IRAN-BOSNIA (Senate - April 19, 1996)

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Mr. KERREY. Mr. President, I rise to discuss the investigation which the Select Committee on Intelligence has undertaken at the majority leader's request regarding allegations that the administration may have secretly acquiesced in or facilitated Iranian arms shipments to the Bosnian Moslems in 1994 and 1995, in violation of stated United States policy. This is a serious request made by a Senator long involved with United States policy in Bosnia. Some have said this request was made for political reasons. Perhaps that is the case. But there is also sufficient reason to believe the Senator from Kansas would have made this request regardless of the political climate or season.

The Intelligence Committee begins this task with a solid base of information because we received some, but not all, of the intelligence available to the administration at the time the Iranian arms shipments were occurring. Our committee has been reviewing and adding to that information base in the 2 weeks since Chairman Specter received the majority leader's request. We are well positioned to do a thorough job for the Senate on the sensitive intelligence issues surrounding this matter, particularly the question of whether or not the administration conducted a covert action without informing Congress.

In addition to our familiarity with the topic, the Intelligence Committee is also likely to do a good job on its part of this investigation because we are a bipartisan committee. In setting the strength and composition of the committee, the Senate directed, in Senate Resolution 400, that our membership be close to balance at nine majority members and eight minority, regardless of the composition of the Senate floor, and that the senior minority member function as a vice chairman, not as a ranking member. In creating the Intelligence Committee, the Senate clearly believed that intelligence was too sensitive to be overseen in a partisan, adversarial manner. Chairman Specter approaches his leadership duties on the committee in that nonpartisan spirit, and so do I.

The history of this committee is replete with conduct like that of Senators Cohen and Warner, Boren, Nunn, Moynihan, and others, who have come to this committee and said we are not going to serve in a partisan fashion. We are not going to answer the call of our party, we are going to answer the call of our country. The present and future course of this committee should as well.

Open allegations against the administration, and a requirement to investigate those allegations, can strain even the most sincere commitment to bipartisanship. Those strains have not yet been felt in the Intelligence Committee in this case. Chairman Specter and I have tasked a single group of professional staff to support all committee members and all information which comes into the committee's hands will be shared equally with all members. This is the way we have always operated.

As for myself, I don't see the vice chairman's role to be an advocate of the administration. As we pursue questions, I will not be a Democratic Senator defending fellow Democrats, but rather a U.S. Senator following the facts wherever they lead and reaching a conclusion based on those facts. I am confident Chairman Specter feels the same way about his role.

I spoke of the Intelligence Committee's readiness to do a thorough job. Our thoroughness will be improved if we get all the relevant information from the administration. As many colleagues are aware, the committee has been denied the opportunity to read the intelligence oversight board's report on this case. The implication is clear that if we subpoena the report, the President will assert executive privilege.

The intelligence oversight board is wholly within the Executive Office of the President, so there may be legitimate executive privilege here. But if the report is off limits to Congress, then the administration should not cite the report as having determined that no covert action occurred. The administration can't have it both ways. They should either give Congress the report, or stop citing it as vindication.

An Associated Press story yesterday quoted a White House spokeswoman, Mary Ellen Glynn, saying, `the point is not to withhold information. The point is to protect sources.' Mr. President, this rationale for denying information to Congress has no basis. The Intelligence Committee has received and stored the most highly classified material for years, and its record for protecting sources and methods is far better than that of the executive branch. So security is simply no excuse, and an invalid reason to deny information to Congress. My advice to the administration is, fully inform Congress.

The committee lacks all the facts, but on the basis of what we have, I do not see evidence of a covert action. But I stress that is a preliminary assessment and not a conclusion. I am open to the evidence. Certainly, if there was a covert action, Congress should have been informed, and the Intelligence Committee received no such information. If press reports are correct, in later 1994 CIA Director Woolsey sensed from information he was getting from CIA channels that a United States covert action, an action he and presumably other CIA personnel were not privy to, was in progress in Croatia. Director Woolsey reportedly came to the White House with his concerns. The Intelligence Committee needs to know what evidence was the basis of Director Woolsey's concerns. We also need to know why he did not share his concerns with the oversight committees.

Mr. President, my interest in getting to the bottom of this case is not based solely on the majority leader's request. In my view, if the press reports are correct, the United States chose a course of action in Croatia and Bosnia with very serious down-side risks. The Bosnian situation was and is exceptionally complex and presented few good options to policymakers. But our alignment with Iran, even if it was a passive and accidental alignment, was very dangerous. Every President since Jimmy Carter has declared a state of emergency with respect to Iran, and United States laws and Executive orders have embargoed imports from Iran, limited United States exports to Iran, banned United States trade and investment in Iran including the trading of Iranian oil overseas by United States companies or their foreign affiliates, and placed sanctions on persons or countries who supply Iran with any goods or technologies that could contribute to Iran getting destabilizing conventional weapons or any weapons of mass destruction technology. These laws and Executive orders are there for a reason: to contain and isolate a country which conducts and supports terrorism and attempts to proliferate nuclear and chemical weapons. A policy which depends on such an amoral country to arm the otherwise defenseless Bosnian Moslems is dangerous--not merely politically dangerous, but potentially threatening to our allies and eventually to our own forces, when they deployed a year later. To turn a blind eye to Iranian shipments is to turn a blind eye to the possibility of United States casualties at the hands of the very people we have allowed to be armed, especially with a United States deployment imminent.

Critics of this policy have to admit an inconvenient fact: risky as it was, the policy worked. Our allies did not pull their forces summarily out of the former Yugoslavia, which they might have done if we had unilaterally lifted the arms embargo. The Bosnian Moslems were not overwhelmed; in fact, they defended themselves creditably and even went on the offensive. The policy brought about a balance which made possible the Dayton Accords and the peace which IFOR is enforcing today.

But even though the administration's risky Bosnia policy has worked, at least so far, the Intelligence Committee is obligated to investigate whatever may have been the United States role in the Iranian arms shipment. I take that obligation very seriously, and I look forward to joining with my chairman in rendering a full report.

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Mr. SPECTER addressed the Chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Pennsylvania.

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I thank my distinguished colleagues from Alaska and Georgia for yielding me a moment. I compliment my distinguished colleague from Nebraska for his eloquent statement. I think it is very important, as Senator Kerrey has outlined, the bipartisan, nonpartisan nature of the Intelligence Committee being emphasized.

As Senator Kerrey, I approach this investigation with a total open mind and no predisposition and determination to see the inquiry is totally nonpolitical, bipartisan, nonpartisan, as we take a look at the shipment of Iranian arms to the Bosnian Moslems.

I thank my colleagues and yield the floor.