Congressional negotiators reach deal on intelligence overhaul | NevadaAppeal.com

Congressional negotiators reach deal on intelligence overhaul

JESSE J. HOLLAND

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – Breaking a monthslong deadlock, key congressional negotiators reported agreement Saturday on legislation to overhaul the nation’s intelligence agencies along lines recommended by the Sept. 11 commission.

The agreement, reached in the waning hours of a postelection session of Congress, would create a powerful position to oversee the CIA and several other nonmilitary spy agencies. A new national counterterrorism center would coordinate the fight against foreign terrorists.

“Give me a cigar,” said the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. He flashed a “V” for victory with his hand after signing off on the deal.

The agreement is subject to approval by both the full House and Senate before legislation can go to the White House. That could happen over the weekend.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the lawmakers involved in the talks, said President Bush had been in touch with negotiators by telephone from Chile, where he was attending a meeting of leaders from Asian and Pacific nations. Other congressional sources said the White House supported the compromise.

The commission, a bipartisan group that sharply criticized the performance of intelligence agencies, endorsed the emerging compromise.

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The deal “contains not only major reforms of the intelligence community, but significant measures to improve aviation and border security, and emergency preparedness and response,” the commission’s leaders, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, said in a statement.

A final agreement on legislation has been held up for weeks while House and Senate negotiators wrangled over how much authority the new intelligence director should have over budget matters.

In private meetings, negotiators also clashed over whether to include an overhaul of the nation’s immigrations laws and whether to increase penalties against terrorists.

Specific details were not immediately known about the fate of those issues. Senators said many of the immigration provisions, including the House’s ideas about speedy deportations and handling of immigrants seeking political asylum, were gone from the compromise bill.

It does toughen punishments for the use of chemical and biological weapons and shoulder-fired missiles, examples of some of the anti-terrorism provisions in the measure, senators said.

The agreement was reached between Collins and Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut – the lead Senate negotiators – and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., and Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., early Saturday.

A larger group of Senate negotiators signed on; House bargainers were reviewing the terms.

On the Net:

Information on the Senate bill, S. 2845, and the House bill, H.R. 10, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov