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Covert Action Notification May Be Vetoed : Carlucci Says Reagan Opposes Bill Written in Wake of Contra Affair

December 17, 1987|MELISSA HEALY | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In an effort to head off new legislation governing U.S. cloak-and-dagger operations, Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci on Wednesday warned that President Reagan may veto a bill requiring any President to notify Congress of covert activities within 48 hours.

But an undaunted Senate Intelligence Committee began drafting a final bill anyway that includes the controversial notification clause, and expects to send the legislation to the Senate floor today.

"The President feels very strongly on this issue," Carlucci said, "so strongly in fact that I would speculate that--should it find its way to his desk in this form--he could well see fit to disapprove this bill."

As Ronald Reagan's national security adviser, Carlucci overhauled the personnel and procedures of the National Security Council in the wake of revelations that staff members there were engaged in secret operations to aid Nicaraguan rebels. The bill the Senate intelligence panel began drafting Wednesday would enshrine in law most of the revised guidelines Carlucci issued upon his arrival at the White House post Jan. 2.

Bill Held Unwise, Unneeded

But Carlucci argued that the legislation is unwise and unnecessary.

"There were no legislative flaws" that led to the Iran-Contra scandal, he said. "The breakdown (was) on the people side." And, he said, "the problem has been fixed, and I would argue we don't need to fix it again."

The proposed bill, largely drafted by Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.), also would require the White House to reveal to select House and Senate leaders the identities and roles of private parties and third countries in U.S. covert operations.

Carlucci criticized the provision, telling the Senate panel that the fear of intelligence leaks from Capitol Hill would deter many friendly foreign countries from sharing secrets. "Other governments are just extraordinarily sensitive on this point," Carlucci said. "They will frequently tell you: 'We will provide you this intelligence information providing it does not go to Congress.' "

Ex-CIA Official Backs Bill

But the draft bill won a key endorsement Wednesday from a retired Central Intelligence Agency official who quit the agency in 1986, apparently in protest, while the NSC was engaged in covert operations. John N. McMahon, who served as deputy director of the CIA under the late William J. Casey, told the panel that the 48-hour notification provision would prevent repetitions of such intelligence debacles as the Iran-Contra scandal, which resulted in a major congressional investigation this year.

But Carlucci, who also once served as deputy CIA director, told the committee that the legal requirement to brief eight selected lawmakers within two days of an operation "creates an atmosphere of indecision . . . that badly damages us around the world."

The newly confirmed defense secretary said the bill may confuse lines of authority, placing Defense Department personnel under CIA guidelines and requiring the Pentagon chief to notify Congress of small-scale covert military operations undertaken by the armed forces.

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