went yesterday afternoon, last night, and again this morning. Meanwhile, on the other side of the capitol, members of the Senate argued their differences as well, particularly on the issue of the national intelligence director. Michigan Democrat Carl Levin warned against a director with too much power.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: I think it’s very important that we do it in a way which does not either diffuse the chain of command inside the armed services or confuse the chain of command or in any way make it more difficult for our armed services to have the intelligence they need when they need it against targets that they need it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Alabama Republican Richard Shelby warned against a director with not enough power.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: We should create a new national intelligence director that’s a cabinet member that has strict budgetary control and, yes, management — management authority over elements of our intelligence community.

KWAME HOLMAN: The job of pulling senators together on the intelligence bill fell to Maine Republican Susan Collins. As chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, Collins and ranking Democrat Joseph Lieberman packaged almost all of the 9/11 Commission recommendations and steered them onto the senate floor.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: The fact that we have those who say we didn’t go far enough and we have those who say that we went far too far suggests to me that we’ve struck the right balance. I’m very proud of the fact that in this highly charged political environment, I was able, with Joe Lieberman’s help, to get a bipartisan bill through the committee on a unanimous vote. That rarely happens on significant legislation in this kind of atmosphere and this close to a presidential election.

KWAME HOLMAN: But on the floor Collins still had to contend with opposition from some powerful Senate veterans. Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner was determined to protect the flow of intelligence from the Pentagon to the battlefield and protect those who gather and disseminate that intelligence.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: The military personnel are paid by the Department of Defense; their promotions are handled by the Department of Defense; their families, all other considerations. And therefore, I think it’s important that the secretary of defense, who is their boss under law, have a hand in how they’re assigned and reassigned and the duties.

KWAME HOLMAN: West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd urged Collins and her colleagues to slow down.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Let us not be rushed into this. I am not opposed to a national intelligence director. I am not opposed to that. Elections are a perfect time for a debate, but a terrible time for decision-making.

KWAME HOLMAN: And Collins had this exchange with Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens.

SEN. TED STEVENS: Now, listen to me. Listen to me. You haven’t lived with how we have financed the intelligence community. The money is not disclosed. It is put in parts of the budget, and you don’t know where it is.

SPOKESPERSON: Mr. President, I direct the attention of the senator from Alaska to line 17.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Collins should be treated no differently, nor does she want to be treated any differently than an old bull like myself, all scarred up. Stevens goes after me vigorously, and Collins would want no less than to stand toe to toe with her most senior rugged old senators and take them on. And that she has done, and that she will continue to do.

KWAME HOLMAN: During four days of debate Sen. Collins was able to dispose of nearly 100 amendments, appease almost every colleague and, in the end, rack up overwhelming support for her intelligence bill.

SPOKESPERSON: On this vote, the ayes are 96, two nay. The bill has passed.

KWAME HOLMAN: Most importantly to Collins, the bill creates the type of national intelligence director that the 9/11 Commission called for.

KWAME HOLMAN: That basically means your national intelligence director runs things?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: That’s right. And I want that national intelligence director to run things. I want, when someone says we’re faced with an urgent threat, for the national intelligence director to be able to marshal the people, the resources and the funding necessary to counter that threat.

KWAME HOLMAN: Late last night, however, the House rejected Sen. Collins’ bill and today approved the version written by its Republican leaders. A major difference between the two bills is over what power and authority the new national intelligence director will hold. Leaders on both sides of the capitol say a compromise still can be agreed on before Election Day even if it means bringing members back from their reelection campaigns to vote on it.

KWAME HOLMAN: For two days, the House of Representatives debated intelligence reform in the same way it has most important legislation this year: Sharply divided along partisan lines. Republican leaders brought to the floor a sweeping reform bill they claimed would fix many of the intelligence-related problems that allowed plans for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to go undetected. Majority Leader Tom DeLay:

REP. TOM DE LAY: Every provision, every word of this bill will make America safer and help to prevent terrorism from ever striking our soil again as it did on 9/11. It makes tough choices, it sets tough policy, and it reaffirms the one fact that often is ignored by too many: We are at war.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats complained bitterly that Republican leaders ignored their input on the bill, rejecting their amendments and stripping away much of the work Democrats and Republicans had achieved together in committee. Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen:

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Apparently the real test being applied here by the House Republican leadership is not bipartisan cooperation, but where there is bipartisan cooperation in the committee, let’s get rid of that provision of the bill because it doesn’t fit with the overall objective, which is to use this bill and use national security purely for political purposes.

KWAME HOLMAN: Intelligence reform legislation is a response to the work of the independent 9/11 Commission. Once they issued their final report in July, commissioners became intimately involved in pushing Congress to adopt a long list of recommendations to improve intelligence gathering and sharing. The House Republican bill did adopt the commission’s number- one recommendation, creating the position of national intelligence director– or NID, as it’s called– to oversee operations of 15 separate intelligence agencies, including several within the Pentagon, where 80 percent of the intelligence budget is spent. Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter endorsed the powers the house bill granted the new intelligence director.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: A director who can set rules for the dissemination and information across the broad scope of American agencies, so that an agency that can use a piece of information can get it without going to great lengths.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Democrats argued the house bill gives very little authority to the new director.

