WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a bipartisan bill to reorganize the way the nation gathers and shares intelligence, including the creation of the job of national intelligence director and the establishment of a national counterterrorism center.
The bill largely follows the major recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.
The lopsided Senate vote, 96-2, is likely to increase pressure on House Republican leaders to adopt a similar measure, especially because the Senate bill had the support of all 51 Senate Republicans, as well as the endorsement of both the White House and the leaders of the Sept. 11 commission. The two votes against the bill were cast by Democrats.
Opinion polls show that the independent commission, which used its final report in July to catalog years of incompetence and turf battles among the nation's intelligence and counterterrorism agencies, has widespread support among likely voters in next month's election. And the commission's members have proved themselves potent lobbyists for their recommendations.
Still, House Republican leaders insisted again Wednesday that they intended to press forward this week with their own, very different version of the bill that includes law-enforcement provisions that were not recommended by the Sept. 11 commission. Those proposals have drawn harsh criticism from Democrats and civil liberties groups. The House bill, which was drafted without the involvement of House Democratic leaders, would also more sharply limit the budget and personnel authority of the national intelligence director.
Senate lawmakers from both parties praised the spirit of bipartisanship that allowed them — like the Sept. 11 commission — to reach agreement on the need for the most comprehensive changes in the structure of the nation's intelligence community since the creation of the CIA in 1947.
"We are now on the threshhold of getting the job done and getting it done right," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the chairwoman of the Senate governmental Affairs Committee and the principal Republican author of the bill.
In a separate joint statement with the bill's key Democratic author, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Collins said that "our legislation reorganizes an intelligence program designed for the Cold War into one designed for the war against global terrorism."
The Senate bill would establish the job of national intelligence director to serve as the president's chief intelligence adviser and to oversee the coordination of all 15 of the government's intelligence agencies, including the CIA, the National Security Council and the intelligence units of the FBI. The intelligence director would take over the oversight job now held nominally by the director of central intelligence, Porter Goss, who would answer to the new Cabinet-level intelligence director.
The establishment of the job was the key recommendation of the Sept. 11 commission, which harshly criticized the CIA and FBI, and found that lack of communication among intelligence agencies explained why al-Qaida terrorists were able to enter the United States undetected and carry out the suicide hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001. The commission showed that several clues warning of an imminent terrorist attack were ignored or not shared among intelligence agencies in the months before the attacks.
The Senate bill would enact another key recommendation of the commission: establishment of a national counterterrorism center, where all intelligence involving terrorist threats would be drawn together and acted on. The bill would also create a civil liberites oversight board to "ensure privacy and civil liberties concerns are being protected," a provision that House Republicans have suggested they may not support.