(Mr. LIVINGSTON asked and was given permission to address the House for 1 minute and to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. LIVINGSTON. Mr. Speaker, former Central Intelligence Agency officer Alan Fiers recently testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was asked if there was any truth to a newspaper report about conversations between certain Members of Congress and staff aides of the House and the Communist Government of Nicaragua in the 1980's.
Mr. Fiers reported that there was truth to those reports.
Mr. Speaker, we must investigate Mr. Fiers' claim. The reputation of this institution is at stake. If, indeed, Members of the House or their staffs were aiding and abetting the brutal Communist dictatorship in Nicaragua, helping it to circumvent administration moves to help Nicaraguan freedom fighters, then we should know about it. The American people should know about it as well.
Mr. Speaker, I have heard the telephone adage `Reach out and touch someone.' But I never thought that it meant touching Communist thugs hell-bent on enslaving the people of Central America.
I certainly hope that this was not the case. I would not have believed for one moment that Congressmen would do such things, but we will never know if we cover up the truth.
Mr. Speaker, this matter is a matter that deserves investigation. Let us make public the transcripts, if in fact there are any, of such conversations.
Washington.--During most of the 1980's, as the Reagan Administration monitored the communications of the Sandinista Government of Nicaragua, it intercepted and recorded numerous private discussions involving Congressional opponents of the Nicaraguan rebels in an unanticipated part of the secret intelligence operation, former Administration and intelligence officials said.
In one case, a former Congressman said this week that he believed material collected was used in an attempt to intimidate him. Michael D. Barnes, who was a Democratic Representative of Maryland, said William J. Casey, the Director of Central Intelligence, confronted him privately in late 1985 and tried to threaten him so he would mute his opposition to military assistance to the program. Mr. Barnes says Mr. Casey failed.
There is no indication that the information was improperly collected. But its eventual use by the Reagan Administration may raise questions about whether officials complied with real restrictions--adopted after the disclosures in the 1970's about Government spying on American citizens--that forbid using intelligence for political purposes.
The eavesdropping program, which remains a tightly guarded secret, was aimed at the Sandinista Government. But incidentally it generated detailed information about discussions between Nicaraguan leaders and Congressional officials who opposed President Ronald Reagan's policies in Central America. Most were Democrats or staff members of Democrats.
Several former officials of the Reagan Administration asserted that the Government monitored meetings and telephone calls between Sandinistas and members of Congress or their aides. But in interviews, other intelligence officials were willing to verify only that the Government intercepted communications of Sandinista officials discussing among themselves their private contacts with Congressional officials.
At one point some Administration officials proposed that members of Congress or their aides be prosecuted, former Administration officials said. Intelligence officers who supported the Administration's policies considered the conversations with the Sandinistas to be damaging breaches of national security, if not treasonous. But the prosecution idea was not pursued.
Former Reagan Administration officials said the lawmakers included Mr. Barnes, David E. Bonior of Michigan, now the third-ranking Democrat in the House, and Jim Wright of Texas, the former House Speaker. Until he resigned in 1989 over accusations about his financial dealings, Mr. Wright was deeply involved in trying to mediate regional peace negotiations in Central America.
In interviews this week, all three men said they had discussions with Sandinista officials, but Mr. Bonior and Mr. Wright said they were unaware that their conversations might have been monitored.
Mr. Barnes was a leading opponent of aiding the contras and then chairman of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Central America. In an interview, he said Mr. Casey told him late in 1985 that the Central Intelligence Agency had obtained communication between the Nicaraguan Embassy and the Foreign Ministry in Managua. The communication outlined a conversation between Victor C. Johnson, the staff director of Mr. Barnes' subcommittee, and representatives of the Sandinista government.
Mr. Barnes testified briefly about this incident during Oliver L. North's criminal trial in 1989. He insists that Mr. Johnson had not divulged any classified information. Mr. Barnes said he considered Mr. Casey's approach to be a threat intended to mute his opposition to the Administration's contra policy.
`I felt at the time that it was an improper usage of foreign intelligence to intimidate members of Congress and their staffs from fulfilling their responsibilities,' he said in an interview this week.
But within the Reagan Administration the intelligence material produced a far different reaction. Former Administration officials said they were sometimes stunned by the intelligence reports. These officials said they became seriously concerned that lawmakers or their staff members were advising the Sandinistas to adopt specific diplomatic and military tactics to help the Congressmen defeat Administration proposals to provide the contras with military aid.
These accusations intensified in 1987 and 1988 when lawmakers like Mr. Wright became directly involved in meetings with contra and Sandinista leaders.
