Friday, April 13, 2007

Bush Vows Veto Of Intelligence Bill - Not Enough Secrets

The Congress has not passed an Intelligence Authorization Bill since 2005, and Jay Rockefeller is determined to change that. In January, the Intelligence Committee reported out S. 372, the 2007 Intelligence Authorization Bill and it is up for consideration by the Senate. ( Yes, we are already half way through the fiscal year but Rockefeller only became Chairman in January.) You'd think the White House would be applauding the Senate for its diligence. On the contrary. The President thinks this bill is a threat to national security and has promised to veto it. How could that possibly be? Well, it turns out that the bill would require Bush to tell us what he is doing in our names in those secret prisons and would require him to tell us how much money he is spending on his outrages. Also, he would have to keep Congress informed. That kind of sunshine is beyond the pale for our President and must be squashed.

Bloomberg and Boston Globe are both reporting the President's veto threat which is spelled out in detail in the OMB statement objecting to the bill.

So what is it about this bill that is so objectionable. Well, as summarized by the Boston Globe, the bill would require,

--Yearly disclosure of the total amount spent on intelligence. The administration has long argued that releasing the figures would be a threat to national security.

--When lawmakers with jurisdiction ask for intelligence assessments and other information, the bill requires spy chiefs to turn the materials over within 15 days. The measure "would foster political gamesmanship and elevate routine disagreements to the level of constitutional crises," the administration says.

--A mandate that the White House brief all members of the intelligence committees on extraordinarily sensitive matters -- not just congressional and intelligence committee leaders, as is often the practice now.

--Required reports on interrogation activities and secret prisons, which the administration says would raise "grave constitutional issues" and jeopardize sensitive information that should not be widely distributed.

--Creation of a statutory inspector general for Office of the Director of National Intelligence who would have the power to direct watchdogs in any of the 16 spy agencies. The administration says the existing watchdogs are best suited to do the job without "dysfunctional interference" from the proposed new inspector general.

--A requirement that the heads of the National Security Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and National Reconnaissance Office be subject to Senate confirmation, as well as the CIA's deputy director. The administration calls that unnecessary.

Before getting into those provisions in more detail it is worth noting that this is not a case of only those nasty unpatriotic Democrats gumming up the works. It seems that Senator Bond, the ranking Republican, supports the bill and isn't too keen on Bush's veto threat. As reported by Bloomberg,

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and Senator Christopher Bond, the panel's senior Republican, earlier today said Bush needed to be more forthcoming to Congress about intelligence operations.

``There may be some officials of the executive branch that prefer a lack of oversight,'' Bond, a Missouri lawmaker, said in a speech today in the Senate chamber. ``That's not how the system works.''

Now Kit is coming to this party a little late, inasmuch as he was the Chairman of the Committee up until this year, but he is still welcome.

Now lets go to the particulars. The OMB statement lays out all of Bush's its principle objections.  First, document disclosure.

Mandatory Provision of Requested Documents in 15 Days Unless the President Claims Constitutional Privilege.

Section 108 provides that the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the head of any intelligence agency shall furnish "any intelligence assessment, report, estimate, legal opinion, or other intelligence information" within 15 days upon a request by:  (1) a Congressional intelligence committee, (2) any other congressional committee of jurisdiction, (3) the Chairman of a congressional intelligence committee, or (4) the Vice Chairman or Ranking Minority Member of a congressional intelligence committee.  This section also provides that the DNI or the agency head cannot withhold the requested item "unless the President certifies that such document or information is not being provided because the President is asserting a privilege pursuant to the Constitution of the United States." Such provisions are highly objectionable, because rather than facilitating effective and cooperative interaction between the legislative and executive branches, they would foster political gamesmanship and elevate routine disagreements to the level of constitutional crises. Section 108 also is impractical and would require IC agencies to
direct resources from critical missions to comply with broad information requests within
an artificial deadline.

"Political gamesmanship?" Are you kidding? The most political administration in memory, one that got a free ride from the Congress for six years is now saying that when Congress does its job that is political gamesmanship. And as far as the argument that responding to these requests would be impractical and divert resources from critical missions, if those other critical missions happen to be the running of secret detention facilities, then I would suggest, the more diversion the better.

Next, Bush objects to provisions that would force the Administration to keep all members of the Intelligence Committees informed of critical matters, not just the top two guys. And in the event,

the DNI or the head of an intelligence agency fails to give the full notification to each member of an intelligence activity, the DNI or agency head must notify each member that a determination has been made not to provide information in full to all members of the committees; provide a classified statement of the reasons for such a

This new requirement for notification of all members would also now apply to disclosure regarding covert actions. No more cozy meetings with a few who are then threatened to keep it all secret.

But what may be most objectionable about these new provisions are the teeth that come with them. Again, back to Bush's veto statement

Section 307 makes such notification to each member a condition on use of funds for intelligence activities. These provisions establish an all-or-nothing approach to executive branch notification to the intelligence committees that could delay actions needed to meet urgent national security requirements and would discourage, rather than encourage, the
sharing of extraordinarily sensitive information needed for effective legislative-executive relations with respect to the most sensitive intelligence matters.  This provision, in practice, would seek to compel the disclosure to multiple additional persons of sensitive national security information as to which the President has determined that special protection must be provided.

Congress is saying "no play, no pay." Now that kind of provision truly is a threat to national security.

Now we get to what could be the most critical provisions of the bill that have earned Bush's ire. First, those nasty clandestine torture camps.

Detailed Reports to Congress on Any Detention and Interrogation Activities and on Any Clandestine Detention Facilities.

Section 313 requires the DNI to submit a report (by May 1, 2007) to the congressional Intelligence Committees on the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. The reports are required to include, among other things, "all legal opinions" provided by the Department of Justice regarding the "meaning or application of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 with respect to the detention and interrogation activities" undertaken by any element of the intelligence community. Section 313 includes no exception for applicable legal privileges. Section 314 imposes similarly far-reaching disclosure requirements, obligating the DNI to submit within 60 days a detailed report on any current or former clandestine detention facility. In addition to raising grave constitutional issues, such matters are appropriately left to sensitive handling in the normal course between the intelligence committees and the executive branch and should not be the subject of detailed statutory reporting requirements.

Wow. Bush will have to report the who, what, where, and why for all those clandestine detention facilities. My guess is that they object to this one so strongly because the know that having to report this information effectively means that those facilities will have to be shut down. But I sure do want to read those legal opinions. It might even be possible that the lawyers writing them, knowing they will be scrutinized by outside parties, will be less inclined to write the the type of blank checks we have seen from Yoo and Gonzales.

The last major objection has to do with money. To paraphrase the White House, "if people knew how much we were spending on this they would revolt." Here's Bush's actual language.

Public Disclosure of Amounts Annually Requested, Authorized, and Appropriated for the NIP.

Section 107 would require the President annually to disclose publicly the total amount requested for the NIP and would require Congress annually to disclose publicly the total amounts authorized to be appropriated, and appropriated, for the NIP. The Congress thoroughly examined this issue during its consideration of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA), when Congress rejected publication of the NIP funding total. The funding information should continue to be kept classified, because disclosure of changes in funding totals over time could compromise intelligence sources, methods, and activities.

Compromise sources, methods and activities. Balderdash. That is the last refuge on an intelligence scoundrel and this super secret White House. I'm glad that the Committee finally blew the whistle on this issue.

There you have it. A very important bill that, if enacted, will bring some much needed sunshine to our intelligence activities. And, it's even supported by Kit Bond.

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