23. MEANINGLESS CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT LAW IS APPROVED
Last year's controversial Intelligence Reauthorization
Bill, spawned in the wake of the Iran-Contra fiasco, has returned in an updated
version that has once again swept through Congress amid minimal fanfare from the
national press. After a year of backroom negotiations between the Administration
and the congressional intelligence committees, both houses of Congress passed
H.R. 1455 on July 31. President Bush signed the new bill on August 16, 1991.
intelligence bill is essentially the same as the 1990 proposal, which was pocket
vetoed by the President over provisions which he felt encroached on his executive
authority. The new bill, while not giving the President exactly what he wants,
is vague enough to satisfy both his desire for flexibility and Congress's desire
for statutory covert action oversight authority.
One key provision from
the previous version, which the President objected to, was a requirement that
the President authorize all covert actions in advance with a written "finding."
Under the old bill, this provision has two exceptions. First, in an emergency
situation, the President has 48 hours after the fact to draft a written finding.
Second, while the finding would usually be provided to both the House and Senate
Intelligence Committees, in extraordinary cases the President may limit notification
to congressional leaders.
The President's first objection was to have to
notify Congress when soliciting third-party nations or individuals to take part
in covert operations which he felt would seriously hamper foreign policy efforts.
The new law will only require the White House to notify Congress if a third-party
will participate "in any significant way" in a covert action and even
then their identity may remain confidential.
The second objection dealt
with the wording on how fast the President should notify Congress after issuing
a "finding" authorizing a covert action. The original bill required
the President to inform Congress "in a timely fashion,", which lawmakers
sought to define as "within a few days." Committee members now concede
that the President may interpret the phrase as he sees fit.
made no secret of his intentions to utilize this loophole at will. Upon signing
the legislation he stated that sometimes disclosure "could significantly
impair foreign relations, the national security, the deliberative process of the
executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."
say that these loopholes are large enough to render the new oversight law, and
Congress' enforcement role, meaningless.
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: SCOTT
SOURCE: CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY WEEKLY REPORT 1414 22nd St., NW, 4th
Floor, Washington, DC 20037
TITLE: "Senate Clears Retooled Measure Strengthening Hill Oversight"
AUTHOR: Pamela Fessler
SOURCE: WALL STREET JOURNAL, 200 Liberty St., New York, NY 10028
TITLE: "Bush Signs Funding Bill For Intelligence Agencies"
SOURCE: LOS ANGELES TIMES, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90037
TITLE: "New Restrictions on Covert Action Passed by Congress"
AUTHOR: Michael Ross
COMMENTS: Author Pamela Fessler felt the issue received minimal
coverage with little if any network television or newsweekly coverage.
"Considering the fact that the legislation was the main legislative
by-product of the Iran-contra scandal, it's surprising it didn't receive
more attention," Fessler said. "The bill completely changed
the requirements the administration must meet in reporting covert actions
to Congress -- presumably allowing for greater oversight."
general, Fessler believes the public would benefit by being made more aware of
what Congress does and how the legislative system works. "They most often
are exposed to scandals and pay raises now," she continued. "People
have a very distorted picture of Congress and government in general, leading,
I think to a lack of participation in the political process."
interests were served by the lack of coverage given the intelligence oversight
legislation, Fessler believes it might have been the media themselves. "Let's
face it," she concluded, "some of this stuff is boring and hard to cover.
It's much easier to cover a congressional pay raise debate or a fight over taxes."