WASHINGTON - The House approved a significant infusion of new spending for U.S. intelligence agencies yesterday, while backing away from a wide-ranging independent inquiry into the performance of the government leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by voice vote, with member after member saying intelligence agencies had to change their operations significantly.
The bill would rescind restrictions on the hiring of unsavory foreign agents. Rep. Doug Bereuter, a Nebraska Republican, said the restrictions, enacted in 1995 to rein in the recruitment of sources who had violated human rights, had had a "chilling effect" on the use of agents who could be effective in against drugs and terrorism.
Bereuter predicted that "to break the back of the al-Qaida terrorist network, we will have to recruit individuals who are influential members of al-Qaida who have committed acts of terror."
"We have never turned down a field request to recruit an asset in a terrorist organization," said CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. But he said of the decision to lift the restrictions and order new rules, "if there's something that can be done to better the climate for the people in the field, that's fine."
House members of both parties described an urgent need to change the culture of the agencies.
But days after the intelligence committee included in the bill an independent commission with subpoena powers to investigate the government's inability to forecast or prevent the attacks, Republicans moved to scale back the commission powers and mission.
The bill stripped the commission of subpoena powers and the right to grant immunity, and change its focus to an examination of structural impediments to the collection, analysis and sharing of intelligence information.