REP. JOHN SPRATT: He doesn’t have the power to set priorities or make programmatic budget decisions. He’s basically a facilitator, a coordinator. And the same diminished powers apply to personnel, the hiring and firing and promoting, putting the team together that can get the job done. He’s not a CEO, he’s not even a coach or a quarterback, he simply doesn’t have the power that the Commission conceived necessary.

KWAME HOLMAN: And the House bill also contains several controversial provisions that were not among the 9/11 Commission recommendations: New immigration laws that speed up deportations; new law enforcement surveillance powers; and national standards for driver’s licenses. Indiana Republican Mark Souder:

REP. MARK SOUDER: These immigration reforms and security changes are absolutely essential because everything we’re spending on homeland security breaks down if we don’t know that the person is actually the person who they say who they are. We’re dependent then on them telling them the truth about their background. We need secure ID’s, and we’re trying to address that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats argued GOP leaders had different motives. Barney Frank of Massachusetts:

REP. BARNEY FRANK: The majority’s bill is an example of a tactic that has been used repeatedly. You take controversial things, things that ought to be fully debated, things that many members would not support on their own, and you wrap them in something which has a great deal of political appeal to try and coerce members into voting for it.

KWAME HOLMAN: And on it went yesterday afternoon, last night, and again this morning. Meanwhile, on the other side of the capitol, members of the Senate argued their differences as well, particularly on the issue of the national intelligence director. Michigan Democrat Carl Levin warned against a director with too much power.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: I think it’s very important that we do it in a way which does not either diffuse the chain of command inside the armed services or confuse the chain of command or in any way make it more difficult for our armed services to have the intelligence they need when they need it against targets that they need it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Alabama Republican Richard Shelby warned against a director with not enough power.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: We should create a new national intelligence director that’s a cabinet member that has strict budgetary control and, yes, management — management authority over elements of our intelligence community.

KWAME HOLMAN: The job of pulling senators together on the intelligence bill fell to Maine Republican Susan Collins. As chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, Collins and ranking Democrat Joseph Lieberman packaged almost all of the 9/11 Commission recommendations and steered them onto the senate floor.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: The fact that we have those who say we didn’t go far enough and we have those who say that we went far too far suggests to me that we’ve struck the right balance. I’m very proud of the fact that in this highly charged political environment, I was able, with Joe Lieberman’s help, to get a bipartisan bill through the committee on a unanimous vote. That rarely happens on significant legislation in this kind of atmosphere and this close to a presidential election.

KWAME HOLMAN: But on the floor Collins still had to contend with opposition from some powerful Senate veterans. Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner was determined to protect the flow of intelligence from the Pentagon to the battlefield and protect those who gather and disseminate that intelligence.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: The military personnel are paid by the Department of Defense; their promotions are handled by the Department of Defense; their families, all other considerations. And therefore, I think it’s important that the secretary of defense, who is their boss under law, have a hand in how they’re assigned and reassigned and the duties.

KWAME HOLMAN: West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd urged Collins and her colleagues to slow down.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD: Let us not be rushed into this. I am not opposed to a national intelligence director. I am not opposed to that. Elections are a perfect time for a debate, but a terrible time for decision-making.

KWAME HOLMAN: And Collins had this exchange with Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens.

SEN. TED STEVENS: Now, listen to me. Listen to me. You haven’t lived with how we have financed the intelligence community. The money is not disclosed. It is put in parts of the budget, and you don’t know where it is.

SPOKESPERSON: Mr. President, I direct the attention of the senator from Alaska to line 17.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Collins should be treated no differently, nor does she want to be treated any differently than an old bull like myself, all scarred up. Stevens goes after me vigorously, and Collins would want no less than to stand toe to toe with her most senior rugged old senators and take them on. And that she has done, and that she will continue to do.

KWAME HOLMAN: During four days of debate Sen. Collins was able to dispose of nearly 100 amendments, appease almost every colleague and, in the end, rack up overwhelming support for her intelligence bill.

SPOKESPERSON: On this vote, the ayes are 96, two nay. The bill has passed.

KWAME HOLMAN: Most importantly to Collins, the bill creates the type of national intelligence director that the 9/11 Commission called for.

KWAME HOLMAN: That basically means your national intelligence director runs things?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: That’s right. And I want that national intelligence director to run things. I want, when someone says we’re faced with an urgent threat, for the national intelligence director to be able to marshal the people, the resources and the funding necessary to counter that threat.

KWAME HOLMAN: Late last night, however, the House rejected Sen. Collins’ bill and today approved the version written by its Republican leaders. A major difference between the two bills is over what power and authority the new national intelligence director will hold. Leaders on both sides of the capitol say a compromise still can be agreed on before Election Day even if it means bringing members back from their reelection campaigns to vote on it.