The Senate yesterday passed, 89 to 1, and sent to the House a bill that had started out as a 172-page charter for the U.S. intelligence community and ended as a four-page change in the rules on keeping Congress informed of intelligence activities. Only William Proxmire (D-Wis.) voted against the bill.
The spying community now is subject to the Hughes-Ryan amendment to a foreign aid bill in 1974 that requires that the CIA report to eight congressional committees in "a timely fashion" -- which could mean after the fact -- on covert operations, which might include helping topple an unfriendly government.
The bill approved yesterday expands reporting requirements to include all U.S. intelligence agencies, but reduces the number of committees they must report to the House and Senate Intelligence committees. The bill requires that prior notice be given of intelligence activities, but if the president determines it would be too risky to national security to give the information to such a large group, the information may be given only to eight members -- the four senior congressional leaders of both parties and the four senior members of the two committees.
Should the president claim some alleged constitutional power not to give any prior notice of covert operations, he is directed to "fully inform" the Intelligence committees in a timely fashion.
The intelligence agencies are directed generally to keep the two committees "fully and currently informed" of their activities.
The House has written into a foreign aid bill still pending before it a narrower provision which simply modifies Hughes-Ryan by reducing to two the number of committees to which the CIA must report on its covert operations.