With a fragile consensus that started falling apart before the meeting ended, the Senate Intellingence Committee voted yesterday to approve a bill giving Congress statutory oversight authority over the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community.
Despite warnings that any riders dealing with other issues would doom chances of enactment this year, committee Republicans promptly pressed for the addition of a measure that would make it a crime to disclose the names of U.S. intelligence operatives working abroad.
Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.) won a preliminary skirmish on that question by a vote of 7 to 4. The committee then agreed to resume the debate today worth still another amendment authored by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.).
The oversight measure, prefaced with loopholes demanded by the administration, would establish a general rule of prior notice to the Senate and House Intelligence committees of significant inteligence activities. It also would require the submission of any after-the-fact information that the committees require.
The bill also would permit the president to hold back reports to Congress whenever he felt national security demanded it.
CIA general counsel Dan Silver told the committee the markup session that the president could be expected to exercise this authority only in exceptional circumstances demanding the tightest secrecy. But he emphasized that "the administration attributes a great deal of importance" to the provisions of the bill acknowledgedging that the president has that power.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Birch BAYH (D-Ind.) offered the bill as the only remnant of a comprehensive charter for the intelligence community that has a decent chance of passage in light of election-year pressures and widespread disagreement over other proposed controls on the intelligence agencies.
"The time has come for us to stop studying and start acting," he said of the four-year effort to adopt a new rule of law for the CIA and the other agencies.
Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) agreed that it was too late to press for a full charter. "Time has run out," to said."It's tragedy, but it's a fact."
At present, the oversight authority of the two congressional intelligence committees is set down only in congressional resolutions which do not have the force of law, and in a 1978 executive order, which the president could revise if he saw fit.
The only law requiring reports to Congress is the 1974 Hughes-Ryan amendment governing the CIA's covert actions and requiring reports about them to as many as eight congressional committees. The bill approved yesterday, on a unamimous voice vote, would repeal the Hughes-Ryan rule.
The bill calls, in general, for the disclosure to Congress of all intelligence activities, but only " to the extent consistent" with the president's constitutional authority as commander-in-chief and "to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified to intelligence sources and methods."
Apparently, those caveats could also be used to restrict the flow of information about "any illegal intelligence activity" which the bill also covers. Silver, however, declined to comment on that point, telling a reporter that he hadn't considered that possibility.
On a roll call vote of 7 to 4, the committee adopted a proposal by Sen. Malcom Wallop (R-Wyo.) requiring the intelligence agencies to inform the two committees of any "significant intelligence failures," but again subject to the overall conditions the administration insisted upon.
Chafee then moved to add on a measure that would make it a felony, punishable by five years in prison and a $50,000 fine, to disclose the names of any U.S. intelligence officers or operatives who have been working overseas within a 10-year period before disclosure.
Bayh warned that such riders would have to be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they could become bogged down in fresh controversy.
The committee, however, voted 7 to 4 to take up Chafee's proposal today, Moynihan also announced that he intends to press for another rider that would prohibit the government from using American journalists, academics or clergy as spies and from letting intelligence agents pose as members of those professions. CAPTION:
Picture, Sen. Birch Bayh . . . "stop studying and start acting"