H/t reader M.G.:
“On another subject, a very important story that the US propaganda/obfuscation machine is not presenting on US media TV or US websites is this one. I thought this would be of interest to you. The amount of stuff this government is doing without telling anyone is shocking. These are the acts of a totalitarian dictatorship, not a republic.
With all the 24/7 news that isn’t being broadcast daily on TV, it is remarkable how no story of any portend gets covered. There are other stories related to this one on the UK Guardian.”
Critics demand answers from chairman Mike Rogers after claims that committee failed to share document before key vote
– Intelligence committee urged to explain if they withheld crucial NSA document (Guardian, Aug 14, 2013):
The leadership of the House intelligence committee is under growing pressure to explain whether it withheld surveillance information from members of Congress before a key vote to renew the Patriot Act.
A Republican congressman and government ethics watchdogs are demanding that the powerful panel’s chairman, Mike Rogers of Michigan, responds to charges that the panel’s leadership failed to share a document prepared by the justice department and intelligence community.
The document was explicitly created to inform non-committee members about bulk collection of Americans’ phone records ahead of the vote in 2011. Michigan Republican Justin Amash alleged that the committee kept it from non-committee members – the majority of the House.
Now Morgan Griffith, a Republican who represents Virginia’s ninth district, is calling for answers. “I certainly think leadership needs to figure out what’s going on. We’re trying to get information so we can do our jobs as congressmen,” he told the Guardian. “If we’re not able to get that information, it’s inappropriate.”
“Obviously, this is of concern,” he added.
Griffith has been been critical of the committee for blocking attempts by non-members to obtain information about classified programs. On August 4, the Guardian published a series of letters he had written to the committee requesting more details, all of which had gone unanswered.
The accusations broaden the focus of the surveillance controversy from the National Security Agency to one of the congressional committees charged with exercising oversight of it – and the panel’s closeness to the NSA it is supposed to oversee.
Amash told the Guardian on Monday that he had confirmed with the House intelligence committee that the committee did not make non-committee members aware of the classified overview from 2011 of the bulk phone records collection program first revealed by the Guardian thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden. The document was expressly designed to be shared with legislators who did not serve on the panel; it appears that a corresponding document for the Senate in 2011 was made available to all senators.
“Nobody I’ve spoken to in my legislative class remembers seeing any such document,” Amash said.
Amash speculated that the House intelligence committee withheld the document in order to ensure the Patriot Act would win congressional reauthorization, as it ultimately did.
For the second consecutive day, the House intelligence committee’s spokeswoman, Susan Phelan, did not respond to the Guardian’s queries about the accuracy of Amash’s allegation. Phelan, however, told The Hill newspaper that the committee held pre-vote briefings for all House members ahead of the Patriot vote. She did not deny Amash’s claim.
Amash countered that members who attend classified briefings conducted by the panel, formally known as the House permanent select committee on intelligence or HPSCI, often receive fragmentary information.
“The presenters rarely volunteer the critically important information and it becomes a game of 20 Questions,” Amash told the Guardian.
Government ethics experts accused the committee of betraying its oversight mandate.
“If the HPSCI leadership withheld a document, intended by the administration for release to non-committee members – a document that could have led to a different outcome when the Patriot Act was reauthorized in 2011 – this is tantamount to subversion of the democratic process,” said Bea Edwards, the executive director of the Government Accountability Project.
“Americans have the right to know exactly who made this decision and who carried it out.”
“There is clearly a loss of confidence in HPSCI leadership among some House members, notably including members of the majority party,” added Steve Aftergood, an intelligence and secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists.
“This can manifest itself in a reduction of trust and comity, and increased skepticism toward committee actions. It can be remedied, perhaps, by permitting greater allowance for dissenting views in the committee’s deliberations.”
Ever since the intelligence reforms of the 1970s, Congress has struck an institutional deal with the intelligence agencies: to balance the needs for protecting government secrets and informing the public, oversight is the responsibility of two committees, one in the House and one in the Senate, that conduct most of their business in secret.
Members who do not sit on the committees have little recourse but to rely on their colleagues on the secret panels to accurately inform them about complex and often controversial intelligence programs.
Yet over decades, the relationship between the intelligence committees and the intelligence agencies has become more often collegial than adversarial. When the House intelligence committee held its first public hearing into the ongoing NSA bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, it titled the hearing ‘How Disclosed NSA Programs Protect Americans, and Why Disclosure Aids our Adversaries’.
The panel’s chairman, Mike Rogers, is a former FBI agent. Its ranking Democrat, Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, received over $220,000 in campaign contributions during his past term from the defense and intelligence industries, according to David Kravets of Wired. Both are staunch advocates of the NSA bulk surveillance programs.
“The congressional committees charged with oversight of the intelligence community have long been captive to, and protective of, the intelligence agencies,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight.
“Many of the congressional staff, in fact, come from those agencies. This latest revelation demonstrates the harm caused by that conflict of interest. When the congressional oversight committee is more loyal to the agency it oversees than to the legislative chamber its members were elected to serve in, the public’s interest is seriously compromised.”
Aftergood made a similar institutional point.
“There is a deeper failure here by the intelligence oversight committees to accurately represent the range of opinions on intelligence policy,” he said.
“Even post-Snowden, HPSCI held one open hearing on surveillance policy with no witness providing a critical perspective. Over in the Senate, the [Senate intelligence committee] has held no open hearings on the subject.
“Meanwhile, both the House and Senate judiciary committees have held useful, interesting and informative hearings presenting diverse views on intelligence surveillance. The performance of those committees highlights the intelligence committees’ lack of critical perspective.”
A representative for House speaker John Boehner did not return a message seeking comment on the Amash-HPSCI clash.
Thus far, no legislator has recommended the House ethics committee, with its broad mandate to investigate violations of House rules or the law, to examine Rogers, Ruppersberger or other committee members. It is unclear if withholding information from fellow legislators ahead of a vote actually violates those rules or any relevant statute.
A former staff director of both the House and Senate ethics committees, said it was unlikely the ethics committee would get involved.
“It doesn’t strike me that this is a violation of any rule or standard within the ethics committee’s jurisdiction,” said Robert Walker, now with the law firm Wiley Rein. “I can understand why there may be strong feelings on both sides of this. But if there’s a dispute on this, I don’t see this as falling within the ethics committee’s jurisdiction.”
Griffith has been critical of the NSA’s bulk phone-records collection, voting for Amash’s effort on July 24 to end it and calling the program akin to a “general warrant” in an interview. He conceded a difference in perspective with Rogers “on how you best protect America and our Constitutional freedoms, but I think he’s a good guy,” Griffith said.
Still, Griffith said, it is not the prerogative of the House intelligence committee to keep information about surveillance programs from other legislators ahead of important votes.
“The constitution doesn’t just say 12 members or 24 or whatever it is [on the House intelligence committee]: it says all of us have to protect the constitution,” Griffith said. “It’s one of our prime duties.”