The U.S. Senate has passed by a 96 to 2 vote a sweeping overhaul of the nation's intelligence community, following recommendations by the bipartisan commission that probed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The bill would establish a national intelligence director and a counterterrorism center to coordinate the gathering and sharing of intelligence by federal agencies.
The September 11 commission recommended the proposals after it found that agencies failed to share intelligence that could have prevented the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The bill also would create a national counterproliferation center to work to stop the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, improve airline security by hiring more federal air marshals and protecting cargo, and require passengers and crew of cruise ships entering the United States to be checked against terrorist watch lists.
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, is chief sponsor of the bill. She spoke on the Senate floor prior to the vote. "An intelligence community designed for the Cold War must be transformed into one designed to win the war against global terrorism and future national security threats. The new structure must build upon the strengths of the old, and recognize the considerable improvements that have been made since 9/11 (September 11)," she said.
Senator Joe Lieberman is a Connecticut Democrat and a co-sponsor of the bill. "This bill, as we are ready to vote on it, really meets the challenge of the 9/11 commission and responds to the pleas of the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 to do whatever we humanly could to make sure that nothing like 9/11 ever happens again in the United States of America," he said.
But Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, argued that the legislative process was moving too quickly on such a complicated bill. "Why is there such a clamor to vote on a bill that is increasingly viewed as a way to make political hay in the hours before a political election?," he said.
Supporters denied they were pressured to act before the November 2 presidential and congressional elections. But they said the nation could not afford to wait on intelligence reform amid continued terrorist threats.
The House of Representatives is expected to approve similar legislation later this week. But its version of the bill contains provisions concerning such issues as illegal immigration and border security, which some lawmakers in the Senate believe should not be included.
Negotiators for both chambers will have to resolve differences in the two bills before a final version can be sent to President Bush for his signature.