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Inside Politics

Senate OKs intelligence overhaul bill

Bill heads to President Bush for signing


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Sens. Joe Lieberman, center, and Susan Collins, left, and Rep. Peter Hoekstra are all smiles after the bill's passage in the Senate.
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Winners, losers in the battle for intelligence reform.

The Senate overwhelmingly OKs intelligence reform, but not without criticism.

Details of the intelligence reform bill Congress just passed.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate voted 89-2 Wednesday to approve a sweeping overhaul of U.S. intelligence as proposed by the independent commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The House of Representatives passed the bill Tuesday evening by a 336-75 vote.

The measure, once signed by President Bush, will overhaul the U.S. intelligence community by placing the budgets and most assets of 15 spy agencies under a new post of national intelligence director. (More details)

Among other things, it calls for U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to share information and boosts the number of border guards and customs inspectors.

It also requires federal agencies to establish minimum standards for the states in issuing driver's licenses and birth certificates, and directs the Department of Homeland Security to establish standards for ID used to board airplanes.

"This was the most difficult bill to bring from conception to birth that I can imagine being involved with," one of the bill's primary co-sponsors, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said after the vote. "But that makes the victory doubly satisfying."

The measure had stalled for two weeks when large numbers of House Republicans insisted on changes they said would prevent gaps in the military's use of intelligence and reform immigration and border security.

Bush was credited with pressuring his fellow Republicans in the House to break the stalemate.

"I am pleased the measure also contains many critical law enforcement tools that I have called for that will help make America more secure," Bush said in a statement issued Wednesday night.

"I look forward to signing this landmark piece of legislation into law."

The leaders of the now-disbanded 9/11 commission, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean and one-time House Intelligence Committee Chairman Lee Hamilton, said they "stand ready to assist" the administration and the Congress in implementing the bill.

Kean, the commission's Republican chairman, and Hamilton, its Democratic vice chairman, said Congress now must take steps to reform its own oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies.

The commission branded that oversight system "dysfunctional" in its final report.

Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said each house has to craft its own reforms, which were not included in the bill.

The only votes against the measure in the Senate were those of Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Byrd said he objected to the inclusion of what he called Patriot Act-style law enforcement provisions in the bill and denounced the "misguided rush to judgment" in its passage.

"We are allowing ourselves to be lulled into the fallacious belief that we must accept this bill or risk its not passing next year, with some even suggesting that a terrorist attack could result without it. That's nonsense, and don't you believe it," Byrd said.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the bill includes "Patriot Act-like provisions" inserted at the request of House members after immigration provisions that contributed to the delay in the House were removed.

"This restructuring will centralize the intelligence community's surveillance powers, increasing the likelihood for government abuses, without creating sufficient corresponding safeguards," an ACLU statement said.

The group said an independent review board established to protect civil liberties was weakened in the final version.

The inclusion of standards for driver's licenses, the group said, "lays the foundation for a de facto national ID card."

In the House, 67 Republicans and eight Democrats bucked party leaders to oppose the measure after provisions were dropped from the bill that would have barred states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and limited appeals for immigrants facing deportation.

The major supporter of those measures, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, called the elimination of those provisions from the final bill "a recipe for disaster -- the same kind of disaster that occurred on 9/11."

The Wisconsin Republican said he would present legislation on January 4, when the new Congress convenes, to take up those measures. Top Republicans have said they would support those measures at that time.

"We're doing this to stop the next terrorists and to take necessary steps to protect the American people," Sensenbrenner told reporters Wednesday.

"So that when people get on airplanes after showing their ID, we know who they really are, and when they open up bank accounts, we will know who they really are also."

Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said Sensenbrenner's recommendations would not have stopped any of the 19 September 11 hijackers.

"They unfortunately and outrageously were all here on legally issued visas," Lieberman said.

"James Sensenbrenner was trying to stop illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses. None of these were illegal immigrants."


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