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House Passes Intelligence Bill

December 11, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House passed legislation Monday authorizing an estimated $30 billion in spending by the CIA and other intelligence agencies despite concern about the Senate’s rejection of provisions to overhaul satellite launches at the National Reconnaissance Office.

Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., said he still objected strongly to the Senate move on the NRO but would no longer hold up the overall bill, which passed on a voice vote and now awaits President Clinton’s signature.

Castle, a House intelligence committee member, said the House will again tackle the NRO satellite overhaul issue early next year. A series of rocket failures, which he said are ``rooted in the morass of contracts″ for satellite launches, has cost taxpayers over $3 billion since 1998.

``The Senate’s failure to acknowledge that these reforms are needed is short-sighted and risks more problems in our satellite launch program,″ Castle said.

The overall bill authorizes about $30 billion _ the exact figure is secret _ in fiscal 2001 by the CIA, NRO, National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies. Clinton vetoed an earlier version because of language that would have made the leaking of government secrets a criminal offense.

That language, strongly opposed by news organizations, was removed by the House.

``That would have been a serious mistake,″ said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

On the NRO issue, a congressionally chartered commission recently concluded that the NRO’s ``clarity of mission″ and sense of urgency have dissipated since the end of the Cold War, and that the president and secretary of defense need to give more policy direction.

It recommended establishing a new office, under the direction of the NRO director, to allow the government to make greater technological advances in space reconnaissance.

Castle’s provision would have required more accountability from the NRO while allowing the agency to make contracts for satellite launches without being in partnership with the Air Force.

The NRO was created in the 1950s, but its existence was a secret until 1992. It is an agency of the Defense Department.

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The bill is H.R. 5630.

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