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Journalists tell Senate they want no CIA ties

But lawmakers may let president make exceptions

July 18, 1996
Web posted at: 12:15 a.m. EDT

From Correspondent Anthony Collings

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress is considering legislation that would let the president, and not the CIA director, decide when to make an exception to a rule banning the CIA's use of journalists. Many journalists want to go further than that and remove all exceptions to the ban.

In Lebanon in the 1980s, terrorists held American journalist Terry Anderson hostage for nearly seven years. Anderson, the former chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press, was falsely accused by Islamic militants of being a CIA spy.

anderson.pull.quote.jpg

Now Anderson warns the Senate Intelligence Committee that other Americans could be at risk if Congress doesn't close a loophole permitting the Central Intelligence Agency's use of journalists.

"It's dangerous and unnecessary," Anderson said. "We need an absolute and public blanket ban on recruiting and use of journalists and clergy by any intelligence agencies, and also the use of journalistic cover."

But the CIA says it might need a journalist's help in extraordinary circumstances.

CIA Director John Deutch

"I can foresee the possibility of a terrorist group attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in a crowded urban area, where both the president and the nation would look to the agency to use all possible means to detect and deter such an event," CIA Director John Deutch said.

Deutch opposes the House measure that would let the president, and not the CIA director, decide when to make an exception.

CNN President Tom Johnson said in a statement: "Under no conditions should journalists be used as a cover for spying." He added: "There is no need for any type of relationship between CNN and the CIA for the purposes of gathering intelligence."

Missionaries also shun CIA

A former State Department official, who is now a columnist, believes the CIA should be able to use reporters.

"American journalists are journalists, but also Americans," said columnist Kenneth Adelman. "I don't see why they should not feel civic duty, especially when lives are in danger."

Missionary groups oppose the loophole that lets the CIA use them. "Such use of missionary agents for covert activities by the CIA would be unethical and immoral," argued Don Argue of the National Association of Evangelicals.

There's also a controversy over whether the CIA should retain its power to use the Peace Corps.

Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Georgia, who was director of the Peace Corps during the Bush administration, urged the committee to ban intelligence recruitment of Peace Corps volunteers.

"It would be, in my judgment, exceedingly dangerous for our volunteers to be included in a context in which they may be representatives of the CIA," Coverdell said.

Several senior senators think the CIA should have the right to recruit outsiders when there's an extraordinary threat.

"I simply don't see why any profession should be completely and permanently excluded from the possibility of working with CIA or DIA," said Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, the senior Democrat on the committee, referring also to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

But some senators share the concerns of journalists and others that any involvement with the CIA undermines their integrity.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, said that as a result of the debate about journalists, "If they weren't tainted before," they will be now.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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