This was a vote on final passage of legislation authorizing funding for U.S. intelligence agencies.
The intelligence budget -- which is classified -- includes funding for the CIA, the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency. The bill also creates a new position of Inspector General to exercise independent oversight over the intelligence community.
The Obama administration had threatened to veto the bill over a provision requiring intelligence agencies to brief all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees on highly sensitive matters. Such briefings have historically been restricted to the so-called "Gang go Eight," which includes: the chairmen of the intelligence committees; the ranking members from the minority party on those committees; the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader; and the House and Senate minority leaders. The Obama administration contended the House bill would "impede the smooth and efficient functioning of the intelligence community…."
The bill would require a 15-year criminal sentence for intelligence officials who engage in certain interrogation techniques regarded by critics as torture. Such techniques include: "forcing the individual to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner," "beatings, electric shock, burns, or other forms of inflicting physical pain," waterboarding, depriving the individual of "necessary food, water, sleep, or medical care," and simulating "mock executions of the individual."
The measure would also impose new record keeping requirements for intelligence briefings provided to Congress. Such briefings have historically been restricted to the so-called "Gang go Eight," which includes: the chairmen of the intelligence committees; the ranking members from the minority party on those committees; the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader; and the House and Senate minority leaders. The bill would require the president to maintain a record of all Gang of Eight briefings.
If the president determines that a briefing must be restricted to the Gang of Eight, the amendment provides that her or she must certify that extraordinary circumstances required such a briefing.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), the chairman of the committee that drafted the legislation, argued the bill would provide for overdue reforms in the way in which members of Congress receive intelligence briefings: "In addition to providing authorization for intelligence activities, this bill takes the initial important steps to improve congressional oversight of that intelligence community….When this bill was marked up in committee, we made significant changes to the so-called ``Gang of Eight'' procedures. As Members know, the President has had the statutory authority to limit briefings to the Gang of Eight when they involve sensitive covert actions. It was the sense of the committee that the Gang of Eight statutory authority had been overused, and that, on matters of critical importance, the committee as a whole should have been informed. For that reason, that earlier version of the bill removed the statutory authority for limiting briefings to the Gang of Eight. Last July, the administration issued a statement of policy on H.R. 2701 that included a veto threat with respect to the provisions that would modify the Gang of Eight notification procedures. I believe that some level of concern at that point was justified, and I have been working with the administration over the past several months to resolve those differences. Since July, there have already been noticeable improvements in the way the administration and the intelligence community are communicating and briefing Congress. Accordingly, the manager's amendment I will offer includes a revised provision on Gang of Eight reform. I know that many Members have strong feelings about this issue on both sides of the aisle. The provision that is in the manager's amendment is intended to be a strong and significant step towards better oversight which still respects the constitutional authorities of the President. It recognizes that both elected branches have a role in national security."
Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also praised the bill: "From my perspective as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, it's a good bill, one that will support the intelligence needs of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Every day, American men and women who are deployed into harm's way depend on the intelligence capabilities authorized by this bill to achieve their missions. I cannot state strongly enough about how those in uniform who are in harm's way depend upon the intelligence that they receive. This legislation ensures continued delivery of quality intelligence products and capabilities through our warfighters. It will lead to important improvement in the future. As I've said before, the relationship between the intelligence community and the Department of Defense is fundamental to the success on the battlefield. This bill strengthens the relationship by expanding the intelligence community's technical and human collection capabilities….This measure will improve oversight of the intelligence community by creating a statutory and independent intelligence community-wide inspector general….I congratulate Chairman Reyes on bringing this bill to the floor and urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this very, very important measure."
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) criticized the Democratic majority for failing to consider the bill earlier in the year, and contended it did not sufficiently address various national security concerns held by Republicans: "Madam Chairman, annual Intelligence authorization bills should be bipartisan legislation designed to address critical national security issues and deal in a deliberate and considered way with legislation affecting the intelligence community, the personnel within the intelligence community. Unfortunately, this bill does neither. I'm forced to rise in strong opposition. When this bill was first reported almost 8 months ago, the bill failed to address critical national security issues such as Guantanamo detainees, attempts by this administration to convert intelligence and counterterrorism into matters of criminal law and meaningful reforms to the congressional notification process. In the nearly 8 months since this bill was reported out of committee, our country has suffered two major terrorist attacks and a significant number of near misses. During that time, the majority took no time and no action to bring this bill to the floor. In 8 months nothing was done to fix the flaws in our intelligence community that were apparent to every American in the wake of the first attack at Fort Hood and, later, the Christmas bombing attack on an American airliner….In 8 months, nothing was done to provide a long-term renewal of our critical intelligence authorities under the USA PATRIOT Act….In 8 months, nothing has been done to clarify how covert actions should be conducted or authorized when they could have deadly effects on American citizens. Nothing has been done.'
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) argued the bill would make a "fundamental shift, from proactive intelligence overseas to find them where they train, to where they finance, to where they recruit, to a law enforcement effort to bring them back to the United States. We're bringing foreign-trained terrorists to the United States and putting them in mainstream courtrooms. We're prosecuting CIA officers for following legal advice from the Department of Justice in interrogation. So we're treating CIA officers like criminals, and we're treating foreign-trained terrorists like Americans with all of the benefits and the privileges therein. You almost couldn't make this up. You couldn't come to this conclusion. And with it, we've got consequences. When you look at the series of events from the Fort Hood shootings to the Christmas Day bomber and the mistakes that were made and the lost opportunity for disruption, we all ought to sit down and work this out and get us back to where we're putting the interests of Americans first versus the interests of the rights of terrorism before the safety and security of the United States."
The House passed the intelligence authorization bill by a vote of 235-168. 234 Democrats and 1 Republican voted "yea." 159 Republicans and 9 Democrats voted "nay." As a result, the House passed legislation to authorize funding for U.S. intelligence agencies, impose new record keeping requirements for intelligence briefings provided to Congress, and require a 15-year criminal sentence for intelligence officials who engage in interrogation techniques regarded by critics as torture.