WASHINGTON - The Senate approved yesterday the broadest reorganization of the nation's intelligence network in more than a half-century, sending President Bush a measure that some lawmakers and experts worry fails to fix shortcomings that allowed the Sept. 11 attacks.
The measure, approved by an 89-2 vote, enacts several recommendations of the independent commission that investigated the attacks. It creates a director of intelligence with broad authority over the nation's 15 spy agencies, requires the agencies to share terrorism information and establishes a national counterterrorism center.
Proponents called the overhaul a historic and long-awaited remaking of an intelligence system whose techniques, priorities and organization were stuck in an antiquated Cold War mindset that was insufficient to meet modern threats.
But the wide margin of support masked deep divisions over whether the changes would make Americans safer. Some backers said the bill did not give the intelligence director enough authority, while others worried that consolidating power under one spymaster without strengthening congressional oversight could lead to abuses.
"While this bill has many good provisions, what it fails to do is to create a leader of the intelligence community who is fully in charge and therefore fully accountable," said Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee. "If we are not diligent, our newly created director of national intelligence could end up a director in name only. Our national security surely demands better."
Bush praised Congress "for passing historic legislation that will better protect the American people and help defend against ongoing terrorist threats."
But even the president, who intervened late in the negotiations to help push through the measure, hinted through a spokesman that he does not believe it solves all the nation's intelligence problems.
"This legislation is a major step forward in our efforts to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect the American people," said Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman. "But the president is always looking at additional steps that we can take."
Now, speculation shifts to whom Bush will pick for the new Cabinet post. CIA Director Porter J. Goss, a former Florida congressman and one-time spy, and Frances F. Townsend, Bush's homeland security adviser, have been named as contenders.
Other names that are circulating, according to lawmakers and aides, are those of the leaders of the independent 9/11 commission, including Thomas H. Kean, the commission's chairman and former New Jersey governor, Lee H. Hamilton, the panel's vice chairman and a former congressman who now heads the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and former Navy Secretary John F. Lehman.
Rep. Jane Harman of California, the House Intelligence Committee's senior Democrat and a leading negotiator on the measure, also has been mentioned.
McClellan declined to speculate on the appointment.
The new intelligence director will face daunting challenges, said Tim Roemer, another 9/11 commissioner and former congressman.
"You've got a political challenge of working with the president and gaining his trust and working with Congress, you've got a big management challenge of staffing and making the centers work, and there's a major bureaucratic challenge of bridging this abyss among the intelligence agencies so that we can have the coordination we need," Roemer said. "That's a lot to bite off. This person's going to have their mouth under the waterfall for some time."
The director "needs to be able to function as a chief executive officer," setting a strategic plan for the entire intelligence network and making sure everyone reporting to him is fulfilling its goals, said Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the chairman of House Intelligence Committee.
Supporters of the measure, including the 9/11 commissioners, argued that the lack of a single, overarching spy director prevented the government from connecting important intelligence dots in the months leading up to the attacks that could have averted the tragedy.
With enactment of the bill, said Sen. Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican who was one of its chief sponsors, "there will be an empowered quarterback in charge of our intelligence efforts - someone who will be both responsible and accountable."
But questions about the extent of the director's authority sparked fierce turf wars on Capitol Hill and in the government, particularly between the Defense Department, which controls about 80 percent of the roughly $40 billion intelligence budget, and civilian intelligence officials. Some of those battles remain unresolved.
Under the measure, the director would have control and budgeting authority over the intelligence community, but he would not direct the operation of any one agency.
That has led some critics to charge that the bill is a feel-good step that would spark turf wars between the new director and other intelligence officials, especially at the Pentagon, potentially worsening coordination rather than improving it.
The Defense Department would largely maintain control over tactical intelligence and have authority over its own satellites and eavesdropping systems.
"What this bill does is change the flowchart, trying to make people think that is doing something. It adds a level of bureaucracy, a new level of bureaucracy, and, yes, creates an intelligence czar," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California said Tuesday night, before joining 66 other Republicans, including Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland, in opposing it.
The House passed the measure 336-75, with more Republicans opposing it than backing it, due in large part to the omission of strict immigration provisions many said were vital to protecting the nation.
In the Senate, Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, and James M. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, voted against the bill. "No legislation alone," Byrd said, "can forestall a terrorist attack on our nation."
Democrats and Republicans also complained that the final agreement omitted provisions that would have bolstered Congress' power to oversee the intelligence community.
"Without meaningful congressional oversight, this could be very dangerous because of the consolidation of power," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "There's more room for mischief."
Critics said the absence of strong oversight provisions could allow the White House to push Congress further out of the loop on intelligence matters, making it easier for a president to manipulate intelligence for political purposes.
"A stronger [director] must not simply be a stronger yes-man for whatever administration happens to be in power at the time," said Carl M. Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
Champions of the bill acknowledged that its enactment would be just one step toward strengthening the nation's security, but they called it a vital element of the nation's post-Sept. 11 security overhaul.
"We recognize that this is a complex puzzle that we are putting together to fight and to win the war on terror," Hoekstra said. "This is one more important piece."
Bush already has begun instituting the changes encompassed in the measure, through executive orders he issued in late August that gave the CIA director authority over all 15 spy agencies and created the National Counterterrorism Center.
"This bill is going to provide a further catalyst for change," Roberts said. "This is not the end of reform. This is just the beginning."
What the reforms bill will do
Create a new position, director of national intelligence, who will be the principal adviser to the president and coordinate the nation's spy agencies. The position will be above the CIA director.
Establish a National Counterterrorism Center for planning intelligence missions and coordinating information on terrorist threats and responses.
Create a Privacy and Civil Liberties Board of private citizens, with access to all government agencies, to oversee privacy protections.
Establish minimum standards for birth certificates and driver's licenses and improve security of Social Security cards.
Require a national transportation security strategy, including advanced airline passenger prescreening and biometric identification systems.
Tighten baggage screening procedures and security in screening areas.
Authorize money to improve air cargo security and studies of blast-resistant cargo and baggage containers.
Upgrade security features on pilot licenses.
Develop strategies to counter shoulder-fired, Stinger-type portable weapons.
Test of advanced sensors, videos and unmanned aircraft to secure northern border and new plans to survey southwest border with unmanned aircraft.
Add 2,000 Border Patrol agents and 800 immigration and customs agents every year for the next five years.
Strengthen visa application requirements.
Make receiving military-type training from a designated terrorist group an offense that can result in deportation of non-Americans.
Require the Homeland Security Department to quickly carry out biometrics screening for those entering and leaving the country.
Provide funds to combat money laundering and financial crimes.
Aid criminal background checks of private security guards.
Establish mandatory minimum sentences for possessing or trafficking in missile systems built to destroy aircraft or other destructive weapons.
Make hoax terrorist threats and giving material support to suspected terrorists criminal offenses.
Grant wiretapping and investigative authority to pursue "lone wolf" terrorists not affiliated with a terrorist group or state.
Recommend increased diplomacy in the Islamic world to combat spread of terrorism and promote democracy. Maintains financial aid to Pakistan and investment in Afghanistan. Associated Press