More Examples Of How The House Intelligence Committee Limits Oversight, Rather Than Does Oversight

from the you're-supposed-to-BE-the-oversight,-not-PREVENT-it dept

More evidence keeps surfacing showing Intelligence Committee members are simply jerking around their fellow Senate and Congress members when it comes to providing the documents needed to provide oversight for the NSA. Tony Romm’s engrossing article for Politico refers to this deliberate obfuscation (tactfully) as “some limits,” but adding what’s been newly discovered to what we already know shows that the heads of the Intelligence Committees aren’t really interested in collaborating with their colleagues to provide credible oversight.

The White House is its own problem, continually insisting (along with national intelligence officials) that everyone, both in the Congress and Senate, has had access to all pertinent briefings, rulings and other needed info — even when it knows for a fact this information has not been disseminated. This helps the administration maintain its narrative of a well-oiled intelligence machine operating with the explicit permission of its oversight and allows the blame to be shifted elsewhere. If the American public is angry about the NSA’s programs, the White House wants to aim that at legislators, rather than the NSA and administration.

If it’s not Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger stashing documents or scheduling briefings at inconvenient times, it’s the administration itself handing out “information” that glosses over details that should rightfully concern those charged with oversight.

One Obama administration report provided to lawmakers last year, for example, only opaquely referenced the NSA’s unlawful collection of thousands of Americans’ emails. The document, declassified this fall, didn’t mention that a secret court had rebuked the agency for its misleading statements.

These omissions add up. The picture being presented by the administration isn’t complete and points fingers at Congress for lapses in oversight.

The scathing rebuke issued in 2011 by Judge Walton concerning the NSA’s repeated abuse of its domestic surveillance capabilities over the previous three years was never seen by most legislators in its entirety until its declassification in August of this year. James Clapper has insisted lawmakers have already seen all pertinent information regarding the NSA’s bulk collections, but Politico points out that this statement simply can’t be true.

The Obama administration’s communication with the Hill, however, didn’t tell the story of an agency rebuked by the FISA court in 2011 for “a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program.”

Instead, lawmakers got only one paragraph about the mishap, which had been obscured with technical details about “multi-communication transactions.” Meanwhile, the administration touted the incident as a case study defending the NSA’s existing oversight mechanisms.

Making matters worse is the limitations surrounding any revelations being brought to the attention of legislators. In addition to the obfuscation and stonewalling shown by the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, legislators are hamstrung by the secrecy surrounding the documents themselves.

[M]any Hill staff sources interviewed by POLITICO noted it may not have been easy for their bosses to digest that report: Lawmakers in many cases weren’t able to bring their own legal advisers or take notes, and they had to view the document in a special part of the Capitol reserved for classified material.

Speaking of Rogers, we already know he withheld documents from House members shortly before voting on the Amash Amendment began and, in his latest move, sent invitations to attend an intelligence briefing to the Congressional junk mail inbox — a briefing which was held on a Friday afternoon, long after most reps had returned to their districts. As to whether a “critical” document made its way to other members of Congress in 2012, Rogers simply isn’t saying.

The chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Rogers, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, declined to say whether they even had sent a letter in 2012 informing members there had been a critical document to view. Hill sources say they don’t recall anything of the sort.

The House Republicans held off on holding briefings until two days before the 2012 vote on reauthorizing the FISA Amendments Act. The invitation obtained by Politico makes no mention of the administration white paper detailing the NSA’s “erroneous” collection of Americans’ data.

On the plus side, the Senate Committee has done a better job (by comparison) at informing other senators, despite Dianne Feinstein’s and Saxby Chambliss’ unwavering support of the intelligence agency. But even their June 19th briefing invitation glossed over Judge Walton’s 2011 rebuke of the agency’s three-year run of privacy violations.

In the push for further transparency and (actual) oversight, legislators are finding themselves working against both intelligence committees — committees that were set up to provide oversight, not run interference for intelligence agencies. Mike Rogers, in particular, has been completely hostile to other members of Congress, turning their attempts to gain knowledge and provide competent oversight into a “sick game of 20 questions,” requiring reps to grasp about blindly until they stumble across a relevant question intelligence officials can’t dodge.

Unfortunately, the many legislative efforts in the works aimed at reining in the NSA’s collection capabilities will suffer from the same opacity, as concerns (mostly exaggerated) about national security will push these markup sessions behind closed doors. And once they’re out of the public eye, the defenders of the surveillance state will find it much easier to pitch unsupported claims as justification for continuing “business as usual.”

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Comments on “More Examples Of How The House Intelligence Committee Limits Oversight, Rather Than Does Oversight”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe this gives you the feeling for why Obama is not supporting the NSA as much as he could. He’s hoping that the NSA will catch the political fallout and he won’t have to deal with his part in all this. When you look at all the whistle blowers now claimed to be enemies of the state, with the DOJ going after them as breakers of confidential information it tells you this is a co-ordinated effort by both the security groups, lawmakers, and the administration to pull the wool over the public’s eyes.

There is a reason that most of the American people want to throw congress incumbents out of a job and replace them all, lock, stock, and barrel. Not just replace them but also replace the one that is from their home district to represent them. That’s a new direction from before when the public thought that all representatives except the one that was theirs should be thrown out.

It’s a call to action that congress critters better hear the message of if they like their jobs better than their ideology.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oversight Does Have Two Meanings

Maybe Congress is simply not aware that oversight can mean “to look over something as a review; oversee,” rather than the apparent meaning of, “to [unintentionally] fail to notice or do something.”

Alternatively, it might just be poetic license for the rejected name of “The House Illegal Domestic Spying Program Cover Up Committee.”

out_of_the_blue says:

Arguing over who knew/knows what is "business as usual".

Wish you guys would quit barking down every blind trail they put out. This is just “they didn’t tell me” excuses. But anyone who paid attention the last decade KNEW. And our servants not knowing is no excuse: they’re responsible regardless.

Instead of me-too rewrites, try laying out charges to names — not “legalese” or statute, broad but higher common law charges. — Just take the Declaration of Independence and do some editing. (That’s the original Populist, Anti-Rich document.)

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