But the lawmakers said their discussions with Sandinista representatives were always cautious. Usually, they said, the conversations centered on how the Sandinistas could enhance their standing in Congress by improving human rights, holding free elections and ending repressive measures against the political opposition.
Afte reviewing the data, one Reagan Administration official said there were discussions about the possibility of revoking the security clearances of several Congressional officials. At one point in late 1987 and early 1988 there were discussions within the National Security Council over whether to prosecute Mr. Wright or his aides under the Logan Act of 1799.
The law bars American citizens from dealing directly with a foreign government on matters involving a controversy with the United States. A decision was made against referring the matter to the Justice Department, officials said.
Some members of the Congressional intelligence committees also had access to the intelligence data. In early 1988, Wilson Morris, one of Mr. Wright's chief aides, was approached by a Democratic member of the House intelligence committee, who told him that his name had appeared in a classified report, Mr. Morris said in an interview this week.
Mr. Morris declined to identify the lawmaker but said he regarded the discussion as purely informational. Mr. Morris said he did not remember telling Mr. Wright about the incident.
Mr. Morris said he held a number of meetings and telephone conversations with contra and Sandinista representatives in 1987 and 1988. Among them was Paul S. Reichler, a Washington lawyer who represented the Sandinista Government. Mr. Morris's conversations with Mr. Reichler were among those monitored by intelligence agencies, the former Reagan administration officials said.
Mr. Bonior, a vocal leader in opposing contra aid, said he suspected at times that his conversations might be overheard, but was never told his telephone calls or private meetings with Sandinista leaders had been monitored. Reports collected on Mr. Bonior's activities included meetings he held in 1986 and 1987 wth Carlos Tunnerman, the Nicaraguan Ambassador to the United States, officials said.
Mr. Bonior said he remembered meeting with the Ambassador several times. The meetings usually took place at the Nicaraguan Embassy because Mr. Tunnerman did not speak English well and preferred to discuss political matters in person with his translators present.
This suggested that intelligence agencies may have monitored conversations inside the Nicaraguan Embassy, not just telephone calls and cables. Members of Congress and others might rightly assume that their telephone conversations with the Nicaraguan Embassy were being monitored at that time. But few would have suspected that their conversations within the Embassy could be overheard.
Present and former officials who were willing to discuss the intelligence operation are in some cases the same ones who have tried to justify their actions in the Iran-contra affair by saying they simply could not trust the Congress to keep details of the Iran arms sales and contra support program secret. These assertions were a constant theme during the House and Senate investigation of the Iran-contra affair in 1987, and some former intelligence officials under scrutiny in the Iran-contra prosecution are expected to make the same case.
At Mr. North's trail, for example, defense lawyers asserted that the former National Security Council aide concealed his activities from Congress largely because Mr. North did not trust the lawmakers. The intelligence information, these officials say, supports that view.
This comes as Lawrence E. Walsh, the Iran-contra independent prosecutor is investigating former senior intelligence officials for concealing from Congress their knowledge of the secret arms supply network Mr. North and his associates set up after Congress cut off military aid to the contras in 1984.
Last week, Clair E. George, the chief of the agency's clandestine service, was indited for perjury, false statements and obstructing Congressional inquiries into the affair. Some officials are now trying to explain his actions by saying Mr. George knew of the monitoring operation as did Alan D. Fiers Jr., the former head of the C.I.A.'s Central America task force, who in July pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress.
Mr. Fiers is a scheduled witness in Robert M. Gates' confirmation hearings next week as Mr. Bush's nominee for director of Central Intelligence.
Mr. Fiers declined to discuss the matter. But his lawyer, Stanley S. Arkin, said, `I am confident that Mr. Fiers will answer any question put to him at the Senate Committee hearings in a full and forthright manner and consistent with this obligation under the laws regarding classified intelligence.'
It is unclear how extensively the information was circulated within the Administration. But some officials at the National Security Council, the State Department and the Pentagon were aware of it. The collection effort involved the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, officials said. Spokesmen for the agencies declined to comment.
Under regulations that govern electronic monitoring, intelligence agencies are prohibited from targeting United States citizens without obtaining a warrant from a special court. But they are permitted to collect information about Americans without a warrant if it is incidental to surveillance efforts directed at foreign governments.
But the agencies may only disseminate information about Americans if it is essential to understanding the intelligence or suggests that a crime may have been committed.
`There's no question that any kind of political use of any of this information if improper, if not illegal,' said Gary M. Stern, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union's project on national security.