A resolution introduced yesterday by Sen. John McCain would establish a new Senate Select Committee to investigate the unauthorized disclosures of classified information on National Security Agency collection programs and their implications for national policy.
The McCain resolution is framed broadly and touches on many issues besides leaks, including intelligence policy, congressional oversight, the role of contractors, the constitutionality of current intelligence programs, and more.
The resolution asserts that “senior officials in the intelligence community may have misled Congress or otherwise obfuscated the nature, extent, or use of certain intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities of the National Security Agency, including intelligence-collection programs affecting Americans.”
“[T]he provision of incomplete or inaccurate information by officials of the intelligence community has inhibited effective congressional oversight of certain intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities of the National Security Agency, including intelligence-collection programs affecting Americans, and undermined congressional and public support of these programs,” the resolution stated.
Moreover, “some such programs, operations, and activities that are the subject matter of the unauthorized disclosures may not have been authorized, or may have exceeded that which was authorized, by law, or may not have been permitted under the Constitution of the United States.”
The proposed new select committee would investigate the unauthorized disclosures and assess how they occurred, the damage to U.S. national security that resulted, and how such damage could be mitigated.
The committee would review the role of intelligence contractors and the adequacy of current management controls.
The committee would evaluate the legality, constitutionality, and efficacy of the NSA collection programs that have been disclosed.
It would also consider “the need for greater transparency and more effective congressional oversight of intelligence community activities,” and whether existing laws are sufficient “to safeguard the rights and privacies of citizens of the United States.”
In proposing a new select committee, Senator McCain is implicitly declaring that existing oversight procedures are inadequate, and that a new, more fundamental approach is required. The prospects for the McCain proposal to become a reality are uncertain.