Senate Intelligence Committee Finally Decides That Maybe It Should Figure Out What The Intelligence Community Is Up To

from the seems-a-bit-late-for-that dept

Both houses of Congress set up their respective "Select Committees on Intelligence" in the mid-1970s as basically permanent extensions of the Church and Pike Committees that dug into widespread abuses of the US intelligence community in the preceding decades. The idea was that by creating permanent oversight committees, it would prevent the kinds of abuses that were commonly done by the FBI, NSA and CIA. And yet, as we've noted many times, the intelligence committees don't seem to function as an oversight committee these days. Rather, they seem to be the committee designed to whitewash any abuses and to help the intelligence communities give a false veneer of legitimacy to their widespread abuses.

Just to put an exclamation point on the lack of real oversight, the Associated Press is now reporting that, in the wake of the Snowden revelations, then Senate Intelligence Committee boss (now "ranking member"), Dianne Feinstein, asked the committee to create a "secret encyclopedia" of all the various intelligence programs, because members and staffers apparently hadn't been keeping track:
Trying to get a handle on hundreds of sensitive, closely held surveillance programs, a Senate committee is compiling a secret encyclopedia of American intelligence collection. It’s part of an effort to improve congressional oversight of the government’s sprawling global spying effort.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein launched the review in October 2013, after a leak by former National Security Agency systems administrator Edward Snowden disclosed that the NSA had been eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. Four months earlier, Snowden had revealed the existence of other programs that vacuumed up Americans’ and foreigners’ phone call records and electronic communications.

“We’re trying right now to look at every intelligence program,” Feinstein told the Associated Press. “There are hundreds of programs we have found ... sprinkled all over. Many people in the departments don’t even know (they) are going on.”
Later in the article, Feinstein admits that the committee had not been "satisfactorily informed" about certain surveillance programs.

In other words, the committee clearly hasn't been doing much "oversight." Part of the problem is that so much of the work done by the intelligence community actually falls under executive order 12333. That's the executive order issued by Reagan under which most of the key intelligence programs fall -- and which Congress technically has no oversight mandate.

If the program started back in 2013, why is it only coming out now? Well, because with the changing of the guard in the latest Congress, Senator Richard Burr took over the Senate Intelligence Committee leadership, and he's even more of an intelligence community defender than Feinstein ever was. In the past, he's even argued that there should be no public hearings by the committee, and he's basically fought against any effort for transparency, and always sides with the intelligence community. Given that, many expected him to just kill off Feinstein's attempt at cataloging these programs -- but apparently Burr and Feinstein worked out "a deal" to continue -- but it appears that the "deal" also involves ending this effort by September, and no longer using two staffers from the executive branch who were familiar with these programs:
Feinstein, a California Democrat, initially wasn’t sure that Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who took her place as chairman of the panel when Republicans took control of the Senate in January, would agree to continue the review. But Burr and Feinstein recently reached an agreement to do so, said Senate aides. They were not authorized to discuss the inner committee workings publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Two executive branch officials who had been detailed to the committee are returning to the executive branch and will not be replaced, the aides said, so the effort will be entirely the work of congressional staff. The project will end in September, the aides said.
Of course, for the past few years, Feinstein had insisted that the Committee was fully informed -- and only now it's coming out that she admits they weren't really. Except, now the committee is controlled by someone who is even more in the bag for the intelligence community than she was. Does anyone honestly think that the intelligence committees will now suddenly start doing a better job keeping the rest of Congress informed about what the intelligence community is up to?

Filed Under: dianne feinstein, executive order 12333, oversight, richard burr, senate, senate intelligence committee, surveillance


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  • icon
    Designerfx (profile), 13 Apr 2015 @ 10:53am

    Is it really that hard?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2015 @ 11:12am

    Far be it

    Far be it from the Democrats to protect our rights. Diane Frightstein is no longer in control of the committee.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 13 Apr 2015 @ 11:36am

    Stopped reading at "Dianne Feinstein".

    How the hell this person is in charge of "intelligence" anything defies logic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2015 @ 11:48am

      Re:

      Maybe you shouldn't. Why attack the lesser of two evils?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2015 @ 4:55pm

        Re: Re:

        Which one is the lesser is a matter of debate. That they are two evils is well known and already acknowledged by you in your post. So why do you care when evil is attacked?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 14 Apr 2015 @ 1:50pm

        Re: Re:

        "Why attack the lesser of two evils?"

        I don't think she's the lesser at all. The intelligence community doesn't have many people who are more supportive and friendly to them than Feinstein.

        They're equivalently evil.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2015 @ 11:44am

    We had no idea about the majority of the spying programs until Snowden - but won't worry, we'll apply our "strict oversight".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Pronounce (profile), 13 Apr 2015 @ 11:51am

    I Predict They Will Quickly Lose Interest

    Congress' interest will last up until they realize that J. Edgar Hoover isn't the only person who collected dirt on politicians.

    The spooks will control funding through what ever means they need to keep their spy games going. (See uproar over Sony hack.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2015 @ 11:52am

    So what kind of reporting is this?

    > Four months earlier, Snowden had revealed ...

    As I understand it, Snowden revealed nothing. Nothing!

    He leaked a shitload of documents to chosen reporters (Glenn Greewald ring a bell? And others.) who then revealed ... whatever got revealed, when it got revealed.

    Sloppy journalism. Lazy journalism. Possibly "pressured by hire-ups" journalism. But not a distinction to be ignored.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2015 @ 12:08pm

    What is it going to be called?

    The Encyclopedia Oceania

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2015 @ 12:19pm

    I don't know why people think there is no oversight mandate for congress. The constitution still gives them the ability to impeach whoever they want. The supposed widespread abuses were supposed to be fixed by Executive Order 13491. I know first hand foreign intelligence practices where torture and geneva violations is just done are most of the problems in the united states.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 13 Apr 2015 @ 12:23pm

    Oversight?

    Isn't that a term for "let's ignore this stuff"? Feinstein wasn't a bad Senator when she was first elected, but somewhere along the way she became corrupted by ... the NSA, CIA, DOJ, ??? Who knows, but she became the cheerleader for these dickheads! The current crop of Goposaurs is even worse!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2015 @ 12:43pm

    If there was in shame left in her...

    This is just sad. An encyclopedia? Even her word choice is out of touch with modern society.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2015 @ 12:58pm

    Wrong approach

    Don't compile a list of known intelligence programs. Shut down all the programs that aren't on the list of programs previously briefed to the oversight committee. If the committee was not briefed, then either the program is not important (and should be closed to conserve resources) or is not approved (and should be closed until the committee is fully read in).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 13 Apr 2015 @ 1:03pm

    Feinstein only cares if it affects her rights. Time and time again she has proven she doesn't care when the rights of others are abused only when her rights are ignored.

    Better to just ignore the traitor than to take any stock in anything she says

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2015 @ 1:30pm

    “There are hundreds of programs we have found ... sprinkled all over. Many people in the departments don’t even know (they) are going on.”


    Does this include "Special Access" programs?

    I can imagine a few security folks are wondering about their 'opsec' if their programs were found out by these oversight committees.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Apr 2015 @ 2:46pm

    An encyclopedia of US intelligence programs is a document that has a big red 'FOIA ME' sign hanging over it - or even 'LEAK ME'

    But given how subservient courts are to the idol of national security, this probably won't see the light of day. Even worse, CIA might just hack the SSCI's servers and delete the encyclopedia once it's too damming.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 14 Apr 2015 @ 12:38am

    Well...

    Feinstein was the proverbial fox guarding the hen house regarding Constitutional rights. Burr is more like a marten. Wait until he gets in a killing spree.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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