White House threatens to veto intelligence bill
President Barack Obama’s administration threatened to veto the renewal of the Intelligence Authorization Act for the fiscal year of 2012, unless changes are made to protect diplomatic communications and ensure a speedy confirmation of the director of the National Security Agency.
The bill, H.R.1892, is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to cost about $585,000,000 for the unclassified aspects, or about $3 per American (the CBO does not provide estimates for classified acts, which applies to many intelligence-related activities).
A memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget outlined the two main concerns the administration has about the bill. Separate communication was sent about the White House’s concerns about the classified portions of the bill.
The fiscal year for the federal government begins Oct. 1. The bill must be signed by the president by then to ensure uninterrupted funding for intelligence activities.
Information regarding the detainees at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay topped Obama’s list of unclassified concerns.
“The Administration strongly objects to sections 307 and 309, which would state that the [Director of National Intelligence] must provide the Intelligence Committees with each Department of State cable, memorandum, or report containing certain information relating to Guantanamo Bay detainees, as well as government-to-government assurances related to the transfer of those detainees,” the memo reads in part.
If the cables are shared, it may impact the willingness of foreign officials to “communicate frankly on these matters,” according to the memo. After WikiLeaks distributed hundreds of classified military documents this spring, many of them pertaining to the prison’s detainees, the security of diplomatic communication has risen on the government’s list of priorities. The cables must be kept in a vacuum between the State Department and the Executive Branch, the administration argues in the memo, to prevent leaks and to “preserve the Executive’s ability to perform its constitutional responsibilities.”
Another major change an unamended Intelligence Authorization Act would bring is the requirement of a Senate confirmation process for the director of the National Security Agency. The NSA is part of the Department of Defense and was created in 1952. The current director is a political appointee, as all the directors have been in the six decades since the division’s creation.
The director of the NSA also heads Cyber Command, a program that started in September 2010 to fight cyber warfare. Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander had a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee for that role.
According to committee notes on the bill, combining the confirmation for the Cyber Command role and the NSA director role will “ensure the responsibilities and foreign intelligence activities of the NSA receive appropriate attention” from the Senate.
The White House objected, saying that the NSA role is crucial and cannot go unfilled.
“If this provision were to become law, a critical national security position would likely remain unfilled for a significant period of time, adversely impacting the management and function of the National Security Agency,” the OMB memo reads.