Groups call for House to shake up spy oversight

Dozens of anti-secrecy groups are urging House leaders to create a new committee to examine federal intelligence programs among other steps to beef up oversight of the nation’s spies.

In a letter on Wednesday, groups including the Center for Democracy and Technology, Sunlight Foundation and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) joined with whistleblowers and government leakers such as Daniel Ellsberg to call for a change. 

“The time for modernization is now,” they wrote.

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Current rules make it too hard for lawmakers to find out details about the nation’s intelligence work, they said, which prevents Congress from exercising effective oversight.

When Congress returns to session in January, the House should write new rules to “enhance opportunities for oversight” of the intelligence sector, such as by declassifying intelligence reports and allowing leaders of congressional committees to designate a member to serve on the Intelligence Committee, they wrote.

The advocates also asked House leaders to allow federal employee whistleblowers to speak with lawmakers without fear of reprisal and give all legislators as well as their staff better access to government documents.

In addition, the groups urged Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBreaking the impasse on shutdown, border security McCarthy, allies retaliate against Freedom Caucus leader House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to consider creating a “distinct, broad-based review of the activities of the Intelligence Community since 9/11,” which would be modeled after the 9/11 Commission and similar panels.

The letter was signed by groups usually on opposite ends of the political spectrum, such as the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute and the left-leaning Demand Progress.

In conjunction with the letter, CREW released a new document detailing policy positions and calling current congressional oversight “broken” and unable to check what intelligence and national security agencies are up to. 

“When the 114th Congress convenes in January 2015, the House of Representatives should implement commonsense reforms to empower intelligence oversight by members of [the House Intelligence Committee], other committees of jurisdiction, and all elected representatives,” CREW said.