Bid to Limit CIA’s Contra Role Blocked

Times Staff Writer

The Senate rejected Democratic attempts Friday to prohibit renewed covert CIA operations against Nicaragua and to bar the CIA from managing a new program of aid for anti-Sandinista rebels.

In a series of pro-Administration votes, the Republican majority refused to place any new restrictions on the $38 million in humanitarian aid that it approved Thursday for the contras.

At the White House’s request, GOP senators even blocked an amendment requiring the United States to obey international law until its author, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), toned it down further.

The issue moves into the Democratic-led House next week, where Republican leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) says that he is certain of winning renewed aid for the contras.


Votes’ Possible Effect

The effect of Friday’s Senate votes, if they survive in the House, would be to free President Reagan from the restrictions Congress has placed on covert actions against the Sandinista regime since 1982. But House Democratic leaders have said that while they expect the full Congress to approve aid to the contras, they also believe they can attach prohibitions against U.S. military involvement and a CIA role.

The Senate rejected an amendment to prohibit any U.S. support for “military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua” by a vote of 62 to 30 and turned down a proposal to ban the CIA and Defense Department from administering the humanitarian aid program, 57 to 35. Both measures were proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

The lawmakers held up Kerry’s proposal to prohibit any use of the aid that would violate international law until the Massachusetts Democrat added a clause exempting any operation “authorized by (U.S.) law.” Senate Republicans said the White House had warned that a strict prohibition could prevent the Administration from carrying out intelligence operations that have been approved by Congress, such as surveillance flights.


Kerry acknowledged that the result was “less than a ringing message,” but Republicans derided his amendment as “meaningless.”

Monday Vote Due

The Senate approved $38 million in aid for the contras Thursday night. Senate leaders said the measure, contained in a fiscal 1986 State Department spending bill, would come up for final passage Monday.

The $38 million would be provided over two years--$14 million in 1985 and $24 million in 1986--and could be funneled through the CIA, which directed the contras’ military effort from 1982 until Congress halted the program last year.


In an attempt to strengthen the bill’s chances in the House, Senate conservatives led by Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) decided not to press a demand to change the official definition of the aid from humanitarian to military.

Wilson said he agreed with critics of the aid that humanitarian funding was an indirect form of military aid. “The money we’re providing them will replace money they can use for the purchase of arms,” he said, arguing that Congress should approve military aid explicitly.

Aid Definition

The bill’s definition of humanitarian aid specifically excludes weapons and ammunition but could allow “non-lethal” military equipment such as trucks, helicopters and radar, senators said.