San Diego Union Tribune

December 3, 2004

Intel bill OK now, top general says
Remarks could thwart those blocking vote


WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, said yesterday that his public concerns about a sweeping intelligence overhaul bill had been resolved in the final version of the legislation, a remark that appeared to undercut a group of House Republicans who had cited the general's opposition in blocking a final vote.

Myers' remarks came as the bill's supporters on Capitol Hill offered new optimism over its prospects and said President Bush appeared to be ready to mount a strong, last-minute lobbying campaign to pressure wavering House Republicans to approve the bill when members of Congress return to Washington next week for a brief meeting.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the chief Senate architect of the bill, said, "I am basing my optimism on the incredibly persuasive powers of the president of the United States, the commander in chief, who wants this legislation."

The compromise bill, which was hammered out by a House-Senate conference committee last month and has been endorsed by Bush, would enact the major recommendations of the independent Sept. 11 commission and establish the Cabinet-level job of national intelligence director to oversee the CIA and the government's other spy agencies.

Senate aides said Collins received a call yesterday from Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, to say that the president considered passage of the bill to be a priority during the lame-duck session of Congress.

Myers said he had been concerned about the way the budget for the major intelligence-collecting agencies now under Pentagon control would have been handled in the legislation.

Although Myers' comments at a meeting with several reporters were cryptic and he declined to offer an endorsement of the overall intelligence bill, he said that a series of concerns he had raised in a highly publicized letter to the House in October had been worked out "satisfactorily."

"The issue that I specifically addressed in a letter to Chairman Hunter has been accommodated," he said, referring to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and the bill's leading critic in the House.

Hunter has cited Myers' letter to justify his opposition to the compromise legislation.

Hunter's committee spokesman said Myers' statement yesterday did not eliminate the chairman's opposition.

"We have had some understanding with the Senate for some time on the budget issue," Harald Stavenas said. But that was only part of the "chain of command" problem with the bill that was the main reason for Hunter's and the military's opposition, he said.

"The chain-of-command issue is still unresolved," Stavenas said.

Hunter has insisted that the reform legislation's proposed creation of a national intelligence director not disrupt the military's current direct control over intelligence-collecting satellites. Any delay in getting a satellite over a battlefield could cost the lives of U.S. service members, he has argued.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has refused to allow a House vote on the compromise bill because of the strong opposition by Hunter and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Sensenbrenner is insisting on including provisions dealing with immigration and border security.

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