Intelligence Oversight Committees Are Being Stocked With Former Intelligence Agency Employees

from the circle-of-life dept

RESOLVED: this nation's intelligence oversight is indisputably useless. It's about 99% joke and 1% Ron Wyden dog-whistle questions that go unanswered for months or years. Committees on both sides of the legislature are composed mostly of surveillance cheerleaders and flak catchers profoundly uninterested in performing actual oversight. Reform efforts tend to take place despite the intelligence committees, rather than because of them. Every so often, positive changes are made for purely partisan reasons.

Super-friendly "oversight" committees aren't helping hold our nation's multiple intelligence agencies accountable. But it goes deeper than lawmaking fanboys/girls holding prominent positions in intelligence committees. The desire to limit accountability traces back further than the front-mouths lobbing softballs to IC leaders at Congressional hearings. As Tim Johnson and Ben Wieder report for McClatchy News, the intelligence community has been stocking committees with home teamers for years.

Lawmakers assigned to oversee the sprawling U.S. intelligence apparatus rely strongly on a staff that in recent years has included scores of onetime spooks, analysts and lawyers who previously worked at the spy agencies under scrutiny.

According to a comprehensive analysis by McClatchy, at least one-third, and perhaps far more, of the professional staff members who carry out the work of the House and Senate intelligence committees are themselves veterans of the agencies that the two panels oversee.

Really not a problem, I suppose, if the other two-thirds are staunch civil rights defenders and privacy advocates. But of course they're not. They're just more government employees, many of whom find defending the status quo to be a more sensible career path, one that starts with idealism (sometimes) and ends with a pension, with very little forward momentum during the intervening years.

The "intelligence community" term attempts to humanize a hulking behemoth bristling with surveillance apparati, currently hoovering up $80 billion every year. And that estimate is likely on the low end, as these agencies have another, entirely-opaque budget to utilize on top of this.

The other low estimate at work here is McClatchy's guess at the number of former agency employees currently working for the intelligence oversight committees. It's not always easy to sniff out the origins of staffers, especially if they've possibly spent some time engaged in clandestine activities.

McClatchy’s analysis determined the staffers’ backgrounds based on searches of LinkedIn profiles, congressional records, executive profiles and in a handful of cases, press reports, obituaries or personal interviews in which the former or current committee staff members publicly acknowledged their own intelligence background.

In dozens of cases, McClatchy could not determine whether a given staff member had worked in intelligence. Some have left almost no trace on the internet, itself perhaps a telling sign of a sensitive prior professional life.

According to staffers who spoke to McClatchy, the one-third estimate is way, way off. One said "all but a couple" of staffers he worked with came from intelligence agencies. Others estimated IC oversight market saturation to be 50-75%.

Obviously, a dearth of intelligence experience would be less than useful for oversight committees. Experience is extremely useful but in cases where oversight is already severely lacking, stuffing the roster with IC picks is guaranteed to result in the sort of non-oversight we've become accustomed to. Not only are staffers likely to advise against additional accountability and lobby against reform efforts, they're also likely to know how to ensure any reform efforts are shot full of exploitable holes by the time they hit the president's desk.

And there's no good way of fixing this that won't leave other government committees tied up in policies that prevent them from hiring anyone with subject matter expertise. Pretty much the only thing that can be done is sitting back and marveling at the breadth of the intelligence community's regulatory capture.


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  1. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 4:38pm

    Developing a clean quagmire

    Who watches the watchers depends upon who the watcher want watching them. Letting someone not on board with the desired end would just mess up the works and slow progress towards that end down. So knowing the result wanted, the deck is stacked so that the result can be achieved with less muck. Less muck means smoother operations and less headache in achieving the goal.

    That goal is power and control, the essence of any police state. Any other excuses are just lies, and anyone calling those lies, lies, will be labeled subversive. I, personally, will wear that label proudly. I am not against our country, I am against how our country is moving, and the methods being used to get there.

    As far as the necessity for subject matter experience, I think a more important metric should be a willingness to call dirt dirty, along with a security clearance that will not prevent those staffers from accessing information needed to call dirt dirty. Loyalty to those being overseen is a hindrance rather than a help to that function.

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

  2. icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 4:39pm

    Dog-whistle? I don't find Wyden very dog-whistley.

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

  3. icon
    sehlat (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 4:45pm

    Relevant Article

    Regulatory Capture

    It's not just for the FCC et al.

