House GOP: Obama has 'long way to go' on transparency

Obama's pledge last Tuesday to work with Congress to curtail the use of armed drone strikes, change the rules of war for counter-terrorism missions and close the terror detainee prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was a "welcome new change at cooperation" with Capitol Hill, according to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). 

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"Consultation and engagement by the White House on national security has been too rare, many of us in Congress welcome a new chance at cooperation," Thornberry wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. 

"Congress can and should be more transparent about our active role in overseeing the executive's national-security activities. The American people need to know that their elected officials will hold President Obama and his administration, or any administration, accountable for their actions," he added. 

However Thornberry, who heads the House Armed Services subcommittee on intelligence and emerging theats, said the president's promises to lawmakers must be followed by actual effort to disclose sensitive details of counter-terrorism missions to Congress. 

That kind of full disclosure to Congress, according to the Texas Republican, has been something the Obama administration has been unwilling to do. 

"When the president suggests that his administration has 'expanded our consultations with Congress' . . . regarding sensitive counter terrorism operations, I can only respond: We have a long way to go," Thornberry wrote, referring to the president's counter-terrorism speech in Washington last Tuesday. 

"In recent years some of these notifications have taken place—on an informal basis," Thornberry added. "Formalizing that process under federal law is long overdue." 

Earlier this month, Thornberry introduced require the administration to provide advance notice to defense lawmakers of any so-called "kill/capture" counter terrorism operations against al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups. 

The operations targeted by the bill run the gamut from armed drone strikes against al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups to night raids by U.S. special operations forces.

In an interview with The Hill last week, Thornberry said he now plans to take that stand-alone legislation and fold it into the Pentagon's budget bill for fiscal year 2014. 

If approved, Thornberry's legislation would require notification of kill/capture missions not only to the House and Senate defense panels but also the defense subcommittees on the House and Senate Appropriations panels. 

"Even as the government works to keep Americans safe from evolving terrorist threats, it must also ensure that every action is taken in a manner consistent with the nation's civil liberties and freedoms," Thornberry wrote Tuesday. 

"This balance can be achieved only with proper oversight and accountability. It is Congress's job to provide both," he added. 

Earlier this year, top Democrats on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary panels pus ed for the creation of new authorities for federal courts to oversee the use of armed drone strikes against suspected terror targets worldwide.

That authority would likely be patterned after the intelligence oversight responsibilities under the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman, told reporters at the time. 

White House officials said last week the administration was entertaining the idea of a FISA-like court for drone strikes. 

On Tuesday, Thornberry pushed back against that notion, saying there is no precedent where a federal court has held sway over acts of war. 

"There is no precedent for such a role and no support for it in the Constitution . . . Congress is directly accountable to the American people. We cannot outsource our responsibilities to the courts, or anyone else," he added.