The Senate today approved landmark legislation to restructure the nation's intelligence community, creating a director of national intelligence and a counterterrorism center.
The Senate voted 89 to 2 to pass the long-debated measure, which sponsors said would better coordinate government intelligence assets and avert the type of lapses that occurred prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We are rebuilding a structure that was designed for a different enemy at a different time, a structure that was designed for the Cold War and has not proved agile enough to deal with the threats of the 21st century," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Senate's chief sponsor, according to the Associated Press.
The House voted 336 to 75 yesterday to pass the legislation, which now goes to President Bush to be signed into law.
The 600-page bill will create a director of national intelligence, who will replace the director of central intelligence as the president's senior intelligence adviser. The new director will have broader budgetary responsibilities and will be in charge of monitoring and tasking domestic and foreign intelligence operations.
The White House has not signaled yet whether CIA Director Porter J. Goss, the former Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, would become the director or whether he would remain at the agency.
The new national director will be subject to Senate confirmation. If Bush nominated Goss, confirmation hearings could focus on his decision this summer to bring four GOP committee aides to the CIA and their roles in the unexpected retirements of senior officers in the clandestine service.
Although the new intelligence director will have greater authority than the CIA chief does over the budgets of the 15 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, he or she will not direct or control the CIA's operations.
Separating the nominal head of U.S. intelligence from the clandestine service officers who carry out espionage and covert action was a goal of the Sept. 11 commission, which said both jobs would be too much for one person. Some former secretaries of state and CIA directors, however, said the jobs should not be separated.
The bill writes into law the National Counterterrorism Center, which Bush created by executive order in August. Its director now will be a presidential appointee, confirmed by the Senate, who will report on counterterrorism operations directly to the president.
The bill also will create a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, designed to safeguard individuals' rights. It establishes minimum standards for birth certificates and driver's licenses, and tightens the security of Social Security cards.
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) called yesterday's House vote a "giant step closer to enacting this law that will make America safer and the American people proud." House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said: "Despite calls from the left and right to either rubber-stamp the report or criticize it, the recommendations made by the 9/11 commission have been properly deliberated, and the result is a stronger bill that will allow us to better fight the war on terror."
The commission cited numerous lapses in U.S. intelligence operations and a lack of coordination in the months leading up to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The House and Senate votes ended weeks of political tension and brinkmanship, during which the bill's prospects often soared and dipped. The key breakthrough came last weekend when the White House helped broker a divide-and-conquer deal aimed at the two House GOP groups that had blocked the bill Nov. 20.