Leahy, Sanders support intelligence bill

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says he’s optimistic that Congress will pass legislation this week that restructures the country’s intelligence agencies. Leahy says it appears that a new compromise plan will break the stalemate.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The legislation creates a new national intelligence director who would oversee virtually all of the country’s various intelligence programs. The new director would oversee the operations of the C.I.A. as well as intelligence programs at the Pentagon.

President Bush supports a version of the bill that’s been passed by the U.S. Senate but the proposal has been stalled in the House. Key Republican House leaders oppose the plan because they believe it could weaken the capability of military commanders to gain access to critical intelligence information.

Leahy says it’s clear that the nation’s intelligence community made some important mistakes prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11 and he thinks this bill will help the government do a better job coordinating critical information:

(Leahy) “The Department of Justice, for example, had a lot of reports about the people who actually flew the planes and they ignored them. Attorney General Ashcroft’s office and the FBI at that time ignored these complaints. We want to be sure now, in the future there’s going to be concerns out there, if there’s going to be evidence out there that it won’t be ignored.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says the legislation also contains several key provisions that will benefit the state of Vermont, including a requirement that all states, regardless of their population, receive a percentage of anti-terrorism funds:

(Leahy) “It preserves the so-called ‘Leahy all state minimum’ for Homeland Security, which is very important to us in Vermont. It authorizes 2,000 additional border patrol agents with at least 400 of them to be assigned to the northern border where we’re very short handed. These could be very helpful to us.”

(Kinzel) If a final compromise is reached on this bill, the U.S. House will vote on it first. Congressman Bernie Sanders says he supports the approach taken by the Senate:

(Sanders) “What you’re dealing with are some committee chairmen here who have concerns. But I think their concerns are in the minority. I think we should pass what the Senate passed, in this instance what the president wants, and let’s go forward and address what is a very serious problem. And that is, how do we make sure that we have a coordinated effort in the United States, which we really have never had before, between intelligence agencies to make sure we can do our best protecting the people of this country from terrorism.”

(Kinzel) The measure could come up for a vote in the House as early as Tuesday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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