Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. (Photo: The Associated Press)
Provision expanding briefing of lawmakers may prompt White House veto.
The House yesterday passed by voice vote the fiscal 2009 intelligence authorization bill, which limits the funds available for covert actions next year until all members of the House intelligence panel are briefed on the most sensitive ones already underway.
As included in the bill, 75 percent of money sought for covert actions would be held up until the briefings are held.
If that provision remains in the bill when it reaches President Bush, his senior advisers will recommend he veto the measure, a White House statement said yesterday. Current law requires briefing on the most sensitive covert actions only for the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence panels and their ranking minority members, the speaker of the House and the House minority leader, and the Senate majority and minority leaders.
In its report on the bill, the committee said that the Bush administration has not kept lawmakers "fully and currently informed," and that without a briefing on all covert actions for the members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the panel cannot "conduct its inherent oversight function."
The White House said the proposed change would undermine "an arrangement that for decades has balanced congressional oversight responsibility with the need to protect intelligence information."
The measure authorizes funds for all 16 agencies that make up the intelligence community, plus the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. While the amount remains classified, it is estimated at more than $55 billion when both national intelligence and military programs are included.
The measure passed yesterday does not include money for intelligence activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will be contained in a supplemental later this year.
The bill would also prohibit the hiring of private contractors to carry out interrogations for the intelligence agencies, a provision the White House also opposes. Other portions of the House-passed bill make it easier for first- and second-generation Americans with key language skills to obtain clearances to work in the intelligence agencies, a proposal long sought by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell.
An additional amendment approved by floor vote yesterday calls for a study on whether former Iraqi and Afghan translators who worked for U.S. forces -- and now live in the United States under special visa programs because their lives were threatened at home -- could be employed by intelligence agencies. Currently, only U.S. citizens can hold such jobs.
The Senate has yet to pass its version of the intelligence authorization bill.