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Pelosi Gets Additional Intelligence Oversight for Congress

Speaker Nancy Pelosi

This is more Marcy’s bailiwick than mine, and I’m eager to see what she thinks of this, but it’s worth noting that, if Nancy Pelosi does happen to lose the Speaker’s gavel after November, one of her final acts was to at least achieve some more accountability on the executive branch as it relates to intelligence oversight:

Senate and House intelligence committee leaders and the White House have agreed on measures that would require the administration to share information on covert operations with a larger group of overseers, congressional sources said Monday.

The compromise might mean that Congress will pass an intelligence authorization bill this year, the first time since 2004.

According to a draft bill that the House sent the Senate on Friday, the White House would be required to notify the full membership of both congressional intelligence committees of presidential directives to conduct covert action, known as “findings.” At present, the administration is required to notify only the so-called Gang of Eight, the chairmen and ranking members of each committee and the party leadership in both chambers.

This is not perfect; the executive will try to keep its secrets closely held for as long as possible. They have 180 days to give the full House and Senate intelligence committees a finding, and can delay longer if they believe it concerns “extraordinary circumstances affecting vital interests of the United States.” That seems ripe for abuse. Also, Pelosi did not get a GAO audit of the performance of the intelligence community into the bill, either. There would be a rulemaking down the road to allow GAO some access to the intelligence agencies for various reporting.

But given that it’s been six years since the last intelligence authorization bill – just think about all we’ve learned about the Bush Administration’s intelligence abuses in that time – the victories here are significant. The White House must actually provide to Congress the legal underpinnings for intelligence operations under the bill draft.

The Senate passed this bill last night. Pelosi released this statement:

“In passing the Intelligence Authorization Act last night, the Senate upheld our first responsibility – to ensure the security of the American people – while addressing two key objectives. It expands and improves the Congressional notification process for covert action and provides the framework for GAO access to intelligence community information so that the GAO can conduct investigations, audits, and evaluations as requested by Congress.

“This legislation demonstrates Congress’ commitment to the dedicated men and women of the intelligence community, who play a key role in ensuring the safety and security of the American people.”

“I look forward to the House passing the legislation this week. It will enhance the ability of Congress to oversee intelligence activities and it will allow us to keep our intelligence agencies strong and our families safe.”

You can get a deeper glance into Pelosi’s thinking on this in her interview with Marcy from Netroots Nation.

I would expect the House legislation to pass pretty easily. It’s not a full win, but it does advance intelligence oversight and at least provide a window into their activities. Now that opportunity must be capitalized upon by the relevant actors in Congress. If you needed a reason why Russ Feingold needs to be returned to the US Senate, his seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is a pretty good one.

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Pelosi Gets Additional Intelligence Oversight for Congress

This is more Marcy’s bailiwick than mine, and I’m eager to see what she thinks of this, but it’s worth noting that, if Nancy Pelosi does happen to lose the Speaker’s gavel after November, one of her final acts was to at least achieve some more accountability on the executive branch as it relates to intelligence oversight:

Senate and House intelligence committee leaders and the White House have agreed on measures that would require the administration to share information on covert operations with a larger group of overseers, congressional sources said Monday.

The compromise might mean that Congress will pass an intelligence authorization bill this year, the first time since 2004.

According to a draft bill that the House sent the Senate on Friday, the White House would be required to notify the full membership of both congressional intelligence committees of presidential directives to conduct covert action, known as “findings.” At present, the administration is required to notify only the so-called Gang of Eight, the chairmen and ranking members of each committee and the party leadership in both chambers.

This is not perfect; the executive will try to keep its secrets closely held for as long as possible. They have 180 days to give the full House and Senate intelligence committees a finding, and can delay longer if they believe it concerns “extraordinary circumstances affecting vital interests of the United States.” That seems ripe for abuse. Also, Pelosi did not get a GAO audit of the performance of the intelligence community into the bill, either. There would be a rulemaking down the road to allow GAO some access to the intelligence agencies for various reporting.

But given that it’s been six years since the last intelligence authorization bill – just think about all we’ve learned about the Bush Administration’s intelligence abuses in that time – the victories here are significant. The White House must actually provide to Congress the legal underpinnings for intelligence operations under the bill draft.

The Senate passed this bill last night. Pelosi released this statement:

“In passing the Intelligence Authorization Act last night, the Senate upheld our first responsibility – to ensure the security of the American people – while addressing two key objectives. It expands and improves the Congressional notification process for covert action and provides the framework for GAO access to intelligence community information so that the GAO can conduct investigations, audits, and evaluations as requested by Congress.

“This legislation demonstrates Congress’ commitment to the dedicated men and women of the intelligence community, who play a key role in ensuring the safety and security of the American people.”

“I look forward to the House passing the legislation this week. It will enhance the ability of Congress to oversee intelligence activities and it will allow us to keep our intelligence agencies strong and our families safe.”

You can get a deeper glance into Pelosi’s thinking on this in her interview with Marcy from Netroots Nation.

I would expect the House legislation to pass pretty easily. It’s not a full win, but it does advance intelligence oversight and at least provide a window into their activities. Now that opportunity must be capitalized upon by the relevant actors in Congress. If you needed a reason why Russ Feingold needs to be returned to the US Senate, his seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is a pretty good one.

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David Dayen

David Dayen