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Congress tightens belt, trims 2013 spy budget

Dec. 31, 2012 - 07:54PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 31, 2012 - 07:54PM  |  
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WASHINGTON — Congress has drastically trimmed the budget for U.S. spies and satellites for 2013, though not quite as deeply as the White House wanted.

In one of the last votes of the year, House lawmakers voted Monday 373-29 in favor of a Senate-passed bill to slightly boost the president's $72 billion budget request for intelligence agencies including the CIA, adding extra cash for the counterterrorism fight against al-Qaida, and the counterintelligence fight against foreign governments trying to spy on the U.S.

That's down sharply from roughly $80 billion in 2012, which marked the peak of intelligence spending since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The bill holds personnel levels, one of the biggest cost drivers, generally at last year's levels," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich. "Even so, the bill adds a limited number of new personnel positions for select, high-priority positions, such as FBI surveillance officers to keep watch on terrorists."

The House Intelligence Committee's ranking member, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said the bill "invests in personnel and programs that are working and cuts things that aren't."

The bill was stripped of several measures meant to block the leaking of classified information, including a provision that would have limited which government officials could brief journalists on intelligence. The measures had been drafted after lawmakers objected to a series of news stories that anonymously quoted senior administration sources describing sensitive intelligence programs, such as the process by which targets are chosen for lethal drone strikes overseas.

The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says the measures were taken out to get the bill passed but that the issue remains a problem.

"Unfortunately, I am certain that damaging leaks of classified information will continue, and so the committee will need to continue to look for acceptable ways to address this problem," Feinstein said Friday after the Senate version of the bill passed.

The legislation, if signed into law by President Obama, will require the White House to inform Congress when it decides to share classified information with reporters, giving lawmakers a heads-up before they read about it in the media.

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