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|U.S. Congressional opposition
to American involvement in
wars and interventions
|1812 North America|
|House Federalists’ Address|
|1847 Mexican–American War|
|1917 World War I|
|Filibuster of the Armed Ship Bill|
|1970 Southeast Asia|
|Repeal of Tonkin Gulf Resolution|
|1973 Southeast Asia|
|War Powers Resolution|
|House Concurrent Resolution 63|
The Hughes–Ryan Amendment was an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, passed as section 32 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974. The amendment was named for its co-authors, Senator Harold E. Hughes (D-Iowa) and Representative Leo Ryan (D-CA). The amendment required the President of the United States to report all covert actions of the Central Intelligence Agency to one or more Congressional committees.
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.
The first legislative response was enactment in 1974 of the Hughes–Ryan Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. 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.
- Kaiser, Frederick M. (16 August 1978). "Legislative History of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. p. 9.