Democrats likely to alter intelligence proposal

By Pamela Hess
Associated Press / July 10, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Stymied by a veto threat, House Democrats moved yesterday toward compromise with the Obama administration on legislation to broaden lawmakers’ access to secret intelligence briefings.

Democratic aides said they expect the 2010 intelligence authorization bill will be approved despite a provision opposed by the White House because it requires the president to expand the number of lawmakers briefed on covert operations.

The White House, which argues that briefing more lawmakers increases the chances of leaks and could erode the president’s constitutional authorities, threatened the veto Wednesday, the same day that Democrats revealed that CIA Director Leon Panetta had testified secretly that agency briefers had misled lawmakers in the past.

Panetta said during a closed House Intelligence Committee meeting June 24 that House members had not been fully informed about one classified program at the CIA, according to an official familiar with the matter. The program was begun following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It was brought to Panetta’s attention about a day before his June 24 testimony by an office within the spy agency, the official said.

Panetta has asked a senior officer to review the case and find ways to keep Congress better informed, the official said. Speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, the official characterized the program as one used only sporadically.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters yesterday that the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas, is in discussions with the White House about potential changes in the bill. The measure, expected to be taken up yesterday, has been delayed, likely until next week.

Pelosi, who in May accused the CIA of lying to her about its harsh interrogations of terror detainees, said she had been unaware of the June 24 revelations by Panetta until her office received calls from reporters.

What Pelosi knew about the CIA’s interrogation program and when she knew it - and why she did not object to the waterboardings - is expected to be a feature of Republican talking points during debate over the bill.