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Conference Report on S. 2845, Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004

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Location: Washington, DC


CONFERENCE REPORT ON S. 2845, INTELLIGENCE REFORM AND TERRORISM PREVENTION ACT OF 2004 -- (House of Representatives - December 07, 2004)

Mr. LINDER. Mr. Speaker, by direction of the Committee on Rules, I call up House Resolution 870 and ask for its immediate consideration.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I just want to make the point that this legislation is a victory for the 9/11 families who lost loved ones, heroes, on September 11, 2001. Those family members who were the ones who were instrumental in creating the 9/11 Commission in the first place and who have been tenacious and persevering in making sure that we do the right thing deserve the credit. I want to commend them on their great work on this.

Let me also respond to the previous speaker. By any measure, this legislation will improve our Nation's ability to protect against terrorism. The 9/11 Commission pointed out so well, and I quote them, "Travel documents are as important as weapons." In a provision that I have long advocated for, and that was put in this legislation by the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. HYDE), we now have provisions that fortify the visa application process and ensure that our consuls abroad have to thoroughly interview those who are applying for a nonimmigrant visa and meticulously inspect their documents.

Let me remind my colleagues that those who committed the atrocities of 9/11 entered the U.S. legally. They got their visas. They went to one of our consuls in Saudi Arabia and, regrettably, the personnel there were giving out visas like cotton candy. The terrorists exploited a weakness in the system. So they came here legally. They were not illegal immigrants. And that point needs to be underscored.

This legislation with Chairman Hyde's language closes that loophole so that terrorist will be stopped before they get their visas. That's a critical provision in a bill with many, many new programs and I support it.

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Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of S. 2845, the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. This legislation represents a hard-won victory for the family survivors of 9/11 and for all Americans. They have placed their hopes in us to make the structural changes necessary to prevent another intelligence failure on the scale of September 11th. It is fitting and appropriate that we consider this legislation on December 7th because prior to 9/11, Pearl Harbor represented the largest single day loss of human life to an attack on American soil.

This is, Mr. Speaker, the survivors' bill. If not for the hard work, tenacity and dedication of the families of the victims of 9/11--those 3,000 heroes who lost their lives in that horrific attack-we would not be here today.

Still, there has been much controversy surrounding this bill. Some critics charge that this legislation is not really needed; others contend that it was developed in a rush and should have been considered more thoroughly in committee and subcommittee hearings before being brought to the floor. Neither of these criticisms are valid.

In fact, this legislation is the product of a comprehensive process that began over 2 years ago with the appointment of the 9/11 Commission. I was an early and consistent advocate for the 9/11 Commission because I believed the families deserved answers and the Nation needed a chronicled "lessons learned" and a way to move forward to make us safer.

In pursuing its wide-ranging mandate to investigate the facts and circumstances relating to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Commission reviewed more than 2.5 million pages of documents and interviewed more than 1,200 individuals in ten countries, including nearly every senior U.S. government official from the current and previous administrations who had responsibility for topics covered under the Commission's mandate. The Commission's recommendations were nonpartisan, unanimous, and published to wide acclaim this past summer. No less than 13 House committees held more than two dozen hearings on the Commission's report and subsequent legislation. In the Committee on International Relations, I chaired a critical hearing on visa reform and recommendations for enhanced U.S. diplomacy. In the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, on which I serve as chair, we held a hearing on Emergency Medical Preparedness.

Today's historic bill addresses and responds to the Commission's major recommendations, and will bring much needed reforms to our intelligence funding, gathering, sharing, and analytical processes. Anyone who questions whether or not these reforms are needed should read the Commission's report. It is filled with information-available to us at the time-that terrorists were actively plotting against us. But instead of our country being on a war footing, the investigations were treated as mere law enforcement cases, and information was not shared between the FBI and CIA. When Predator unmanned drones captured video feed of Osama bin Laden himself in the mountains of Afghanistan, the Pentagon and the CIA bickered for months about who should pay for upgrading the drones to carry Hellfire missiles. The opportunity to take out bin Laden before September 11th was thus squandered by bureaucratic infighting.

Mr. Speaker, on December 7th, 1941 Americans said 'never again' will we be caught so unprepared for a sneak attack. But it did happen again. It happened on September 11th, 2001, and nearly 3,000 men, women, and children lost their lives because of it. This legislation will finally create a national intelligence director who will have direct authority over our intelligence agencies and who will have the power to redirect assets and resources as necessary. The position of national intelligence director should have been created after Pearl Harbor, but J. Edgar Hoover, the powerful FBI director at the time, blocked its creation. Later, the Defense Department blocked similar intelligence reforms over the next several decades. Indeed, the same fate nearly befell this very bill before us today, and it was only the timely and persuasive intervention of President Bush which salvaged this historic package of reforms from being yet another casualty of perennial agency turf battles.

Further, this bill creates a National Counterterrorism Center with the authority to plan intelligence missions and counterterrorism operations. The White House has worked with the conferees to ensure that neither the Director nor the Counterterrorism Center will interfere with the flow of military intelligence to the battlefield and the military's need to preserve its chain of command.

