Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.
The Clerk read as follows:
Amendment offered by Mr. Conyers:
SEC. 306. ANNUAL STATEMENT OF THE TOTAL AMOUNT OF INTELLIGENCE EXPENDITURES FOR THE CURRENT AND SUCCEEDING FISCAL YEARS.
At the time of submission of the budget of the United States Government submitted for fiscal year 1998 under section 1105(a) of title 31, United States Code, and for each fiscal year thereafter, the President shall submit to Congress a separate, unclassified statement of the appropriations and proposed appropriations for the current fiscal year, and the amount of appropriations requested for the fiscal year for which the budget is submitted, for national and tactical intelligence activities, including activities carried out under the budget of the Department Of Defense to collect, analyze, produce, disseminate, or support the collection of intelligence .
Mr. CONYERS (during the reading). Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that the amendment be considered as read and printed in the Record.
The CHAIRMAN. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Michigan?
There was no objection.
(Mr. CONYERS asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. CONYERS. Mr. Chairman, I offer today a modest proposal that would do no more than provide the American people and the Congress with information they are entitled to. The amendment would essentially declassify the aggregate figure of the intelligence budget. It would make public the requested amount in the current fiscal year's appropriated amount beginning October 1996. It would not disclose any specific operation or department budgets, only the bottomline budget number.
The amendment would conform to the recommendations of the Commission on Role and Capabilities of the Intelligence Community, chaired by the former Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown. This bipartisan commission proposed that the President or his designee disclose the total amount of money appropriated for intelligence activities during the current fiscal year and the total amount being requested for the next fiscal year.
Similarly, the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations report on intelligence reform likewise urged the opening of the intelligence budget.
This amendment would also mirror the provisions contained in the intelligence authorization bill produced by the other body, which has passed in the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Now, why? The reason is, first of all, constitutional, which in our Constitution, it is clearly stated that a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.
It is simple, straightforward, and clear. The Framers of the Constitution, themselves fresh from secret military operations against the British, were no strangers to the need for secrecy. Yet, they decided they needed to be accountable to the taxpayers. As early as 1790 and 1793, when the Congress created a secret fund for persons to serve the United States in foreign parts, the law provided for public disclosure of the aggregate amount. I think if Americans could have openness after the Revolutionary War, then we can certainly have the same openness after the cold war.
Now, in my earlier service on the Government Operations Committee of this body, I had a number of decades of experience dealing with classified information and the procedures for handling that information. When the Government unnecessarily withholds information from the public, believe me, it undermines the legitimate secrecy of information that really should be protected. When we have an open secret, as we do presently, and let us make it public, like the intelligence budget, it creates a government by leaks, where information is controlled more by access than by policy.
Withholding this kind of information from the public, in addition, undermines confidence in government. I think Americans support an intelligence system that provides accurate, timely information to our policymakers. When the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency was asked in April what was the purpose of disclosure of the budget, he said that `the importance here is to gain public support for intelligence .'
I do not think it is asking too much for Congress to tell our citizens and constituents, in general terms, how many resources we are allocating for intelligence purposes.
Mr. Chairman, I conclude by observing that it is time to stop withholding this information. My amendment to make public the bottomline amount of the intelligence budget is a sensible step toward fiscal responsibility.
I have a great deal of support both in and out of the Congress for this amendment and I urge that it be speedily approved.
Mr. COMBEST. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.
Mr. Chairman, I will not take the 5 minutes. I would just like to mention a few points that I have mentioned before and my objections to the concept of the gentleman's amendment. The ranking member of the committee is in support. In fact, I think a cosponsor, chairman of the committee in the previous Congress, our friend the Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Glickman, supported the idea.
I believe this is starting down a slippery slope. I think this is an inside-the-Beltway issue. I do not believe the American people are clamoring to know the intelligence budget. I believe that they understand the need for there to be national secrets. I believe that, and in fact the staff have begun to put extreme pressure on knowing the individual amounts of various programs, various agencies within the intelligence community. That information, I think, provides information to folks that we would rather not know what our plans and programs are; that, in fact, is harmful.
Finally, I would just simply say that in the administration's support of this, of declassification of the topline figure, the President has the authority today, if he wished, to call a news conference and disclose the amount, he could do so. He does not need congressional approval.
I think he is looking for congressional cover. I would suggest that, if the administration wishes to take this action, that they would move forward under the authority which they currently have. The President may so desire to do that. That is his decision. I simply do not feel comfortable with it. I have always opposed it, continue to oppose it and would not in fact be supportive, could not lend my support to a provision which in fact would cause him to, given that he has the authority now.
