WASHINGTON (AP) — Two issues have House Republicans tied in a knot on the intelligence bill President Bush says he wants: military control of spy satellites and provisions that, some lawmakers say, let terrorists shield themselves with claims of political asylum.
Negotiators are working down to the wire in hopes of getting an agreement so the GOP-controlled House can vote Monday on legislation to put the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission’s recommendations into law. If the House goes ahead, the Senate would act Tuesday, sending Bush legislation that would set up a national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center.
Still standing in the way, however, are House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). Despite entreaties from the White House to support the bill, the lawmakers remain the main opponents.
Bush, in a call yesterday to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) told them he wants an intelligence bill completed.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), the lead Senate negotiators, say they are not prepared to open negotiations again. Bush was expected to send Congress a letter today that outlines what he wants done with the bill. Collins and Lieberman said they expect the letter would endorse their compromise.
The bill has not received noticeable support from the Pentagon, which now controls much of the money that would go to the national intelligence director. Crucial to winning Hunter’s support is ensuring that the Defense Department would retain direct control over the agencies that operate the nation’s spy satellites and analyze the information they pick up.
Under the legislation, the intelligence director would oversee the CIA as well as Pentagon-controlled agencies such as the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates spy satellites, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which analyzes satellite pictures.
Hunter says battlefield commanders need direct access to those satellites and should not have to waste time by asking the intelligence director’s permission to use the equipment.
“We need to have here a strong chain of command between the combat support agencies — those are the satellite agencies and those who do the signal intelligence and the pictures — and the warfighters on the ground in the Department of Defense,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press last week.
“In my judgment this bill … would play into rendering that area confused to the detriment of our Americans in combat, so I will not support it,” he said.
Collins said yesterday there was nothing in the bill that would hinder military operations.
“The bill leaves tactical and joint military intelligence under the exclusive control of the Pentagon. The language could not be clearer on that point,” Collins said.
She said the bill would put into law “the existing practices where the CIA director sorts through the priority uses of national intelligence assets, such as spy satellites that are relied upon not only by our military, but by the secretary of state and a host of other consumers.”