Even Senate Intelligence Committee Admits That NSA Oversight Is Often A Game Of 20 Questions

from the look-at-that... dept

We just recently quoted Rep. Justin Amash talking about how Congressional “oversight” of the NSA tended to be this bizarre game of 20 questions, where briefings would be held, but you wouldn’t be told any information unless you asked precisely the right questions:

But Amash said that intelligence officials are often evasive during classified briefings and reveal little new information unless directly pressed.

“You don’t have any idea what kind of things are going on,” Amash said. “So you have to start just spitting off random questions. Does the government have a moon base? Does the government have a talking bear? Does the government have a cyborg army? If you don’t know what kind of things the government might have, you just have to guess and it becomes a totally ridiculous game of twenty questions.”

It would appear that sense goes beyond just folks like Amash, all the way up to the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein. While she’s still a strong supporter of the NSA’s surveillance programs, the latest revelations about the NSA’s collection of buddy lists and email address books pointed out that those issues weren’t covered by Congressional oversight, since they happened overseas. When the Washington Post questions Feinstein’s office about this, a senior staffer seemed unconcerned, mentioning that perhaps they should be asking questions about it:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in August that the committee has less information about, and conducts less oversight of, intelligence-gathering that relies solely on presidential authority. She said she planned to ask for more briefings on those programs.

“In general, the committee is far less aware of operations conducted under 12333,” said a senior committee staff member, referring to Executive Order 12333, which defines the basic powers and responsibilities of the intelligence agencies. “I believe the NSA would answer questions if we asked them, and if we knew to ask them, but it would not routinely report these things, and in general they would not fall within the focus of the committee.”

That, ladies and gentleman, is the kind of “oversight” that Congress conducts.

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Comments on “Even Senate Intelligence Committee Admits That NSA Oversight Is Often A Game Of 20 Questions”

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Ninja (profile) says:

I believe the NSA would answer questions if we asked them, and if we knew to ask them

I am contemplating the madness of this line. So if the senate doesn’t ask questions about any clearly bad program then it’s green light? Let us hope the right questions are asked before it’s too late eh? Or maybe we can, you know, put the NSA under very strict reins or even better, CLOSE THE DAMN THING since it’s corrupted beyond fix?

Anonymous Coward says:

This is what is called “Oversight”? This is what passes for a check and balance? No. This is why the NSA is so over the line. This is why they are now concerned about various officials speaking up for them now that their tail is in a crack over it.

As has been mentioned, we haven’t heard all of the abuses that the NSA has done. In fact, Greenwald says…well how about you read it for yourself?


delia ruhe (profile) says:

important study of intel community

If anyone’s interested, Steven Aftergood has written a review of an important dissertation on the American intelligence community by sociologist Bridget Nolan (who had to quit the CIA in order to publish it as a book). The review is called “To Fix U.S. Intelligence, Shrink It?”:


and the dissertation is available for download as a pdf:


It backs up a lot of what’s being reported now about too much data being swept up and too big a bureaucracy crippling the effectiveness of intelligence.

Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

Oh Please. Anyone who has ever watched a senate committee panel do any questioning of a government agency even when there is a political and public firestorm knows they will watch the senators on the committee pound the table and raise their voice when asking something, but that’s about it.

The senate committees will have already worked out the outcome behind closed doors as always, the rest is just a dog and pony show for the public and the media.

From the White House to the various government agencies that go before the senate and house committees have and always will make the back room deals as they always have.

The senate and house reps get an IOU to pull out at a later date or they will get some support for some pet project of theirs.

The Potomac two step is still alive in Washington and will be for years to come and the U.S. citizens are always the one left on the hook.

You can bet is a senator or congressman was having their calls/emails scooped up that there would be heads rolling, but since it just your everyday citizen, well sorry but were expendable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Something tells me even if a committee bothered to ask a pertinent question of the NSA, they would respond exactly as Feinstein does when queried about an uncomfortable truth…
she goes from being intolerably obtuse to explicitly threatening. Just like every other literally Reactionary insider. There is no left-right on the inside, only the powers-that-be.

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