National Security

Senate panel advances spy policy bill, after House approves its own version

The Senate Intelligence Committee approved an annual intelligence policy bill on Tuesday, the same day that the House version of the legislation passed through the lower chamber.

The 14-1 vote in support of the Intelligence Authorization Act sends the legislation to the full Senate, despite opposition from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), an ardent civil liberties defender.

{mosads}If approved, Intel Committee leaders from the House and Senate will meet to hammer out differences between the two versions.

The policy bill details priorities for the nation’s 16 federal intelligence agencies, including the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency.

It “provides the intelligence community the resourcing and authorities it needs to keep America safe,” Senate committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said in a statement.

“The bill also strengthens the committee’s ability to conduct vigorous oversight over the intelligence activities of our government to ensure they are conducted effectively, efficiently, and within the rule of law.”

In a release, the committee claimed that the new bill requires the White House to set up an interagency committee to counter activity from Russia, pushes research and development and targets the hiring and retention of employees with backgrounds in science, tech, math and engineering

“The threat of terrorism remains high, so it’s vital that we provide intelligence agencies with all the resources they need to prevent attacks both at home and abroad,” top committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) said.

Wyden’s opposition, however, signals possible opposition from the small contingent of dedicated civil liberties advocates on Capitol Hill.

In a statement, Wyden’s office said that he opposed the legislation over a provision that would expand the FBI’s ability to obtain email records with tools known as National Security Letters, which do not require court approval.

He also objected to a measure that would limit the jurisdiction of a small federal privacy watchdog, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, to Americans alone.

“This bill takes a hatchet to important protections for Americans’ liberty,” the Oregon Democrat said in a statement. “This bill would mean more government surveillance of Americans, less due process and less independent oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies.”

At the same time, the bill does include one measure pushed by Wyden, which would allow for the privacy board to hire staff even without the presence of a chairman. Chairman David Medine is set to resign prematurely this summer, potentially limiting the board’s work.

The House bill includes a separate measure about the watchdog board, requiring it to keep Congress informed of its activity.

Tags Dianne Feinstein Richard Burr Ron Wyden

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