The leaders of the House Intelligence Committee yesterday agreed to refine pending legislation prohibiting public disclosure of the names of U.S. intelligence operatives.
Committee Chairman Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.), who sponsored the refinement, said it should result in convictions only of those who deliberately set out to learn the identities of covert agents and impede U.S. intelligence activities "simply by making their association with U.S. intelligence public."
Other committee members, however, suggested that the bill still would prohibit exposure of any intelligence operations, even questionable ones, if the expose should identify those involved.
Action on Boland's amendment came in the subcommittee on legislation, which approved it, 4 to 1. The "no" came from Rep. John M. Ashbrook (R-Ohio).
"I'm worried because I think you've made some distinctions that I think will let enemies of this thing through the crack," Ashbrook told his colleagues.
The revision applies to the section of the bill covering journalists and other outsiders not cleared for government secrets. The measure still would prohibit them from disclosing the identities of covert agents, even if the information comes from public records.
But under the change sponored by Boland, they must be shown to have had an intent to impair or impede the foreign intelligence activities of the United States "by the fact of such identification or exposure."
The main targets of the bill are publications such as the Covert Action Information Bulletin, which regularly exposes the names of CIA officers at U.S. embassies around the world with the avowed aim of impeding U.S. intelligence activities.
"Those who blow the covers of our foreign intelliegence agents must no longer be allowed to act with impunity," Rep. Robert McClory (R-Ohio) said.
Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D-Ky.) said the change voted on yesterday was acceptable to the CIA and the Justice Department. He said he hoped it would enhance the bill's prospects for quick passage on the House floor.
The Boland amendment, however, failed to satisfy not only Ashbrook but the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU lawyer Jerry Berman said the ACLU still opposes the measure "because it still punishes free speech based on information in the public domain."
Boland said he hopes to bring the bill to a floor vote shortly after the August recess.
The full House Intelligence Committee is scheduled to meet next week to give the bill its pro forma approval. The Senate Judiciary Committee will also meet to mark up a similar but more broadly worded measure sponsored by Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.). The Chafee bill has no intent clause. It would ban disclosures made with "reason to believe" that they would impair or impede intelligence operations.