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Compartmentalization, Syrian Airstrike Style

Apparently, Crazy Pete Hoekstra’s been complaining again that the Bushies are keeping secrets from Congress. He co-authored a WSJ editorial several weeks ago to complain that only senior leaders in Congress (including Crazy Pete) knew the truth about the Syrian bombing. In the op-ed, Hoekstra sounded like he had found another casus belli.

It has briefed only a handful of very senior members of Congress,leaving the vast majority of foreign relations and intelligencecommittee members in the dark. We are among the very few who werebriefed, but we have been sworn to secrecy on this matter. However, weare prepared to state, based on what we have learned, that it iscritical for every member of Congress to be briefed on this incident,and as soon as possible.

[snip]

Wewant to remind President Bush that the Constitution invests Congresswith various powers and authority over foreign policy. Not only doesCongress have an obligation to conduct oversight over these matters,but it is accountable to the people of this country to ensure thattheir security and interests are safeguarded.

The proposed dealswith North Korea will involve substantial expenditures of U.S. funds topay for heavy fuel oil deliveries. Congress will be asked to approvethe authorization of funds for this expenditure. We cannot carry outour duties when we are being denied information about these criticalnational security matters.

We all want to secure agreements thataddress the proliferation of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles andunconventional weapons. However, for these agreements to have long-termviability, they must be transparent, and based on close consultationsand collaboration with the Congress.

If the Israeli airstrikelast month is related to covert nuclear collaboration involving Syriaand either North Korea, Iran or other rogue states, this may or may notbe an issue that can be easily addressed by negotiations alone. It iscertain, however, that such a serious international security issue willnot stay secret forever.

Congress, therefore, needs to be fullybriefed, not just on the details of the airstrike, but on how toaddress this matter and how, if press reports are true, rogue stateswill be held accountable for what could amount to a very serious caseof WMD proliferation.

Hoekstra seems to suggest that he was briefed that the airstrike really was a response to attempted nuclear proliferation (though I’m still doubtful that’s what it was).

Nick Schwellenbach did some follow-up on this question, asking whether Congress has yet been briefed. And he found that the Administration is compartmentalizing information about the Syrian bombing as closely as they compartmentalized their illegal wiretap program.

However, a congressional staffer told me that "the issue has beenclosely held. The leadership of the defense committees and Intelcommittees have been briefed, but not the general membership of theCongress as you correctly noted in Ros-Lethinen’s OpEd."  Other sourcestold me that they were not aware of their full committees being briefedyet either.

Perhaps of greater practical concern forcongressional oversight is, though a few select members have beenbriefed, none of their staff, which members depend upon for theirexpertise and knowledge, have not been allowed to accompany them, POGOhas been told.

Schwellenbach thought of precisely what I did upon learning that staffers hadn’t been briefed–of Jello Jay Rockefeller’s complaint (or, for that matter, telecom lobbyist John Ashcroft’s) that his staffers hadn’t been briefed and so he was helpless to exercise oversight over it. In other words, they’re only telling wingnuts like Hoekstra, and not the people who can inform Hoekstra that the story doesn’t make any sense.

I’m reminded of what ArmsControlWonk said of Stephen Hadley’s compartmentalization of this same information within the Intelligence Community.

Suddenly, I understand why the intelligence from Israel, as Kessler reported,was “restricted to a few senior officials under the instructions ofnational security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, leaving many in theintelligence community unaware of it or uncertain of its significance.”

Because we’d already looked at the building and Hadley knew what the IC would say.

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