The House easily passed legislation on Tuesday to authorize intelligence agency activities for the next year with provisions to prevent officials from manipulating reports on combating terrorism.
The annual policy bill, which passed 371-35, with one lawmaker voting "present," outlines directives across the 16 U.S. federal intelligence agencies.
The measure was drafted in the wake of allegations that officials within the Pentagon’s Central Command had manipulated analysis to present an overly rosy view of the U.S.’s fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which threatens to develop into a major controversy for the Obama administration.
As a result of those concerns, Tuesday’s bill aims to prevent meddling with intelligence reports, and makes it easier for whistleblowers to bring their concerns to Capitol Hill.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) warned that more needs to be done to combat the terrorist group.
“Regrettably, we have not prevented ISIL from establishing a safe haven. And the group has become skilled at hiding from Western intelligence services,” Nunes said, using an alternate acronym for ISIS.
The wide-spanning measure, part of which is classified, authorizes funding for agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency, as well as programs housed within the Departments of Defense, State, Treasury, Energy, Justice and Homeland Security.
“This year’s intelligence authorization bill makes sure our intelligence agencies have the resources, authorities, and capabilities they need to protect our nation, but it also enables the most thorough and tenacious oversight, particularly to make sure privacy and civil liberties are protected,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta Democrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Overnight Health Care — Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 tests MORE (Calif.), the Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, said in a statement after the bill was approved.
Schiff called the bill “strong,” but added that he would work with the Senate and Obama administration “to further improve it on its way to becoming law.”
Other provisions of the legislation would force intelligence officials to declassify some information about the past terror activities of former detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility who were released by President Obama.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) questioned why the requirements wouldn't apply to detainees released during President George W. Bush's administration.
"Republicans are blatantly targeting President Obama in examining the terrorist activities of released and transferred Guantanamo detainees, while excluding the more than 500 detainees released by President Bush. As the annual Director of National Intelligence reports on terrorist reengagement have consistently shown, detainees released by President Bush have a much higher rate of recidivism, but Republicans are not interested in the facts," Pelosi said in a statement.
The bill also for the first time specifically authorizes an independent federal watchdog, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, while adding requirements for the board to keep Congress advised of its work. The board was originally established in 2007 to review whether federal agencies’ actions to bolster national security are consistent with civil liberties protections.
“Maintaining this balance between our national security, which is critical, and again, those values, which are the qualitative difference that we have with our adversaries, is important,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Despite supporting the bill, Democrats said that they opposed the bill’s silence on focusing efforts on the implications of climate, which the White House had supported.
“Food and water scarcity, and vast population displacement, are inevitable features of unchecked climate change and therefore will prove to be tremendous drivers of global instability, which the [intelligence community] needs to better anticipate and understand,” Intelligence Committee Democrats wrote in a “Minority Views” document accompanying the legislation.