Senate Offers Counter Proposal To House

WASHINGTON – On behalf of Senate conferees working to reach agreement on the most significant intelligence reforms in 50 years, Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins, R-Me., and Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., have submitted a proposal to their House counterparts. Urging House conferees to adopt the proposal, Senators Collins and Lieberman issued the following statement:

The bipartisan counterproposal the Senate conferees unanimously offer the House answers the most critical question raised by the 9/11 Commission: ‘Who is in charge of the intelligence community?’ While we appreciate the work of the House conferees, we do not believe their proposal, which was submitted to us earlier this weekend, adequately answers that crucial question. As the 9-11 Commission, led by former Governor Thomas Kean and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, recommended in their October 20 letter to conferees, Senate conferees will continue to advocate a strong National Intelligence Director with the authority to transform intelligence agencies that now operate independently into a single team in order to better protect America. Our proposal also ensures that the National Intelligence Director will be responsive to the needs of the Department of Defense. We have made changes to our legislation, originally approved by the Senate on a 96-2 vote and supported by 203 House members, to address concerns identified both by the House conferees and the White House. For example, we have clarified that the National Intelligence Programs controlled by the National Intelligence Director do not include military intelligence assets that are principally joint or tactical in nature, and we have added a section on reform of the FBI based on House provisions. An empowered National Intelligence Director, as we have proposed, would strengthen the intelligence support provided to our war fighters. By modernizing the management of our intelligence community, by improving information sharing, and by strengthening integration, a National Intelligence Director would provide better intelligence to troops on the battlefield, and would better serve the President and other national policy makers, too. Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Governmental Affairs Committee in support of a strong National Intelligence Director, whose strength derives primarily from real budget authority. Moreover, strong budget authority for the National Intelligence Director is also supported by the White House. The Senate has taken great pains to allay concerns that the National Intelligence Director will not be sensitive to the intelligence needs of our nation’s military. First, let us make clear that the Senate proposal does not change the Defense Department’s control over the tactical intelligence assets of the military services – the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. And, while the Intelligence Director would exercise budget authority over three critical national intelligence agencies – the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office – the Senate proposal would leave those agencies housed at the Department of Defense and under the day-to-day supervision of the Defense Secretary. While an improvement over the House-passed bill, the House conferees’ offer still does not provide the National Intelligence Director with the strong authority that the majority of Congress believes he or she should have and that the majority of Congress voted to support. ”The House bill would create a weakened Intelligence Director, which 9/11 Commission Chair Tom Kean has said would be worse than no Intelligence Director at all. The House proposal could in effect leave the Secretary of Defense still in control of over 80% of the intelligence budget, an approach rejected by the 9-11 Commission and the Senate. On critical issues, from full budget authority for the National Intelligence Director, to creation of a strong National Counterterrorism Center, to information sharing, and the protection of civil liberties, the House proposal falls short. It simply would not produce the transformational change the 9/11 Commission said was necessary to improve the security of the American people in the age of terrorism. We understand the resistance to change. Attempts to reform our nation’s intelligence agencies have been thwarted repeatedly for the last half century, often from the same quarters arguing the same objections we are hearing today. The time has now come for resistance to fall away. Three thousand innocent people were murdered on our own soil three years ago. Our nation remains under threat of continued attack. The status quo has proven insufficient. We strongly urge House conferees to consider and adopt the latest bipartisan offer of the Senate conferees.