Clinton signs intell authorization bill

President Clinton last week signed into law the fiscal 2000 intelligence authorization bill, which calls for a review of the role and mission of the high-tech National Reconnaissance Office and forces the intelligence community to explain the legal standards it adheres to when conducting surveillance operations.

The bill, which authorizes funding for the intelligence-related activities of the U.S. government, including portions of the Defense Department, creates a special commission to study the future role of the NRO—a Cold War-era high-tech satellite surveillance organization whose mere existence was once a closely guarded secret.

"The end of the Cold War and the enormous growth in usage of information technology have changed the environment in which the intelligence community must operate," the bill states. "The acquisition and maintenance of satellite systems are essential to providing timely intelligence to national policy-makers and achieving information superiority for military leaders."

To that end, the bill calls for the commission to review not only the NRO's role and mission but also its organizational structure, the technical skills of its employees, its use of commercial contractors and imagery and its relationship to other federal agencies.

"This legislation contains numerous provisions that will help to ensure that the U.S. intelligence community retains the capability to counter threats to our nation's security," Clinton said in a statement.

The bill also amends a section of the National Security Act of 1947, which established the CIA, to include language that gives counterintelligence authorities greater access to the computers used by members of the executive branch in the course of their normal duties. The aim is to strengthen counterintelligence programs that recently were put under a microscope as a result of IT security lapses at the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories.

Clinton also gave the go-ahead to a section of the bill that forces the CIA, the NSA and other intelligence organizations to deliver to Congress a report that outlines the legal standards used to guide high-tech, intelligence-related surveillance operations. The issue recently sparked a heated debate on the floor of the House after the legal counsel for the NSA declined to hand over sensitive documents to Congress on the grounds of attorney/client privilege.

The NSA has since delivered the documents to congress but now faces a lawsuit from the Electronic Privacy Information Center for the same information [, Dec. 3].

According to language in a report on the bill, the CIA and NSA must address the following in their report to congress:

The legal standards for interception of communications to or from U.S. citizens.

The legal standards for intentional targeting of the communications to or from U.S. citizens.

The legal standards for receipt from non-U.S. sources of information pertaining to communications to or from U.S. citizens.

The legal standards for dissemination of information acquired through the interception of the communications to or from U.S. citizens.


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