After a rancorous, partisan debate, the House voted 227 to 171 yesterday to establish a permanent committee to oversee the activities of the intelligence agencies.
The new committee will have 13 members, nine Democrats and four Republicans. It will have exclusive jurisdiction over the Central Intelligence Agency and its activities and share oversight of other intelligence agencies. In addition, it will be able to make regulations that limit access other House members now have to intelligence information.
The House ethics committee will also have the right to censure or expel any member or fire any employee who makes an unauthorized disclosure of intelligence data.
Republican bitterly opposed the measure establishing the committee on the grounds that its makeup should be more bipartisan, that they were not allowed to offer amendments to change the measure in anyway and that the safeguards against disclosure were not stringent enough. Only 11 Republicans voted for the measure, while 128 opposed it.
Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.) complained that the overwhelmingly Democratic makeup of the committee would "blatantly politicize" its operation and said the lack of safeguards would "raise the question of whether intelligence agencies would make any material available."
Third-ranking Republican John B. Anderson (R-Ill.) charged that the take-it-or-leave-it procedure which prevented amendments being offered on the floor was "tragic" and an "insult to our intelligence."
"This is not an animal farm where we all bleat and bray on signal," Anderson said.
An angry Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) shouted at Rhodes that he had consulted him and Rhodes had told him that he was in favor of committee. "I wish the minority leader could lead instead of always following his followers around here. "O'Neill said in what was an unusually harsh attack even for political opponents.
"The President, the Vice President and the head of the CIA have asked us to plug up leaks on the Hill . . . There is no partisanship when we are dealing with matters of the security of the country." O'Neill shouted, banging his fist on the rostrum.
Rhodes said he was "surprised at the speaker's tirade," and added that he had never agreed to the details of setting up the committee.
Liberal Democrats also attacked the way the committee was being established on the grounds that access to intelligence information, which is now available to every House member, could be cut off.
Rep. Robert N. Giaimo (D-Conn.) said. "The secrets of the nation have been well protected. But the rights of the American people . . . have not been protested" by the secret agencies.
Giaimo said it was intelligence agencies' abuses of citizens' rights - such as wiretappings, burglaries and investigating activities of various domestic organizations - that was the reason for establishing a watchdog committee. Giaimo said if he were to find out about "another Angola" he couldn't tell anybody. He asked how a member could stop illegal actions by the agencies, if he couldn't reveal them.
Rep. Michael J. Harrington (D-Mass.) said, "After all we've been through, we're saying 'trust us' once again."
Rep. Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.), whom O'Neill has announced he will appoint to be chairman of the new committee, said, "Don't lose sight of why we are here today . . . The very purpose of this committee is to protect the rights of Americans."
And Rep. Richard Bolling (D-Mo.) called the measure the "the last best chance" to create an intelligence committee. He said it had been "carefully crafted" to avoid offending those who "believe in "greater security."
He said voting it down would cause the creation of a committee that was much worse.
One member said afterward the secrecy in drafting the details of creating the committee was "one of the better covert operations ever." The measure was drafted by one leadership employee negotiating with various committees and members, then presented to the Rules Committee and quickly voted out earlier this week.