House Passes Intelligence Bill That Would Expand Secrecy Around Operatives

WASHINGTON — The House passed a new intelligence authorization on Wednesday that will significantly expand prohibitions on disclosing the identities of covert agents and order new intelligence reviews of Russian and other foreign influence operations.

The measure, which passed the House 397 to 31, must now be reconciled with the Senate’s version.

The bill “is not perfect,” said Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and head of the House Intelligence Committee. “It is the result of negotiation and compromise. But I am pleased that despite our public differences, we have once again been able to put those aside to focus on the important work of overseeing the intelligence community.”

If the two chambers come to agreement in the coming weeks and approve a final bill, it will be the first intelligence authorization bill to be passed since 2017. Last year, a measure foundered over lawmakers’ disagreements about a classified provision in the bill and the separate dispute over spending that partly shut down the government.

Lawmakers do not debate the classified part of the proposal publicly and review it only in a secure room. It is not clear how many members outside the intelligence committees take the time to review the secret portion of the bill.

The public portion of the bill seeks to elevate the intelligence agencies’ focus on foreign influence campaigns by Russia, China and other countries. The measure requires the director of national intelligence to submit assessments about Russian leaders’ intentions, including the potential for military operations against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It also requires an intelligence assessment of the wealth of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The Russian interference provisions were part of last year’s intelligence bill that Congress failed to pass.

In a newly crafted portion of the bill, lawmakers added a requirement that intelligence agencies submit a report to Congress on Chinese efforts to influence Taiwanese politics, as well as efforts by the United States to disrupt Beijing’s operations.

Portions of the reports required by the authorization act may become public once they are complete, although committee officials said often much of the intelligence material will most likely remain in classified annexes that cannot be released.

The primary difference between the Senate and the House versions of the bill is a House provision to create a Climate Security Advisory Council to ensure that climate security issues are properly integrated into intelligence reports.

Conservative lawmakers sought on Tuesday to strip the advisory council provision, though Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee remained in support of the bill.

Despite the political theater, it is not clear how important the advisory council might be. It would include both officials from other government agencies and outside academic experts.

The intelligence community has confronted climate issues in recent years, said Greg Treverton, a professor at the University of Southern California who led the National Intelligence Council during President Barack Obama’s administration.

The council, he said, did not discuss the science of climate change but “spelled out the implications” from climate change, including which countries were winning and losing.

But House Intelligence Committee staff members said the advisory council, which would be led by a member of the National Intelligence Council, would ensure that the issue of climate change is addressed in a broad array of materials that intelligence agencies produce. The advisory council would make sure intelligence analysts had relevant climate data available to them and were considering such issues in their reports.

The intelligence measure also includes a provision pushed by the C.I.A. that would expand the number of intelligence officials covered by a 1982 law that makes it a crime to identify covert officers.

The current law protects officers who have served abroad in the past five years. The new law would apply perpetually to government officers whose work with the intelligence agencies is classified, even if they are based in the United States.

Some accountability advocates have questioned the need for the provision, saying the new measure could be used against journalists and whistle-blowers.

A spokesman for the C.I.A. has said that hundreds of covert officers have been improperly disclosed in the last five years and that it is important to protect officials’ identities from foreign adversaries.


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