Senate passes intelligence bill after Democrats back down on presidential briefings, CIA jails
After a stalemate of over two years, the Senate passed the 2008 Intelligence Authorization bill Wednesday, with Democrats ceding a key provision regarding pre-war Iraq intelligence that Republicans had decried.
Sources close to the Senate Intelligence Committee say one of the compromises Democrats made to ensure the bill’s passage was to remove language demanding the White House turn over all Presidential Daily Briefings on Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion. Democrats are said to have been hoping to establish whether President Bush mischaracterized intelligence in the lead-up to the conflict.
“The provision on the PDBs was dropped because Republicans objected and were blocking consideration of the bill,” a Senate source said Wednesday.
The request for the PDBs, which also included briefings for President Clinton on Iraq, was part of what is known as Phase II of the Senate investigation into Iraq prewar intelligence, the source added.
Phase I of that investigation, which was released in 2004, focused primarily on intelligence failures by the CIA, while Phase II focused on five specific areas of inquiry, only two of which have been released. The PDBs were requested to determine whether public statements by the White House, as well as testimony and reports regarding Iraq's alleged WMD program, were substantiated by intelligence information.
The inability of the Senate to pass the authorization bill in 2005 was the first time that had occurred in the nearly 30 years since the creation of the Intelligence Committee in 1975 following President Nixon's resignation and the investigations that followed.
The 2006 version of the bill was blocked from Senate consideration by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). The main point of contention for Senate Republicans was, as now, the provision to require the White House to provide the PDBs on the Iraq war.
Another Senate source familiar with the bill said that the Democrats felt this was the only way they could get the bill passed, and avoid yet another failure of intelligence oversight.
Democrats also dropped a demand for the Director of Central Intelligence to identify and hand over documentation related to secret prisons run by the US government around the world and operations involving extraordinary rendition.
Sources tell RAW STORY that although Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell was not willing to provide the information to relevant oversight Senate committees, the Committee felt comfortable in removing the requirement from the authorization bill because the Director of Central Intelligence, General Michael Hayden, had given them “everything we needed.”
Effects of climate change on national security
Another provision removed from the bill was a requirement for the Intelligence Community to study the effects of climate change on national security.
A Senate source close to the Intelligence Committee explained Thursday that the Committee had received a letter several weeks prior from the Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis, Dr. Thomas Fingar, assuring them that the Director of National Intelligence had begun the study. Fingar purportedly said that they expect to publish their findings in early 2008,
Senate Democrats “believe that they were given enough assurance that this matter was being looked into,” said the source.
Dr. Fingar was not immediately available for comment.
The Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), issued praise late Wednesday for the passage of the bill, which now goes to the House-Senate Conference Committee.
“Intelligence Authorization bills are the most important way for Congress to weigh-in and have a voice on sensitive national security programs. Given the controversial nature of some of these programs in recent years, it was absolutely critical for Congress to maintain its oversight," Rockefeller said in a release. "Sadly, for nearly 3 years, we were blocked from providing this important guidance and giving our intelligence officers the support they deserved.”
The 2005 version of the authorization bill was blocked from being brought before the Senate by a hold by an “anonymous” Republican Senator.
The main reason why Senate Republicans blocked the authorization from coming to the floor involved two key provisions in the language of the bill. The first of those provisions, introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) in an amendment, required the White House to turn over all Presidential Daily Briefings on Iraq WMD capabilities starting with the Clinton administration and going up to March of 2003, when "Operation Iraqi Freedom" -- the Iraq war -- began.
The provisions that made it into the final Senate version of the current authorization bill focused by and large on administrative and budgetary concerns. The key provisions include language that:
Changes the way personnel levels are authorized and gives the DNI the ability to exceed those ceilings by as much as five percent;
Enables the DNI to fund information-sharing efforts that span across the Intelligence Community;
Changes the requirements for reprogramming funds to make it easier to address emerging needs;
Authorizes the DNI to use interagency funding to establish national intelligence centers;
Establishes a contingency fund for the DNI to react to emergencies or unforeseen opportunities;
Gives the DNI the authority and responsibility to conduct accountability reviews across the Intelligence Community if he deems it necessary or if requested by Congress;
Creates a strong, independent Inspector General for the Intelligence Community confirmed by the Senate within the office of the DNI, and establishes statutory Inspectors General at the NSA, NRO, DIA and NGA;
Requires Senate confirmation of the directors of the NSA, NRO and NGA establishing a Senate confirmed Deputy Director for the CIA;
Requires the DNI to report on the implementation of the Detainee Treatment Act;
Calls for an annual assessment of personnel levels across the Intelligence Community to include a statement that those levels are supported by adequate infrastructure, training and funding, and a review of the appropriate use of contractors;
Requires a vulnerability assessment for all major acquisition programs; and
Curbs cost overruns and schedule delays by creating an annual reporting system on all major Intelligence Community acquisitions similar.
Larisa Alexandrovna is managing editor of investigative news for Raw Story and regularly reports on intelligence and national security stories. Email her at [email protected]
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The original version of this story incorrectly identified the first name of the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. It has been corrected.