US Senate panel approves intelligence authorisation bill

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A US Senate panel approved its annual authorisation 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 (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.

The US Senate Intelligence Committee voted 13-2 to approve the 2014 Intelligence Authorisation Act, which authorises 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 authorisation 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 US 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 centre 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 NSA and the National Reconnaissance Office subject to presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.

The authorisation 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 US allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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