The House and Senate intelligence committees have agreed on legislation that would authorize the Central Intelligence Agency to provide communications equipment to Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries, congressional sources said yesterday.
The sources said the equipment, primarily radios, would be used by the rebels to receive and transmit intelligence information.
The sources said the bill would clarify provisions in existing law that have been interpreted as permitting a limited sharing of U.S. intelligence with the rebels, also known as contras. Backers of the legislation reportedly argued that if the information is to be useful, the rebels need radios to share it.
In addition, the sources said, the two panels have agreed on language intended to spell out more explicitly congressional prohibitions on CIA advice to the contras about military operations.
The sources said both provisions are contained in a new intelligence authorization bill, part of which is secret. It is expected to be submitted to the full House and Senate next week.
The proposed radios would be in addition to the $27 million in nonmilitary humanitarian aid authorized for the contras. In voting for such aid, Congress specified that the funds could not be channeled through the CIA or Defense Department. The Reagan administration has established a special office within the State Department to disburse the aid.
A controversy arose last September over allegations that the administration tried to circumvent the ban on CIA assistance by having a member of the National Security Council staff, Lt. Col. Oliver North, advise insurgent leaders on military tactics.
President Reagan then assured Congress that the White House staff would comply with the so-called Boland amendment barring CIA assistance to the contras.
Congressional suspicion has persisted about whether existing laws contain loopholes enabling the CIA to bypass the ban on its involvement with the contras. The sources said language in the new authorization bill is intended to provide a more detailed explanation of what the CIA can and cannot do in dealing with the insur- gents.
Similarly, the sources said, inclusion of language specifically authorizing the radios is intended to avoid charges that the administration might be trying to stretch the definition of humanitarian aid to include items outside that category.