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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CIA Policy On Covers, Recruiting Scrutinized

WASHINGTON -- A controversial loophole permitting CIA officers in extraordinary circumstances to recruit American journalists as agents or use news-gathering organizations as cover also allows the agency to waive a 19-year-old ban on employing clerics or missionaries for clandestine work overseas, according to intelligence officials.

Wednesday, an agency official also disclosed that CIA regulations prohibit recruiting employees of members of Congress or congressional committees "without the approval of the member" for whom they work.

Disclosure last week that the CIA has secretly waived the 1977 regulations in "extraordinarily rare" occasions, and used media cover for intelligence activities overseas, has led to a call for a reassessment of the loophole.

One other bar on agency recruiting prohibits CIA use of Peace Corps volunteers. Unlike the internal CIA regulation that bars use of journalists and religious workers, one official said, this ban is based on a 1978 agreement between the CIA and the Peace Corps.

The issue of CIA use of various nondiplomatic covers abroad has attracted publicity as a result of a recommendation last week by a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations.

The panel proposed a review of the "legal and policy restraints" that limited use of nondiplomatic covers.

Panel members who favored the review argued that new post-Cold War intelligence targets, such as terrorism and shipments of weapons of mass destruction, require CIA case officers to work outside U.S. embassies under "non-official" cover.

However, the proposal reopened questions that some groups thought were settled 19 years ago regarding CIA use of journalists and religious workers.

CIA rules, approved in 1977, prohibit establishment of a covert intelligence relationship "with any U.S. clergy or missionary whether or not ordained, who is sent out by a mission or church organization to preach, teach, heal, or proselytize," an intelligence official said.

Wednesday, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, G. Kelly Hawes, sent CIA Director John M. Deutch a letter protesting the CIA "loophole" in the regulations banning use of journalist cover.

The "possibility that intelligence officers may be operating under the cover of journalism places true journalists' lives and security in . . . danger," he said.