Because of an editing error, a story in yesterday's editions incorrectly described the voting sequence in the Senate this week on a bill to make it a crime to disclose the names of U. S. intelligence operatives. Just before final passage of the bill Thursday, the Senate voted to reject a last-ditch amendment by Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) that sought to create an exemption from the overall ban for exposes of corruption and illegality. The story incorrectly had this vote as taking place on Wednesday.
The Senate voted yesterday to make it a felony to disclose the names of U.S. intelligence operatives, a day after it defeated a half-hearted attempt to carve out an exemption for exposes of corruption and illegality.
The final vote on the controversial measure was a thumping 90 to 6. It will now go to conference with the House, which has adopted an even more sweeping version.
In the Senate, the only question at the end was, as Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) suggested, how many members would have the nerve to vote no. Biden, one of the half dozen who did, said he was convinced the bill was unconstitutional, but he added:
"I can see the full-page ads now when I'm running for reelection: Biden--Voted to Kill CIA Agents by Refusing to Protect Them."
Both Senate and House versions would for the first time make it a crime to publish information derived solely from public records--which are sometimes sufficient to discern the names of CIA officers stationed abroad.
Vowing a court fight if the bill becomes law, the American Civil Liberties Union denounced it as "an unprecedented invasion of the First Amendment."
The crucial battle over the bill had been settled Wednesday when Sen. John H. Chafee (R.-R.I.) won approval of a CIA-backed amendment to drop a criminal-intent standard.
Under Chafee's substitute, approved 55 to 39, journalists and other outsiders disclosing the names of "covert agents" can be convicted if they had "reason to believe" their work would impair or impede foreign intelligence activities of the United States.
Chafee had insisted that another section of his amendment, requiring proof of "a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents," would shield legitimate news stories--for example, a story dealing with an illegal CIA operation.
He said the legislation was aimed at publications such as the anti-CIA magazine Covert Action Information Bulletin, which have had articles devoted solely to "naming names," and not at news stories disclosing some names simply as a "side effect."
But when Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) offered an amendment defining "pattern of activities" precisely as Chafee had described, Chafee assailed it as a glaring loophole that would undermine any prosecution.
Biden protested that rejection of Bradley's amendment would amount to formal repudiation of Chafee's earlier assurances, but his plea fell flat. The Senate rejected Bradley's amendment 59 to 37.
Chafee insisted that the other elements of proof required by his amendment were not "papier mache defenses," but he allowed at one point during the debate that the requisite "pattern of activities" could be simply a series of phone calls resulting in "a single disclosure of a single name." Chafee contended, however, that this would also have been the case under the criminal-intent standard that Biden favored.
Besides Biden, voting against the bill on final passage were Bradley, Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), Gary Hart (D-Colo.), Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Larry Pressler (R-S.D.).
Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.) at first voted nay but then changed to aye. Moynihan voted nay, then aye, then nay, then aye, and finally nay again. A Moynihan aide said later that Moynihan was torn between his belief that legislation to protect the names of covert agents was needed and his strong conviction that the Chafee amendment made it unconstitutional.
In a news conference after the vote, Chafee said he was confident the bill would stand up in the courts and repeated his predictions that the "legitimate press" would not suffer. He dismissed suggestions that exposures of wrongdoing could or would be successfully prosecuted.
Voicing disagreement, Jack Landau, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said "it's like an Official Secrets Act. It assumes damage is done" by the fact of disclosing a covert agent's name.
Under the Senate bill, added an ACLU lawyer, "the mercenaries that the CIA is reported to be planning to train along the Nicaraguan border are all 'covert agents.' "
Under the House bill, it would be a crime to identify the mercenaries even after their activities cease.