Last-minute agreement boosts chances for passage of intelligence authorization bill

Walter Pincus
Reporter May 15, 2011

An annual bill authorizing the nation’s intelligence activities could be headed for approval for the first time in six years following a last-minute agreement to restore funding for an increase in the number of CIA counterterrorism analysts.

Partisan wrangling has prevented the passage of an intelligence authorization bill since 2005. As a result, the House and Senate appropriations committees have reached a tentative deal on legislation that sets spending priorities for the 17 agencies in the intelligence community.

Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washingon Post. He first came to the paper in 1966 and has covered numerous subjects, including nuclear weapons and arms control, politics and congressional investigations. He was among Post reporters awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. View Archive

Last week, however, Democrats agreed to support passage of the fiscal 2011 bill with the approval of restored funding for analysts at the CIA.

Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the decision would assist “the people who worked on the [Osama] bin Laden case” and end a long stretch of partisan politics.

Although there was no breakout of funding within the bill, Ruppersberger said it contained “thousands of civilian positions above the level enacted” last year and “above the level of people currently on board.” Additional positions were authorized not only at the CIA but also at the National Counterterrorism Center, he said.

Overall, Ruppersberger said, “the bill also adds hundreds of millions of dollars for intelligence above current levels,” even if those levels are below what the Obama administration had originally proposed.

The fiscal 2010 Intelligence Authorization Bill was approved in October, after fiscal 2010 had ended, and thus had no effect on spending that year. It did carry language that rearranged reporting of covert operations to senior congressional leadership, one of the issues that drew a threat of a presidential veto and delayed its approval by Congress.

Last week’s measure still must pass the Senate, but Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he has reached a bipartisan agreement with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on the shape of the final measure.

The White House statement of administration policy on the fiscal 2011 bill, sent to the House Rules Committee last week, said that cuts in funding higher personnel levels contained in the measure “will have a seriously negative effect on essential intelligence community security operations, including counterterrorism.”

Ruppersberger said other major issues, such as cuts in other intelligence personnel and disagreements over funding for costly intelligence satellites, would be taken up in the fiscal 2012 Intelligence Authorization Bill, which the panel will begin dealing with next month.

Two other controversial issues were put off. One would have dealt with protecting whisteblowers, the other with auditing Defense Department intelligence activities. The auditing measure would have allowed entities within the Defense Department that carry out covert intelligence to set up their own accounts with the Treasury Department. In turn, this would have aided in auditing what was being spent, something Congress is seeking.

When the fiscal 2011 measure passed the House on Friday by a 392-to-15 vote, Rogers, a former FBI agent, called it “a solid first step for Congress and the intelligence committees in reasserting their proper role in overseeing the intelligence community.”

The House bill requires Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. to establish an automated insider-threat-detection program. Targeted at the expanded post-9/11 information-sharing that resulted in the WikiLeaks release of classified information, the measure would put in place systems “that can detect unauthorized actions,” according to the House committees’ report on the legislation.

A Republican amendment congratulating the intelligence community for its role in the finding and killing of bin Laden passed 406-0.

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