Thirty-three House Democrats proposed legislation yesterday that would extend the authority of the General Accounting Office to carry out audits and investigations of Central Intelligence Agency activities.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.) and including Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.) among its cosponsors, is the latest in a series of recently proposed measures aimed at preventing a repetition of unauthorized CIA operations such as those disclosed by the Iran-contra investigation.
Pressure for stricter congressional oversight of CIA activities is expected to gain momentum after the Senate and House special panels investigating the Iran-contra affair issue their report, scheduled for Nov. 13.
"The Iran-contra scandal and new revelations of CIA activities make it clear that the CIA has sometimes acted as if it is not subject to this nation's laws," Panetta said in a statement. "But in a democracy, no agency or individual is above the law."
In July, Sen. John H. Glenn (D-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced an identical bill that would allow the GAO to impose the same standards of financial accountability it already applies to other federal agencies.
Last month, the chairmen and vice chairmen of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and those of the special Iran-contra investigative committee came out in support of legislation that would require written authorization for all CIA covert actions, prohibit retroactive authorizations and require that the congressional intelligence committees be advised of all presidential "findings" permitting such activities with 48 hours of their being signed.
An even more stringent bill to strengthen the congressional oversight process was introduced last week by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), also a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence. He proposed legislation that would split the job of the director of central intelligence in two positions and impose various new controls to strengthen oversight and prevent runaway operations.
The Panetta-Glenn bills, formally called the CIA Accountability Act of 1987, would give the GAO the power to audit CIA financial transactions and evaluate the agency's programs and activities at the request either of the comptroller general or the chairmen or ranking minority members of the Senate and House intelligence committees.
The results would be disclosed only to the two intelligence committees and the CIA director. GAO investigators would have to obtain CIA security clearance and the president would be allowed to exempt any CIA officials from GAO interrogation if he found it "would not be in the national interest" to do so.
The bill also contains safeguards to protect CIA records.