Intelligence reform bill would mandate new network

New legislation to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission calls for creation of a $50 million network to share information among federal, state and local agencies.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) wrote the 280-page omnibus legislation and introduced it as Congress reconvened this week.

Commission chairman Thomas Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton endorsed the bill, which also covers border and transportation security, intelligence reform and outreach to the Muslim world.

Several senators co-sponsored the bill, including Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, as well as Democrats Evan Bayh of Indiana, Hillary Clinton of New York and minority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Chris Shays (R-Conn.) plan to introduce a companion bill in the House.

The McCain-Lieberman bill patterns its plan for an information sharing network after recommendations by the Markle Foundation that the 9/11 Commission endorsed (GCN story). The bill mandates a decentralized network that 'employs an information rights management approach that controls access to data rather than to whole networks.'

The new interagency network would include strong privacy and security features and provide directory services to help users find people and information.

The bill also aims to set up affirmative incentives to reduce roadblocks to information sharing.

One of the bill's provisions would establish a dispute resolution process for use when agencies disagree about sharing particular items of terrorism information.

The bill would require the executive branch to submit a system design and implementation plan for the new network within 270 days of its enactment. The plan would cover technical, policy and legal aspects of the network.

President George W. Bush met with lawmakers last week and said he would submit his own intelligence reform plan that would create a national intelligence director with full budget authority. 'We'll talk to members of Congress about how to implement that,' he said. 'I look forward to working with the members to get a bill to my desk as quickly as possible.'

Chances for the bill's passage before the November general election are limited, according to Jim Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He estimated that the bill has a one-in-three chance of passage this year, partly because of lukewarm support for its provisions by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

The bill's chances for passage would improve, according to Lewis, if Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) succeeded in charging the Bush administration with inaction on the terrorism issue.

Barring that, its chances likely will improve next year, Lewis said. 'They can't ignore Lieberman and McCain,' he said.


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