Congress Has Abandoned Oversight Responsibilities

Yesterday, I cast an unapologetic vote against H.R. 5020, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007. I hate to oppose an authorization bill coming out of the Intelligence Committee because I serve on it and dedicate a great deal of my time and energy to intelligence issues. However, the refusal of the Republican Leadership in the House to adequately address the issue of Iranian intelligence and the Republicans' abdication of Congress' oversight responsibility over the intelligence community left me no choice. H.R. 5020 authorized the largest intelligence budget in history. It's the only bill Congress will pass this year that can provide the instruments our intelligence agencies use to keep our country safe. And yesterday, at a time of escalating global threats and with America's security on the line, House Republicans brought legislation to the floor that reeks of politics and compromises the safety of Americans.

Principal among the bill âs flaws is its failure to make the Administration accountable on Iran. Denying strategic nuclear weapons capability to Iran, a country that is openly hostile toward our country and Israel, is one of our most important national security priorities. Our nation's approach to this monumental diplomatic and military challenge is too important to be concocted among a small group of advisors - many equipped with ideological agendas - in the White House. When the founders of the United States established Congressional oversight over the executive branch in the Constitution, they knew the nation would not be best-served by a secretive President developing policy behind closed doors. That is more true today than ever before.

An amendment offered by Representative Leonard Boswell that I helped draft would have ensured Congressional oversight over the Iran situation by requiring the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to submit quarterly reports to all members of the Intelligence Committees in the House and Senate. The reports would contain:

A current assessment of nuclear weapons programs;

An honest, best-practices evaluation of intelligence sources and their reliability;

A summary of both open source and clandestine intelligence gathered or developed since the previous report; and

An honest discussion of any dissent, caveats, gaps, or other factors that might reduce confidence in the overall assessment.

Although provisions in the amendment would have insisted on only basic measures of Congressional oversight, the legislation literally never saw the light of day. In a blatant display of politics, the rubber stamp Rules Committee, meeting at midnight, refused to allow the House of Representatives to debate one of the most pertinent national security issues of the day by not allowing the amendment, called the Iran Intelligence Oversight Act, onto the floor.

The truth is we didn't get to vote on the amendment because President Bush and the Republicans in Congress cannot afford a debate on Iran due to their track record on Iraq. And they cannot afford a debate on the Administration's manipulation of intelligence, because the American public, in an election year, might ask why their Representatives voted against oversight of how intelligence is collected and analyzed.

My other primary objection to the intelligence authorization is that, essentially, I was forced to vote on the bill blind. Only a select few individuals were given access to details of President Bush' s domestic spying program, the leadership of the House and Senate and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and Subcommittees. Even as a senior Democrat on the Committee, I was not privy to much of what I'm duty-bound to oversee. That puts me in a position of voting, both in Committee and on the House floor, on programs about which I know very little. Consequently, I am not able to hold the Administration accountable when I must, and I am not able to effectively advise my other colleagues in Congress who don't serve on the Intelligence Committee on how to vote on intelligence-related legislation when they ask.

The Republican-led Congress has put President Bush in the drivers seat and has done very little to control his speed or conduct. Congress did not achieve a proper level of oversight on the intelligence that brought us to Iraq to hunt for phantom WMDs; not enough oversight of the detention and interrogation policies that led to Abu Ghraib; not enough oversight of Guantanamo Bay; not enough oversight of the potentially illegal outing of Valerie Plame.

I've personally witnessed how an Administration emboldened by a toothless Congress can manipulate intelligence to create misinformed support for war. Before we invaded Iraq, I noticed a disparity between the rationales for war being paraded for the American public and what I was told in classified briefings and hearings in the Intelligence Committee. In response, I fired off a memorandum to CIA Director Porter Goss noting the disparity and seeking a resolution. In response, the CIA promptly classified my memorandum! My dissent was hidden from the public as a result, not that the Republicans on the committee chose to do anything about it. In the attached picture, you can see me, along with other Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee, protesting the obfuscation of the Administration and lack of Congressional oversight.

Congress has a job to do; the description is written up in the Constitution. And I believe its time we start working together on oversight.

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