Senate approves intelligence authorization bill
Congressional advocates of more CIA oversight have a Holy Grail of sorts within sight -- a new intelligence authorization bill.
The last one was passed in 2004.
Key congressional Democrats confirmed Monday that Senate and House Intelligence committee leaders and the White House have agreed on measures that would require the White House to share more information on covert operations with them.
UPDATE: Late Monday night the Senate approved the measures, sponsored by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Kit Bond, R-Mo., the leaders of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on a voice vote. The bill now goes to the House, which is expected to move it swiftly.
According to a draft authorization bill that the House sent the Senate on Friday, Sept. 24, the White House would be required to expand notification of presidential covert action “findings,” or directives, from the so-called “Gang of Eight” to the entire membership of both congressional intelligence committees.
But according to Congressional Quarterly’s Tim Starks, who first reported the breakthrough Monday, the new language still gives the White House plenty of wiggle room.
The notification need not be timely, for starters. The draft bill gives the president 180 days before he’s required to notify all 22 House and 15 Senate intelligence committee members of a finding.
And “the White House could sidestep the requirement if it provides an explanation of why the findings shouldn’t be disclosed,” Starks wrote.
“The new language also includes some provisions from earlier versions of the bill,” Starks added, “such as language requiring legal justifications for the intelligence activities about which it notifies Congress; and a set of triggers for when the administration must notify lawmakers, such as whether an intelligence activity presents the potential for significant loss of life.”
Congressional Democrats and Republicans who confirmed the broad outlines of the bill did so only on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitive state of the negotiations, which have sputtered on since the beginning of the current session.
But early Monday evening the Republican Vice-chair of the Senate intelligence committee, Kit Bond of Missouri, said he was on board with the new bill.
“We can do more to protect Americans from attack,” he said in a statement, “and passing the intelligence authorization bill and improving congressional oversight over our spy agencies is an important first step.”
Intelligence committee members from both parties are so determined to make at least some progress on oversight that they’ve continued working on a fiscal 2010 authorization bill even though the fiscal year is nearly over.
Passage could come as early as this week, congressional sources said, as Democrats move to “hotline,” or expedite, the Senate amendment to the House bill. If that’s successful, the measure will go back to the House for passage.
According to Starks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has apparently retreated from a proposal by her fellow California Democrat, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, to give the Government Accountability Office authority to audit the performance of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
The new compromise measure requires only the
president the director of national intelligence and the GAO to “come up with a directive on GAO access to the intelligence community,” Starks said.
Late Monday night, Pelosi's spokesman Brendan Daly told SpyTalk that "the bill addresses two of the Speaker’s key objectives, improving the congressional notification process and providing the framework for GAO access to intelligence community information."
Critics have long complained that there can be no meaningful oversight of the spy agencies without control of their budgets through a fully empowered intelligence appropriations committee. But that idea has always died on the vine.
| September 27, 2010; 6:10 PM ET
Categories: Congress, Intelligence | Tags: Anna G. Eshoo, GAO, Nancy Pelosi
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