Senators working on the bill to restructure U.S. intelligence-gathering will not accept House-proposed language delivered late Friday on the powers for a national intelligence director and other elements, according to congressional staff members involved in the conference committee negotiations.
House and Senate conferees are trying to find common language in the complex legislation that each chamber approved earlier this month, but differences between the measures -- and proposals acceptable to the White House -- have prevented agreement.
Although President Bush used his radio address yesterday to urge Congress "to act quickly, so I can sign these needed reforms into law," any hope of a resolution before Election Day has all but faded.
Both House and Senate measures, which began with recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission, call for creating a national intelligence director with authority over all 15 agencies in the intelligence community. Both also establish a national counterterrorism center to combat terrorists at home and abroad. In addition, both chambers amended laws covering immigration, terrorist financing and other areas related to the war on terrorism.
On Friday, the chairman of the Senate conferees, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said negotiations should at first be limited to finding agreement on Title I, which deals with the national intelligence director and NCTC. "If we can't reach agreement on these," she said in an interview, "there will be no bill."
The House Republican language on Title I received Friday was described as not acceptable by congressional aides involved in the process. The Senate conferees will make a counteroffer today, the aides said.
Although most attention has been paid to the budget authority the national intelligence director would have over funding of three Pentagon-based intelligence collection agencies, now controlled by the defense secretary, Collins said there are other key portions of Title I that remain at issue.
The Senate bill calls for establishment of an independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board within the executive branch that has drawn opposition not only from the House conferees but also from the White House. In addition, the Senate wants the foreign intelligence budget figure made public, which is also opposed by the White House and House members.
The White House wants Congress to authorize only the national intelligence director and a deputy, while allowing all other jobs in the new national intelligence authority to be established by the executive branch. Collins said she and her colleagues plan to insist there be an inspector general and comptroller established within the organization by law.
There also are major differences in the role of the NCTC in formulating plans for covert operations carried out by the CIA, Pentagon or FBI and whether the national intelligence director "controls" the CIA or just receives reports on its activities from the CIA director.
Meanwhile, a Democratic campaign official confirmed a Financial Times report yesterday that Rand Beers, national security adviser to the Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, said that the new CIA director, Porter J. Goss, would "likely" be asked to resign if Kerry wins the presidency on Nov. 2. "It is to be expected," the official said, noting that other political appointees to that post, including onetime CIA director George H.W. Bush, who later became president, were also asked to leave.
"Kerry ought to announce that publicly," a former CIA official said yesterday, "because it would get him votes among agency employees." They resent Goss bringing as aides a handful of GOP staff members from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which he had chaired.