Senate panel approves intelligence authorization bill

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Senate panel approved its annual authorization of funding for intelligence operations on Tuesday, including measures to increase spy agencies’ ability to prevent leaks of classified information like those by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 13-2 to approve the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act, which authorizes intelligence funding to counter terrorist threats, prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and conduct covert actions around the world.

Concern about surveillance – and privacy – has been growing since Snowden began leaking information in June that the government collected far more internet and telephone data – both within the United States and abroad – than previously known.

Among other things, the authorization act would give the director of national intelligence the power to improve the government’s ability to investigate – and reinvestigate – individuals who have security clearances, like Snowden, and their access to classified information.

The bill also adds funds to deploy information technology detection systems across the intelligence community, after U.S. government agencies fell behind in installing such software to stop leaks of secret information.

Reuters reported in October that the NSA failed to install the most up-to-date anti-leak software at its Hawaii operations center before Snowden went to work there and downloaded tens of thousands of highly classified documents.

The bill would also would make the director and inspector general of the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office subject to presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.

The authorization bill passed by the Senate Intelligence panel on Tuesday faces several hurdles before becoming law. It must pass the full Senate and be reconciled with the House of Representatives’ version of the legislation, which has not yet been approved by the House Intelligence Committee.

Some members of Congress have raised sharp questions about the need for sweeping government collection of Americans’ communications records since the Snowden disclosures began.

Others, including Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence panel, have defended data collection programs as essential to national security, although she said she “totally opposed” the collection of intelligence on U.S. allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Several measures to change laws on U.S. surveillance are making their way through Congress, including one passed by the Senate Intelligence panel last week.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle- Editing by Peter Cooney)

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