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 5:27pm

    Yes there is

    "And there's no good way of fixing this that won't leave other government committees tied up in policies that prevent them from hiring anyone with subject matter expertise. Pretty much the only thing that can be done is sitting back and marveling at the breadth of the intelligence community's regulatory capture. "

    NO there are ways to institute oversight that don't involve lots direct intelligence experience many people have studied this and know quite well how they operate, but there needs to be punishment for people that do not comply with the oversight, a trip to gimo or the disappearance of them and their families should be sufficient motivation to act in the interests of the people of the United States, the FBI or some of the many special operators that are now employed in the various police forces could be used to enforce this my way or the blacksite policy, these are people that are used to doing what they are told and believing what they are told buy people in authority it doesn't matter who that authority is even patriots,

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

  5. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 5:34pm

    Re: Yes there is

    Yes, the FBI could be used, except they are likely complicit in the focus on power and control. Note that their purview is more along the lines of national security rather than interstate crime detection these days. Why is that? We have many other agencies that perform national security functions and no other that do interstate crime.

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

  6. identicon
    Thad, 8 Sep 2017 @ 5:38pm

    Re:

    He'll sometimes ask "hypothetical" questions that aren't actually hypothetical.

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 5:46pm

    Re: Re: Yes there is

    Counter espionage is still in their perveiw but I agree they to may need to go to the blacksites as well, which is why I suggest using the numerous special operators that now populate the police forces they are used to not questioning orders and disappearing people

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

  8. icon
    stderric (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 5:51pm

    Ex-government intelligence? Great. The oversight circle-of-life dept. is full of jerks.

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 6:08pm

    Re: Developing a clean quagmire

    +1

    well said

    TD just can't reconcile its fundamental concept of democratic government as a noble force of good... with the awful daily performance of such government in practice. This prompts a faulty rationalization that government is fine-- it's merely some bad people that somehow got into it in various places. TD never sees the major inherent flaws in coercive government rule of society... it just wants better government personnel as the solution. The Silicon-Valley-crowd is mostly standard left-progressive, but somehow deems itself as maverick independent.

    "... the breadth of the intelligence community's regulatory capture" is not an aberration -- it is commonplace & unavoidable in all government regulatory agencies.

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 6:16pm

    Re: Re: Developing a clean quagmire

    "TD never sees the major inherent flaws in coercive government rule of society."

    oh damn... that sizzles! But so true!

    I keep telling those on the left that they are their own worst nightmare. I say the same to the right as well, but not as often here since TD is generally on the left.

    The worst nightmare for a lefty is to have an actually leftist government.
    The worst nightmare for a righty is to actually have a right wing government.

    The "unmistakable" trend in humanity is to find its misery right where it goes to hide from it! Misery does not seek us, but we definitely seek it!

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 6:20pm

    Re:

    at least they all get to cum... right on top of the citizens heads.

    next election, I plan to vote the same bastards back into office because it is more important to me to make sure I stick it to the little fucks on the other side of the isle! no matter how bad my fucking tool is, I must stop their even worse tool from getting into office!

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

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 6:22pm

    They are named Oversight Committees for a reason

    The purpose of an Oversight Committee isn't to oversee something. It is to commit oversights regarding what they are nominally supposed to be monitoring.

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

  13. icon
    Ben (profile), 8 Sep 2017 @ 6:39pm

    Remember the rules!

    Remember:

    The First Rule of Oversight Club ... is you do NOT TALK about Oversight Club.

    The Second Rule of Oversight Club ... is you do NOT TALK about Oversight Club.

    ... So I would be careful about speculation on who may (or may not) be in Oversight Club and what history they might have.

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

  14. identicon
    E5d3DHd, 8 Sep 2017 @ 8:47pm

    Re: Re: Developing a clean quagmire

    I think parts of America must have high lead concentrations in the drinking water.

    You are eating up this "small government" corporate propaganda like ice cream.

    You are playing into the divide-and-conquer tactics being used against you without a second thought.

    Your problem, as in many other places, is your corrupt, unrepresentative government.

    Maybe it is too rotten to be reformed at this point, but that doesn't mean that no government is even remotely possible, let alone desirable. What you have *now* is about as close to no government as you are likely to get.

    Focus on the corruption. Put down your double bacon pizza burger, turn off the TV, and talk to the other people that care about real issues. I think you will find that the serious ones are neither, really, "lefties" or "righties".

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

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2017 @ 9:01pm

    Re: Yes there is

    Sure, combat unaccountable government agencies by empowering other unaccountable government agencies to run illegal black-ops against them. I'm sure that will work "in the interests of the people of the United States". *sigh*

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_law

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

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2017 @ 7:48am

    s/Oversight/Overlook/

    You're welcome!

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2017 @ 4:59pm

    US intelligence is outsourced to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They've been putting plants everywhere, feeding disinfo to the decision makers and hiding valid info.

    What is left of the US intelligence community is a few civilian analysts like Andrew McCarthy, Patrick Poole, and Daniel Greenfield. They are queued up at the chopping block to be banned from the Internet like the Daily Stormer was, so read them while you still can.

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


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