U.S. intelligence chief Clapper urges quick passage of surveillance reform bill

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper listens to remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama at DNI Office to mark its 10th anniversary, in McLean, Virginia, April 24, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Director of National Intelligence on Friday urged Congress to quickly pass the USA Freedom Act, a bill which would reform controversial surveillance powers approved by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Director James Clapper said that if the legislation is not rapidly passed U.S. intelligence agencies would lose important capabilities, such as effectively tracking "terrorists and spies who switch communications devices," obtaining certain kinds of business records and identifying "potential U.S. based associates of foreign terrorists."

Congress has until 12:01 a.m. EDT to approve new surveillance legislation and avoid a lapse in current spying powers, which intelligence officials insist are critical.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Mark Hosenball)