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.