Hughes–Ryan Act

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Hughes-Ryan Act
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titles
  • Foreign Assistance Act of 1974
  • Hughes-Ryan Act of 1974
Long title An Act to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, and for other purposes.
Nicknames Foreign Assistance Act
Enacted by the 93rd United States Congress
Effective December 30, 1974
Public law 93-559
Statutes at Large 88 Stat. 1795, Sec. 662-663
Titles amended 22 U.S.C.: Foreign Relations and Intercourse
U.S.C. sections amended 22 U.S.C. ch. 32 § 2422
Legislative history

The Hughes–Ryan Act is a 1974 United States federal law that amended the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The Act was named for its co-authors, Senator Harold E. Hughes (D-Iowa) and Representative Leo Ryan (D-CA). The Act required the President of the United States to report all covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency to one or more Congressional committees within a set time limit.

This amendment addressed the question of CIA and Defense Department covert actions, and prohibited the use of appropriated funds for their conduct unless and until the President issues an official "Finding" that each such operation is important to the national security and submits these Findings to the appropriate Congressional committees – a total of six committees, at the time, growing to eight committees after the House and Senate "select committees" on intelligence were established.

The legislation was meant to ensure that the intelligence oversight committees within Congress were told of CIA actions within a reasonable time limit. Senator Hughes, in introducing the legislation in 1973, also saw it as a means of limiting major covert operations by military, intelligence, and national security agents conducted without the full knowledge of the president.


By the early years of the 1970s, the unpopular war in Southeast Asia and the unfolding Watergate scandal brought the era of minimal oversight to a screeching halt. The Congress was determined to rein in the Nixon administration and to ascertain the extent to which the nation's intelligence agencies had been involved in questionable, if not outright illegal, activities. A major stimulus for the amendment came from 1972 and 1973 hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee, provoked by Senator Hughes, a member of the committee, into covert military operations in Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam in the early 1970s. The committee had found that Air Force and Navy air elements had conducted secret air strikes and falsified after-action reports to conceal the activity. For Hughes and several other senators, the military activity represented a secret war conducted through back-channel communications from the White House directly to field commanders in the Pacific Theater and the Vietnam War.

A series of troubling revelations started to appear in the press concerning intelligence activities. The dam broke on 22 December 1974, when the New York Times published a lengthy article by Seymour Hersh detailing operations engaged in by the CIA over the years that had been dubbed the "family jewels." Covert action programs involving assassination attempts against foreign leaders and covert attempts to subvert foreign governments were reported for the first time. In addition, the article discussed efforts by intelligence agencies to collect information on the political activities of US citizens.

These revelations convinced many Senators and Representatives that the Congress itself had been too lax, trusting, and naive in carrying out its oversight responsibilities.

Congressman Leo Ryan

The first legislative response was enactment in 1974 of the Hughes–Ryan Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.[1] The passage of the act posed four fundamental implications for executive power as it relates to covert action. First, the Act established ultimate accountability of the President for all covert action conducted by the CIA. As a result, this removed most vestiges of "plausible deniability" on the part of the President in case the action were to be exposed to the public or political rivals. Third, the act fundamentally expanded circle of "witting" persons in Congress – leading to a dramatically higher risk of exposure through leaks in the event of Congressional opposition. Fourth, assuming these three features stand, the passage of the Act created both de facto and de jure Congressional veto power. This power could be used constitutionally, whereby the Congress could simply refuse to fund the covert action in question, either through withholding of funds or through leaking the issue to the press.


  1. ^ Information is from CIA site, Center for the Study of Intelligence, which is a US governmental organization. Therefore the original information compiled on this wikisite is free of copyright. See Copyright and U.S. Government works


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