Intelligence community should stop refusing to brief Congress on Russia

Since its de facto establishment in 1947, the relationship between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress has witnessed many ups and downs. One of the most notable periods of friction took place during the 1970s, when a series of investigative committees looked into the intelligence community following a string of operational and intelligence failures (and instances of misconduct). Among these attempts was the Pike Committee in the House of Representatives, which paralleled the more famous Church Committee in the Senate. 

I recalled the Pike Committee recently while reading House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ announcement that the CIA is refusing to brief them on the Russian cyberattacks that occurred during the presidential campaign. (One might find this to be ironic, as the Pike Committee is in fact the predecessor of the contemporary House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.)

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The intelligence community’s refusal to present its findings is highly problematic. It is the constitutional obligation of the intelligence community (as an apparatus of the executive branch) to report to the legislative branch. Keeping open channels between the two branches and their apparatuses is simply a matter of functional democratic governance.

Granted, the intelligence community is concerned about being dragged into politics. Indeed, the intelligence community is often accused of being too politicized: Just several weeks ago, the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden sends 'best wishes' to Clinton following hospitalization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE campaign claimed that FBI Director James Comey’s announcement regarding her email investigation negatively affected her chances of winning the election. As evidenced by the CIA’s refusal to testify to the House Select Committee, there is apparently a perception that briefing Congress may be viewed as entering politics.

But the fact remains: Russia’s cyber activities are an unprecedented effort to interfere with domestic U.S. politics. This is not merely a political issue – it is an event with great ramifications to U.S. strategic interests, regardless of which political figure(s) gained or suffered as a result. Therefore, presenting findings regarding the cyberattack has nothing to do with politics – while an absence of testimony is a political decision in and of itself.

The U.S. intelligence community is indeed in an awkward position. It finds itself amidst an unusual debate between a skeptical president-elect, new leaders in the intelligence community, and a bipartisan call for investigation claiming that “recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American.” However, keeping close relations between the intelligence community’s leadership and political decision-makers – under any and all circumstances – is essential in order to keep the intelligence community relevant regarding national security decisions.

Not least important, alienating decision-makers from any side of the political map would almost inevitably harm these agencies themselves and reduce their ability to further U.S. national interests. 

This is a lose-lose situation for decision-makers, the intelligence community and the American public in general. The intelligence community is simply too important to be ignored. Especially in these times of social and political polarization, the intelligence community cannot allow itself t be portrayed as choosing sides. It needs to keep open channels with all branches of government, present as clearly as possible the facts regarding those cyberattacks, and remain as unbiased as possible. As for the political implications of these findings – that’s up to the politicians.

Dr. Shay Hershkovitz is chief strategy officer at Wikistrat, Inc. and a political science professor at Tel Aviv University specializing in intelligence studies. He is also a former IDF intelligence officer whose book, "Aman Comes To Light," deals with the history of the Israeli intelligence community.


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