KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon's 89-2 Senate vote for the intelligence bill was nearly identical to the margin an earlier version got in the Senate a few weeks ago.
Passage of this slightly revised bill pleased Senate governmental affairs chairman Susan Collins of Maine, one of the chief architects of the legislation. She shepherded it on what was, at times, an uncertain journey.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: We are rebuilding a structure that was designed for a different enemy in a different time, a structure that was designed for the Cold War and has not proved agile enough to deal with the threats of the 21st century.
KWAME HOLMAN: The legislation grew out of the 9/11 Commission report, issued last summer. It aims to make Americans safer by avoiding the kinds of intelligence lapses that helped lead to the Sept. 11 attacks. The bill's backers said the families of 9/11 victims were a significant force in getting Congress to act. New York Democrat Charles Schumer:
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER: These families showed that a small group of people, if they have the will and the strength and the courage can move mountains, even here in Washington. Without the families we wouldn't have had a 9/11 Commission.
Without the families we wouldn't have had a 9/11 bill. Without the families we wouldn't have had each House pass their own bills and wouldn't have had the agreement that we have come to now.
KWAME HOLMAN: The legislation creates a new, powerful Director of National Intelligence, or DNI, who will report directly to the president and coordinate activities of the nation's intelligence agencies.
That includes the CIA along with 14 other agencies and their 200,000 employees. But today, some senators foresaw potential problems arising from the powers of the position. Alaska Republican Ted Stevens is one of the Senate's most senior members.
SEN. TED STEVENS: And I continue to have reservations as to how this new organization will integrate these duties with the overall governmental structure and particularly with those of the secretaries of state, defense and homeland security.
Mr. President, these are extraordinary authorities that will be given to the Director of National Intelligence. That person will exercise power far beyond those I have seen even in wartime.
KWAME HOLMAN: Michigan's Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, was concerned that final language in the bill does not insure the DNI will be sufficiently independent from White House policy-makers.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: But a stronger DNI must not simply be a stronger yes-man for whatever administration happens to be in power at the time. When we wrote the Senate bill, we included provisions to promote the objectivity and independence of intelligence assessments and to provide a check on the new national intelligence director from becoming a policy or political arm of the White House. I am troubled that the conference report excludes some of those checks.
KWAME HOLMAN: The DNI also will have authority over most of the estimated $40 billion budget of the U.S. intelligence community. About 80 percent of that money now is controlled by the Defense Department. The Pentagon's power over intelligence functions was a major sticking point in pre-vote negotiations, and Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter said that battle isn't over.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: I believe that what we have here is really a battlefield victory over the department of defense. The central issue here has long been a turf struggle.
KWAME HOLMAN: The bill also codifies the new national counter-terrorism center that serves as a clearinghouse for terrorism-related intelligence, and creates an independent civil liberties board to review the government's privacy policies. President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law later this month.