Mr. DICKS. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words and speak in favor of the amendment.
Mr. Chairman, I want to rise in support of the Conyers amendment as a cosponsor of it. The amendment will require the disclosure of the aggregate budget figure only, not the budgets of any intelligence agency, nor the budget for any program or activity. There is no threat to national security from the disclosure of only the aggregate figure. No potential adversary of the United States has the ability to thwart any intelligence collection activity as a result of knowing just the aggregate budget figure.
The executive order on classification permits information to be classified only if its disclosure would be expected to cause damage to the national security. Classification of the aggregate intelligence budget figure does not meet that test.
The Constitution requires a public statement and account of the expenditure of public funds. Disclosure of the aggregate budget figure is more consistent with that constitutional requirement than the current practice.
I might just add I had the pleasure of serving on the Aspin-Brown Commission. The Commission endorsed
disclosing the aggregate number. The current Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mr. John Deutch, has also come out in favor of it, as has the President. I think it would be totally appropriate for the Congress to take this step. That is why I was delighted to join with my colleague, the gentleman from Michigan [Mr. Conyers], in presenting this amendment today.
I urge my colleagues to vote for it.
Mr. FARR of California. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the Conyers amendment. This debate here is about national security. National security is about confidence, confidence in Government, trust in the Congress of the United States. How can we expect the public to trust the House of Representatives when we continue to keep budget information secret?
Think about it. We are in the month of May. Every city council, every school board, every county government, every State government has to have their budgets adopted by the fiscal year July 1. That means right now throughout the United States these hearings on local budgets are going on. All publicized, the public knows every cent that comes in and every penny that is spent, except here in the House of Representatives, where we keep and have traditionally kept secret a portion of the national security budget. I think that is wrong. I think we need to have confidence in what we do here. We can only have that confidence if indeed we tell everybody where their money is going.
Mr. Chairman, in light of the debate here today, it is interesting that the President says we should make this public. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted to make it public. The former and current CIA Directors agree that it ought to be public. The only way we can ensure that it will be made public is to vote for the Conyers amendment, help restore confidence in Congress. Support this amendment.
Mr. COMBEST. Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to proceed for 1 additional minute.
The CHAIRMAN. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Texas?
There was no objection.
Mr. COMBEST. Mr. Chairman, I do not believe we have any further speakers on this side. I just wanted to make a point that emphasizes something I had said earlier. The White House press statement relative to the intelligence community budget of 1996 said, reflecting the President's determination to promote openness in the intelligence community, he has authorized Congress to make it public.
Mr. Chairman, the President can make it public. I would state that the report of the Aspin-Brown commission says that the commission recommends that the President or his designee disclose the total amount of money appropriated for intelligence activities during the current fiscal year and the total amount being requested for the next fiscal year. That is my suggestion. In compliance with the Aspin-Brown commission, if the President wishes the budget to be disclosed, he or his designee should do it.
Mr. FAZIO of California. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the amendment offered by the gentleman from Michigan [Mr. Conyers]. His amendment to the fiscal year 1997 intelligence authorization bill would declassify the aggregate figure of the intelligence budget.
I believe, as do many of my colleagues, that a classified intelligence budget is inconsistent with the accountability requirements of the Constitution, and that it inhibits the openness that must prevail in order to facilitate informed participation in our democracy.
Moreover, as many fiscal watchdog organizations have pointed out, American taxpayers deserve fiscal accountability when it comes to the intelligence budget. If we continue to ask the taxpayers of this country to contribute billions of dollars to the intelligence budget, they deserve to know how much is being spent on their behalf. We need only look at the example of the National Reconnaissance Office to see what happens when intelligence budgets are kept hidden.
I understand the critically important national security questions which are at stake in this debate. But as a former member of the Armed Services Committee, I do not believe that public disclosure of the total amount of money appropriated to the intelligence budget would compromise our Nation's security
The President supports disclosure of the intelligence budget, as does the Senate Intelligence Committee. I urge my colleagues to support disclosure of this budget as well. Vote `yes' on the Conyers amendment.
Mr. CHAIRMAN. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Michigan [Mr. Conyers].
The question was taken; and the Chairman announced that the ayes appeared to have it.
Mr. COMBEST. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote, and pending that, I make the point of order that a quorum is not present.
Mr. CHAIRMAN. Pursuant to the rule, further proceedings on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Michigan [Mr. Conyers] will be postponed
The point of no quorum is considered withdrawn.
Mr. CHAIRMAN. Are there further amendments to the bill?