The House and Senate edged closer to a collision over how to revamp the government's anti-terrorism operations yesterday, as House leaders prepared legislation that would boost the powers of the Justice Department and the Pentagon beyond the point that many senators seem willing to accept.
With a proposed mid-October adjournment nearing, Capitol insiders said it will be difficult for House-Senate negotiators to resolve differences in the measures, which have yet to reach either chamber's floor.
Some lawmakers, warning against quick action on a complex matter, want Congress to postpone decisions until next year. But leaders in both chambers have vowed to act before the Nov. 2 elections on at least some recommendations from the bipartisan commission that studied the nation's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Neither house has taken significant steps toward revamping Congress's oversight of the intelligence community -- a top commission recommendation -- but both appear more willing to reorder the executive branch. A Senate bill scheduled for floor debate next week and a House bill to be unveiled by GOP leaders today agree on several fundamental goals, according to staff members familiar with both. They include the creation of a national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center.
But the bills will clash on several key points, these sources say, especially regarding powers afforded to federal law enforcement agencies and the military. A top Republican House aide, speaking on background because his bosses will roll out their bill today, said it will contain two provisions omitted from the Senate measure and opposed by civil liberties groups.
One would allow federal agents to obtain secret warrants for "lone wolf" suspects not connected with a terrorist group or nation. The other would make it easier for agents to charge people with providing "material support" to suspected terrorist groups, even if, for example, they attended a training camp but never acted on their training.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, denounced the proposals, saying they go beyond the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the House bill would also give the secretary of defense greater control of several agencies, including the National Security Agency, than would the Senate bill. An aide familiar with the language predicted that House members will fight vigorously for it because they feel the Pentagon's clout should not be further eroded.
A senior Democratic aide, meanwhile, said some House members believe that the GOP leadership -- which from the start expressed wariness about the proposed changes -- wants the proposals to collapse in House-Senate negotiations that would follow each chamber's passage of competing measures. Democrats especially worry that Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), who faces a tough reelection fight, could be portrayed as an obstructionist if he uses Senate rules to block a conference committee in order to kill the House provisions.
Some GOP lawmakers said Democrats face a dilemma: Vote for a bill they find objectionable or risk being labeled soft on terrorism.
"If they want to make it an election issue, fine," Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said. "When you have them over a barrel, you have them over a barrel."
Even if both chambers agree on a bill, it is unclear how it would be implemented while conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue. An administration official noted that Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) has just been confirmed as CIA director without a firm signal that he is President Bush's choice to be the new national intelligence director. "He has just got the job and it may shortly be eliminated," the official said.
"Major shifts in the structure of a body as massive as the U.S. intelligence community . . . create massive turbulence and morale problems, and can often take years to fully sort out new systems and make them effective," said Anthony S. Cordesman, an intelligence expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Meanwhile, some prominent former officials continue to criticize the Senate bill, which would place the intelligence director at the head of a new national intelligence authority that is to be separate from the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
"If he is the principal intelligence adviser to the president and has no bureaucracy working immediately for him, he will be lost," former secretary of state George P. Shultz said.
The Senate bill would bar the office of the intelligence director from being located within the CIA or other elements of the intelligence community. White House-drafted legislation, which House leaders adopted in part, would create the director's office within the executive branch. The White House's proposal would leave it all but certain that the director would be based at the George Herbert Walker Bush Intelligence Center, where the CIA is headquartered.