Human Rights

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The Need for Reforms

What lessons should be drawn from the above analysis? Is it just a matter of improving congressional oversight or is it necessary to go further--to fundamentally reassess the international arena and our response to it?

At a legislative level there are certain things that can and should be done quickly. For example, in the aftermath of the Iran-contra affair there has been renewed interest in establishing a statutory independent inspector general at the CIA in accordance with the Inspector General Act of 1978. As early as 1976 the Church committee pointed out that the CIA's Office of the Inspector General had problems accessing information, identifying potential problems, and obtaining high-quality personnel, and it lacked the authority to provide assistance to the congressional oversight committees. There is no reason to believe an IG is less trustworthy than other agency officials in handling sensitive information. However, pending legislation provides the director of the CIA with a mechanism to prohibit its IG from looking into matters when such reviews would pose a threat to national security, and that is a dangerous loophole.[52]

Other recently introduced bills also contained useful provisions. One bill required that the intelligence committees be given prior notice of covert actions. It stated that in the rare cases in which time is critical and the president determines an action is important to the national security interests of the United States, he may initiate a covert operation without giving prior notice. But even in such cases he must notify the committees as soon as possible and within 48 hours. The same bill would have

1. Prohibited the expenditure of funds on a covert action until the president had issued a written finding that not only specified each governmental agency, department, and entity authorized to finance the action or otherwise play a significant role in it but also stated whether nongovernmental parties would participate
2. Permitted an oral finding when immediate action is necessary but required that a contemporaneous record be made and that the finding be committed to writing within 48 hours
3. Prohibited retroactive findings and prohibited a finding from authorizing an action that would violate any law of the United States
4. Defined covert action to include requests made by the U.S. government to other countries or private citizens to conduct a covert action on behalf of the United States
5. Expanded current reporting requirements regarding covert transfers of arms to include reporting on the transfer within one fiscal year of any aggregations of items worth more than $1 million

The above provisions do not constitute another attempt to legislate good judgment or fidelity to the law. Rather, they are grounded in practical considerations; they are essential to the making of good foreign policy and the effective functioning of government. A fundamental theory of the Constitution is that policies formed through consultation and the democratic process are usually better and wiser than those formed by other means. Unfortunately this bill was killed in the House last year and there are no plans to reintroduce it or similar legislation.