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HOUSE OKS BAN ON REPORTERS AS CIA SPIES

In a partial victory for news organizations, a House-passed national intelligence bill prohibits the CIA from using U.S. journalists as spies.

But the bill, approved on a voice vote Wednesday, would still allow the CIA to recruit foreign journalists or have its own agents pose as reporters.Overall, the measure approves a 4.9 percent intelligence budget increase but forbids public disclosure of the dollar amount - unofficially about $29.4 billion.

"It's encouraging that members of Congress recognize the danger of utilizing journalists for espionage," said Robert Giles, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. But he added, "It does not go far enough to exclude both foreign journalists as well as the use of journalistic organizations as cover for espionage activities."

Under the proposal by Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, the president could override the restriction on using U.S. journalists as spies after explaining his reasons to Congress. The amendment passed 417-6.

Richardson said after the vote that he was unaware that the CIA uses news organizations as cover for its own agents. Indeed, CIA Director John Deutch assured news executives last month that the agency neither uses journalists as agents nor news organizations as cover and has no plans to do so.

But Deutch said he reserved the right to make exceptions under "genuinely extraordinary" circumstances.

Richardson recounted the story of a reporter for the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune, Todd Smith, who was captured, tortured and murdered by drug traffickers in 1989 during a trip to Peru. The newspaper said Smith's attackers believed he was an American drug agent.