US Congress passes intelligence bill

The US Congress on Wednesday gave final approval to the biggest overhaul of US spy agencies in more than 50 years, sending the bill to President George W. Bush for his signature.

    Bush staunchly supports the bill and has said he will endorse it

    A majority of the US Senate voted for the measure a day after the House of Representatives passed it.

    The bill is a hard-fought compromise that ended months of political wrangling over the power of the Pentagon under the post September 11 reforms.


    The bill, which creates a new director of national intelligence

    post, then goes to President George Bush for his promised

    endorsement.

    The House of Representatives passed the bill after lawmakers resolved

    differences over Pentagon authority on intelligence needed to

    help battlefield commanders, and Republican leaders decided to

    put off a fight over immigration issues until next year.

    Dozens of Republicans broke ranks with Bush and voted

    against it because the compromise bill omitted immigration

    provisions they wanted.

    The bill, sought by some of the families of September 11

    victims, would implement key recommendations made by the 9/11

    commission and create a new director of national

    intelligence with strong budget powers to oversee 15 US spy

    agencies.

    It also creates a new centre that

    would plan and help oversee counterterrorism operations.

    September 11 attacks

    White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush monitored a

    broadcast of the House debate aboard Air Force One as he flew

    back to Washington from California.

    "The president is very pleased with House passage. He knows

    that this bill will make America safer... He greatly looks

    forward to Senate passage and ultimately to signing the bill

    into law"


    Trent Duffy,
    White House spokesman

    "The president is very pleased with House passage. He knows

    that this bill will make America safer... He greatly looks

    forward to Senate passage and ultimately to signing the bill

    into law," Duffy said.

    The bill is the biggest revamping of US intelligence in

    more than 50 years and the second major government overhaul

    since the September 11 attacks against the World Trade

    Center and Pentagon that killed almost 3000 people, more than three years ago.

    Congress

    earlier created the Homeland Security Department that brought

    together various federal law enforcement agencies.

    The bill stalled last month and appeared dead for the year,

    but found new life under pressure from families of victims of

    the attacks.

    Last-minute appeals by Bush to House

    Republican holdouts helped secure a final agreement between the

    House and Senate over language ensuring that battlefield

    commanders have priority access to intelligence assets.

    Passage of the legislation was all but secured when House

    armed services committee chairman Duncan Hunter

    and Senate armed services committee chairman John

    Warner announced their

    support on Monday after resolving the Pentagon authority issue.

    Civil liberties

    Wrangling about the chain of command issue and a dispute

    over immigration provisions sought by House judiciary committee c

    hairman James Sensenbrenner had

    delayed passage of the bill after House and Senate negotiators

    thought they had completed a deal last month.

    The bill was sought by families of
    September 11 victims

    Sensenbrenner voted against the bill even though House

    leaders promised they would push next year for immigration

    provisions he unsuccessfully sought to include.

    The bill does contain other immigration and law enforcement

    measures, including minimum standards for drivers licences and

    other identification that is needed to board aircraft.

    It also

    would add more border patrol agents and increase the number of

    beds available to house illegal immigrants and "terror suspects".

    The bill also increases powers to pursue "terror suspects"

    and calls for a national transportation security strategy.

    It would also create a civil liberties oversight board to

    ensure privacy and civil liberty issues are considered in

    writing regulations and implementing the law.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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