By any measure, the conference report will improve our Nation's ability to protect against terrorism. Mr. Speaker, the 9/11 Commission's report states that for terrorists, "travel documents are as important as weapons." In a provision which I have long pushed for, this bill will require all aliens applying for a non-immigrant visa to completely and accurately respond to any request for information contained in the application, in order to prevent the disastrous series of events in which the 9/11 terrorists failed to provide the most basic of information on their visa applications, yet were still issued visas. It is important to remember that the hijackers were not illegal immigrants. They had valid visas because they exploited the weaknesses of our visa system. With this new legislation, we close those gaps. Consular officials must interview, in person, all appplicants for non-immigration visas unless a special waiver is granted.

This bill includes provisions targeted at preventing terrorism overseas before it reaches our shores. I have been working in this area ever since our embassies were first bombed in Africa in 1998 when I authored the Embassy Security Act. Under the conference report, it directs the State Department to seek international agreements to track and curtail terrorist travel through the use of fraudulent documents and to establish international standards for travel documents, transliteration of names into the Roman alphabet, and common name-based watch list systems. Programs to screen threatening individuals before they reach the U.S. will put U.S. immigration experts at foreign airports.

In order to address the root causes of anti-American incitement overseas which breeds terrorists and sympathizers, the conference report will provide scholarships for Muslim students, more funds for broadcasting and democracy building programs to the Islamic world, and targets aid for strategic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which were described by the September 11th Commission as absolutely vital to the success in the war on terrorism.

Today's legislation also includes several important, overdue measures to bolster our national security here at home. New programs and pilot projects to upgrade airport and aviation security include explosives detection screening for carry-on baggage, training for foreign air marshals, additional screening of airport workers, and blast-resistant cargo and baggage containers. We will enhance our border security by adding 2,000 full-time border patrol agents, 800 Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators, 150 consular officers per year for the next 3 years, and advance the use of new technologies such as remotely piloted aircraft to ensure the systematic surveillance of our northern and southern borders. Moreover, this bill will grant the FBI the authority to conduct surveillance and wiretaps on suspected terrorists, even if they have no known ties to any foreign country or entity. In other words, if the FBI is aware of a person trying to produce anthrax, but he appears to be working alone, they can still monitor his activities. For the first time, a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board will be created to ensure that privacy and civil liberties concerns are appropriately considered in the implementation of laws, regulations and government policies to protect our Nation against terrorism.

This conference report also tightens our Nation's immigration laws to close loopholes. For instance, officials will be able to deport any alien who has received military training from a designated terrorist organization, was well as rendering inadmissible aliens who have committed acts of torture, particularly severe violations of religious freedom, extrajudicial killing or genocide.

It is important to note that a crucial reform that the September 11th Commission recommended, but which is notably absent from this conference report, is to change the first responder grant formula and make the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants awarded and assessed based on risk and intelligence data.

The House-passed bill which I cosponsored and voted for (H.R. 10), contained an excellent package of reforms to the illogical grant system that allocates nearly 40 percent of all of the DHS first responder grants strictly on a state minimum basis, rather than risk assessment, and divides most of the rest of the funds on a rote population basis without any risk-analysis. The H.R. 10 reforms would have benefited high-risk, high-population density urban states like New Jersey enormously, while at the same time scaling back grants to states like Wyoming that have fewer terror risks. It would have truly implemented the Commission's recommendation to ensure first responder funding was analyzed and prioritized strictly on risk. The state minimums were reduced substantially.

The Senate passed bill and the Menendez substitute were either much weaker or put too much money into the state minimums, but still represented improvements over current law.

Incredibly, the final conference report dropped both sets of improvements and essentially retains current law. Mr. Speaker, the failure to reform the deeply flawed current first responder grant program is a major missed opportunity for Congress. I pledge to work with similarly-minded colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fix this formula in the upcoming 109th Session of Congress.

While the bill creates general national standards for driver's licenses, birth certificates, and social security cards in order to prevent the identity fraud that terrorists can exploit, as well as improves the physical security of the documents, I remain disappointed that the bill does not prohibit the issuance of driver's licenses to illegal aliens. The idea of giving driver's licenses to illegal aliens is not only unsound, it is just not safe for the country. I will continue to push for limitations on the validity of licenses for those individuals temporarily in the United States.

I am pleased that provisions I opposed in the House bill, H.R. 10--to expand expedited removal and basically eliminate appeals for asylum-are not included in the conference report. These provisions would have dramatically altered our asylum procedures and would have had an extraordinarily harmful effect on true asylum seekers, human trafficking victims, women and children who are victims of domestic violence, and others seeking protection against persecution. We must continue to maintain the delicate balance between ensuring our safety and preserving our country as a safe haven for the persecuted and oppressed.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I have worked hard over the last several years with the widows, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children and other relatives of the victims of September 11th to help establish a meaningful investigation and produce comprehensive reform. Today we mark the furthest milestone in this long, difficult journey. And while no amount of legislative reform can completely heal their hearts, they can take some comfort in knowing that their government has responded and Americans will be safer because of their hard work and great efforts.

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