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Conferees agree on 8 percent spending boost for intelligence
WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers from the Senate and House agreed Wednesday to increase intelligence spending by 8 percent with an emphasis on rebuilding traditional human spy networks and boosting analysis of raw data so it will be useful to America's war against terrorism.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., said, "We think this bill is the platform for the significant reforms I suspect we will be recommending."
Both the House and Senate must vote on the final version of the intelligence authorization bill before it becomes law. Graham said he hopes that happens this week.
The measure that emerged from the House-Senate conference -- which resolves differences between bills approved by both chambers -- dropped a House proposal for an outside panel to assess why the intelligence community failed to uncover the Sept. 11 terror attacks in advance.
Instead, the Senate and House intelligence committees will study that as they determine reforms needed to protect Americans, Graham said, saying he and House Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., agree.
"The same group that is going to be prescribing the reforms ought to be diagnosing what the pathology is," Graham told reporters.
Intelligence spending is generally kept secret. But the CIA revealed, after being sued by the Federation of American Scientists, that spending totaled $26.6 billion in 1997 and $26.7 billion in 1998, said the federation's Steven Aftergood. Since then, it's been estimated at $30 billion.
The 8 percent increase in authorized spending in the compromise bill is higher than President Bush's request for 7 percent. The Senate originally sought a 7.7 percent increase, while the House bill called for a 9 percent rise.
The measure sets out four priorities:
--Revitalizing the National Security Agency that gathers and analyzes information from broadcasts, computers and other electronic means of communication, shifting the focus from intercepting broadcasts to tapping fiber-optic communication lines.
--Correcting deficiencies in human spy networks. "We've got a lot of ground to cover," Graham said. During the Cold War, he said, intelligence focused "on one big target," the Soviet Union, officials spoke Russian. As a result, the community was unprepared for dealing with "dozens of targets where we didn't speak the language, didn't know the culture."
--Correcting the imbalance between information collection and analysis that turns it into intelligence. The percentage of data that is converted into useful intelligence must increase, he said.
--Funding for a robust research and development initiative, reversing declining investment in this area.
Under the bill, the Coast Guard's intelligence unit would join the nation's intelligence community. That means that when the community determines how to deploy satellites, for example, the Coast Guard "will be at the table," able to say it needs coverage of a certain port where suspect goods might be coming in, Graham said. Some 16,000 containers enter American ports every day, and only 3 percent are inspected, he said.
Although both chambers pushed to remove a limit on recruiting foreigners who had committed human rights abuses, the final bill dropped that provision because CIA Director George Tenet has already revised it.
The bill would make it easier to get a roving wiretap, amending a law that requires agents to list the instrument's location. Since roving wiretaps are aimed at moving objects such as cell phones, locations keep changing. Under the bill, if agents don't know where it is, they would not have to list it.