The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday approved legislation that largely preserves America's controversial covert aid programs to rebels in Angola, Afghanistan and Cambodia, sources said.
The move, if upheld when the 1991 intelligence authorization bill is considered by the full House, would put the committee at odds with its Senate counterpart, whose members voted sharp cuts in the Afghan and Cambodian programs, according to sources who demanded anonymity.
A potential battle still looms in the House over aid to the Angolan rebels, the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) led by Jonas Savimbi. UNITA is fighting the Soviet-backed government of Angola.
One source said he expected members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which opposes aid to the UNITA rebels, to demand an open debate on the secret military assistance.
Another source said the vote was "really close." He said the panel approved the administration's request of about $60 million for UNITA.
The Senate version of the intelligence bill left open the UNITA question, deferring it until the House-Senate conference on the bill.
While most of the bill is secret, it is believed to authorize roughly $30 billion for programs ranging from support for the three rebellions to spy satellites.
The program of aid to the non-communist resistance in Cambodia, two rebel groups fighting the Vietnamese-installed government of Hun Sen, is believed to total about $13 million a year. The Senate panel eliminated the program in its version of the bill.
For Afghanistan, the Senate committee voted a cut of about $100 million in the nearly $300 million annual support for the mujaheddin rebels.
Both moves reflect a growing distaste on Capitol Hill for covert proxy wars, and an erosion of the old Cold War rationale for many of the regional conflicts.
One member of the panel, declining to discuss the committee's action, said nevertheless that he was annoyed by the heavy lobbying he had been subjected to on the Angola issue. It was clear from the number of lobbyists involved that the matter is far too open to be a "covert" program, he said.
Savimbi since 1986 has used a well-financed lobbying operation to build support for his forces in Congress. Current aid is estimated at $60 million or more.
An Angolan official lobbying to defeat the aid had been telling members of Congress and the administration this week that right-wing South Africans, with the tacit approval of their white minority government, are providing the U.S.-armed rebels with weapons.