The chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on constitutional rights announced yesterday that it will open hearings next week on the administration's proposed order to lift restrictions on CIA domestic activities.
The controversial draft, which has been circulating on Capitol Hill since late last month, has been the subject of secret negotiations between administration officials and members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees, but yesterday's announcement represents the first attempt to debate the issues in a public forum.
Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.), the subcommittee chairman, said he decided to move ahead with a public hearing Wednesday despite attempts by the House Intelligence Committee to get him to hold off.
"They said that they were working it out behind closed doors with the CIA and the intelligence agencies, that concessions were being made," Edwards reported. He said he saw no justification for such secrecy.
"The public is entitled to know about what the intelligence community has in mind for activity in the United States," he said.
The proposed executive order, which has drawn sharp criticism from a number of lawmakers, would authorize the CIA to conduct covert operations in this country, to infiltrate and influence domestic organizations and to resume many of the ties it had with state and local police agencies before the congressional and executive branch investigations of the mid-1970s.
Administration officials have denied they intend to begin domestic spying on any widespread or excessive scale, but they assert at the same time, as one anonymous spokesman told the Associated Press Thursday, that "President Carter went too far in protecting civil liberties. He erred in placing too many restrictions on the intelligence community."
Edwards said he was especially concerned by changes from the current executive order promulgated by Carter in 1978 that would:
Eliminate restrictions on the collection and dissemination of information about U.S. citizens who are not the subject of an investigation.
Eliminate or loosen restrictions on physical surveillance, infiltration of domestic organizations and other highly sensitive investigative techniques that can be used by the CIA on Americans here and abroad.
Diminish the role of the attorney general in formulating, reviewing and approving intelligence policies and practices in this country.
According to a study by the Senate Intelligence Committee staff, the draft would also give the president "a sweeping grant of authority" to order the intelligence agencies to conduct any kind of operation he might want, at home or abroad.
"Currently, it is the FBI and the attorney general who are responsible for intelligence activities within the United States," Edwards said in his announcement. "I believe this is proper. There is no indication the FBI has not been doing its job."
Edwards declined to name the witnesses he intends to call, but said they would include "former public officials familiar with current intelligence policy and procedure." He said the Justice Department has also been invited to testify, but has not responded.