The Washington Post

House passes intelligence authorization bill for fiscal 2012

The House passed a bill Friday authorizing the nation’s intelligence activities in fiscal 2012 after members of the chamber’s intelligence committee reached an unusual bipartisan agreement to remove two provisions that had drawn a veto threat from the White House.

The overwhelming 384 to 14 vote was the result of “extensive bipartisan cooperation and support,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), said in a joint statement.

The two had worked with their Senate counterparts, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), during the August recess to try to reach agreement on differences between their bills, including those that drew White House objections.

One provision, authored by Chambliss, would have required the Obama administration to give the committees potentially sensitive information, including State Department cables related to the transfer to other countries of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Another would have required Senate confirmation of the director of the National Security Agency, which collects electronic intelligence.

Both provisions were included in the bill approved Aug. 1 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, when it voted on its version of the measure. Because they were included in a draft bill taken up by the House, the White House spelled out its objections in a memo sent to the House Rules Committee on Wednesday.

In it, the administration said the disclosure of “sensitive diplomatic discussions and negotiations,” including on the issue of the detainee transfers, would have “a significant adverse impact” on any such future discussions.

Rogers has said that although having information about detainees was important, obtaining it should not block approval of the overall authorization bill. “We can fight for that at another time,” he said.

On Friday, however, a spokesman for Chambliss said the senator had not agreed to take his provisions out of the bill and would not vote for the House-passed measure if it were substituted for the Senate bill — an approach that had been discussed to get the measure to the president quickly.

As for making the NSA director subject to Senate confirmation, the White House noted past difficulties in getting such nominations approved, saying “a critical national security position would likely remain unfilled for a significant period of time, adversely impacting the management and function of the National Security Agency.”

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill would make cuts in the president’s classified original budget request for fiscal 2012. That may put it below fiscal 2010’s $80 billion, the last publicly disclosed figure for the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies.

Rogers told the Rules Committee that his staff and committee had gone over the administration request “line by line” and found ways to save, but had “not impacted capabilities.”

The Senate committee bill included “funding and personnel cuts to the administration’s request,” Feinstein said in a statement in August.

Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washington 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.

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