The Congressional Oversight Committee (COC) roles are to supervise the budgets, analysis, legality, and investigations dealing with intelligence failures, conducted by the Legislative and Executive Branch. They exist to protect and ensure the United States (U.S.) from fraud, abuse, and waste of government assets. While originally their main responsibility was balancing powers dealing with intelligence decisions, over recent years, questions about their effectiveness and their ability to function due to infighting between political parties arose.
One of the proper roles of Congress in Strategic Intelligence (SI) should be ensuring overt and/or covert operations conducted follow the law set forth by our country. While the Executive Branch (EB) has control over covert actions, and espionage, i.e. SI. the president holds the right to approve or disapprove covert actions. Legislative oversight (LO) provides that extra layer of security for the United States Government (USG). The LO should review all national level intelligence operations either it be overt, or covert to ensure that the USG involvement is sanctioned and follows all laws domestic and abroad. In addition, having LO helps improve the product, whether that means collection, analysis, or covert action.1 How does LO improve the product?
Regarding collection, as stated earlier, they ensure the collection is legal and benefits the USG, but in addition Congress also plays an important role in explaining and representing the intelligence community to the public.1 Because the intelligence Community operates in secret and much of its work product is itself secret, the public and the press have no means other than Congress to check up the activities and quality of this vital activity of government.2 News outlets and social media have the ability to disseminate information at an increased rate. By having the LO review collection activities and operations it assures the US citizens that their rights are protected domestically and abroad. Secondly, LO ensures the dissemination of classified information is limited to specific individuals.
In some cases, information and operations are classified and if the media broadcasted any information related to the operation it could cause detrimental problems for the USG. In those cases, the media plays a significant role reporting information to the public, however, in the largely classified world of intelligence, in all but a few exceptional cases, the media is effectively precluded from playing that supporting role, thus enhancing the importance of legislative oversight.1 That type of oversight is incredibly needed where media outlets speak about having the freedom of speech and how it is important to keep citizens informed at all times. Media outlets tend to worry about the next big story instead of safety and protection of intelligence operations.
Though check and balances exist to ensure that one branch is not abusing power or operating irresponsibly. There seems to be internal problems and a struggle of power within the COC. Some would say that within the COC, overlapping responsibilities and partisan amongst the branches and political parties are causing issues. As stated earlier one of the roles of the COC is to supervise the budget for intelligence purposes. The Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) is a bill that authorizes appropriations for the conduct of intelligence and intelligence-related activities in the DoD and intelligence agencies.3 Due to disagreements between the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, from fiscal year 2006 through 2009 they could not pass the IAA. The infighting had become apparent when Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas, a President Bush supporter, adjourned a committee meeting last month rather than allowing a vote on the proposed wiretap inquiry, which angered many Democrats.5 The impact of the failed bills during that time caused numerous operations to be postponed.
Another issue that stems from infighting deals with the executive branch’s ability to limit the dissemination of information to a need to know amongst Congress. After covert actions like the Bay of Pigs, under 50 US Code 3093, the President shall keep the congressional intelligence committee fully and currently informed of all covert actions; and shall furnish to the congressional intelligence committee any information or material concerning covert actions.4 Though it states the committee must be informed the executive branch interpreted it as they only need to inform individuals eight key leaders, and not the entire congressional committee. One can imagine the tension between branches and political parties who deem it necessary for the entire committee to be informed. Why does the executive branch feel the need to only keep information shared between eight key leaders? Some would say it is to keep information at a “need to know” and decrease the discovery of classified intelligence operations. to stop the outflow of classified information. Some believe it’s to keep other committee members in the dark about budgets and intelligence operations, and to keep a certain amount of power within the executive branch.
While many agree that problems exist with congressional intelligence oversight, they also understand the importance of intelligence to national security.2 Though infighting has caused issues amongst members of the COC the need to have supervision over intelligence operations and spending is a need. The IC needs funding to continue intelligence operations and the need to monitor the use of those funds must be tracked to ensure US citizens their money is used properly, and their safety is at the highest priority. As previously stated, the COC roles are to supervise the budgets, analysis, legality, and investigations dealing with intelligence failures. I also agree information should be provided to the COC, but I do not agree that it should be shared with the entire committee, unless it is deemed necessary.