The U.S. Congress is moving to shore up intelligence agencies in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. But lawmakers are divided over how strongly to assess blame for what many regard as an intelligence failure leading up to the attacks.
The House of Representatives Friday approved a nine percent increase in funding for intelligence agencies including the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Lawmakers are intent on beefing up the counter-terrorism capabilities of the intelligence agencies in the wake of last month's attacks on New York and Washington.
Several members of the House Intelligence Committee are also urging that the intelligence agencies rethink their priorities to take into account the growing threat posed by terrorist groups around the world.
"We need to move from a culture of guards and guns and gates to a culture targeting tents and terrorism and technology," says Congressman Tim Roemer, a Democrat from Indiana. " That is the kind of reform we need in this bill."
The House bill also places new emphasis on the development of human intelligence and the hiring of people of with special language skills, something the CIA and other agencies have been struggling with.
"All the sophisticated technical means in the world, the satellites in the heavens and the special electronic devices all over every place, are important," says New York Republican Sherwood Boehlert. " But there is no substitute for people. And quite frankly, with linguistic skills, there simply are not enough of them."
The intelligence bill was approved by the full House on a voice vote. But there was a dispute between Democrats and Republicans over the appointment of an outside commission to examine the shortcomings of U.S. intelligence gathering in the wake of the terror attacks.
Democrats, including Congressman Peter Deutsch of Florida, thought that the commission should focus on the events leading up to the September 11 attacks and should have the power to compel testimony from U.S. intelligence officials.
"Unfortunately at this point in the debate, in a sense we have not addressed what really is a colossal failure. To speak of any other way about September 11 is just sticking your head in the sand. A colossal failure of unparalleled proportions," he says.
Republicans opposed the idea of a strong, independent fact-finding commission and substituted a weaker version after defeating the Democratic proposal on a voice vote.
Republican Ray LaHood of Illinois argued that the commission would be more effective if it considered how to prevent future attacks and not assess blame for past failures.
"And I think it is a slap in the face at the intelligence community for those people who want to get their pound of flesh against whomever, the CIA director, the FBI director, people in the defense intelligence community, to drag them before the public and require them to fess up with whatever happened," says Congressman LaHood.
The bill now awaits Senate action before being sent to President Bush for his signature.
Action on the bill came just hours after The Washington Post newspaper reported that U.S. intelligence officials have told members of Congress to expect more terrorist attacks on American targets at home or abroad in the near future.