REID: THE REPUBLICAN CONGRESS MUST HOLD THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION ACCOUNTABLE ON INTELLIGENCE
Friday, March 3, 2006
Washington, DC -- Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid released the following statement on the Republican-controlled Intelligence Committee's failure to hold the Bush administration accountable.
A fact sheet on intelligence oversight failures and a letter to Senator Frist are attached.
"I agree with Senator Frist, the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee has been bogged down by partisanship. The only way we can restore this important committee's non-partisan tradition is for Leader Frist and Chairman Roberts to stop bowing to the pressure of the Bush White House and permit the committee to do its job. When faced with strong evidence that the Bush Administration has misused intelligence, misuses that have made America less secure, time and again the Senate Intelligence Committee has ducked its responsibilities and refused to hold the Administration accountable. The recent record of the Republican-controlled committee is most notable for its abdication of authority and responsibility.
"The Intelligence Committee's meeting on March 7th presents an important credibility test for Senator Frist and Senator Roberts. If both are serious about their desire to let this committee perform its duties, Chairman Roberts will keep his word and permit the committee to conduct a vote on Senator Rockefeller's reasonable proposal to review the Administration's controversial domestic spying program."
Editorial Boards and Commentators across the Country Have Blasted Senator Roberts' Lack of Oversight on the Republican- Controlled Intelligence Committee.
"Roberts' Credibility On Line" [Wichita (Kansas) Eagle, 2/18/06] "Advise and Assent" [L.A. Times, 2/19/06] "Doing the President's Dirty Work" [New York Times, 2/17/06] "Congress Tackles Surveillance" [Washington Post, 2/16/06] "Roberts at Center of Spying Firestorm" [Wichita Eagle, 2/27/06] "No Checks, Many Imbalances" [George Will, Washington Post, 2/16/06]
Intelligence Oversight in the Senate:
A Record of Partisanship and Failure
Despite the fact that the Senate Intelligence Committee has increased its staff size from 23 to 36 -- an increase of over 50% -- beginning in the fall of 2004 [S.Res.445, 10/1/04], Senator Frist claims that the Senate Intelligence Committee is over-burdened and that Democratic requests would require, "an overwhelming amount of staff time, attention and resources."
For the past several years the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee has failed to exercise its oversight responsibility.
Detention, Interrogation, and Rendition Controversy -- No Committee Investigation
o Despite numerous troubling reports about detainee abuse as a result of Bush Administration's detention, interrogation, and rendition policies and questions about role of intelligence community, the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee has refused to formally investigate these actions.
Iraq Pre-War Intelligence Controversy -- Committee Investigation Incomplete Nearly Three Years After Start of War
o After months of refusing to conduct an investigation of the Bush Administration's misuse and potential abuse of pre-war intelligence related to Iraq, the Republican majority grudgingly consented to conduct an investigation when it became apparent it lacked the votes to thwart it. Nearly three years after the start of the war and more than two years since the committee unanimously voted to initiate an investigation of these issues, this committee has yet to complete its work. Key Administration officials have still not been interviewed; key documents have not been reviewed. New information comes out every week about how these failures have undermined intelligence reform and our chances for victory in Iraq.
Oversight and Implementation of Intelligence Reform -- No Meaningful Committee Action
oT hroughout the tenure of the current chairman of the Intelligence Committee, there has been a refusal to undertake a comprehensive, systemic examination of the intelligence community's organization and effectiveness -- an extraordinary abdication of oversight responsibilities in the wake of all of the intelligence questions raised by the attacks of 9/11. The committee did not convene intelligence reform hearings until after the Senate leadership had vested responsibility for intelligence reform in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and only then held a few "me-too" hearings. As a result, the Senate Intelligence Committee was rendered irrelevant to the most significant intelligence community reform effort since the community was formed in 1947.
FY2006 Intelligence Authorization Bill -- Failed to Gain Senate Passage of Bill for First Time in the nearly 30 Year History of Committee
oDue to Republican objections, the Senate Intelligence Committee has failed to pass the Intelligence Authorization bill on the Senate floor for the first time in nearly 30 years.
Domestic Spying Program -- No Committee Investigation
o More than two months after the first request for an investigation and additional bipartisan requests thereafter, the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee has not agreed to initiate a thorough review of the numerous serious questions about the legality and operational effectiveness of the Bush Administration's domestic spying program.
All of this has led to the Committee's Democratic Vice-Chairman to say that he is concerned that the Committee will "continue its slide into irrelevance."
March 1, 2006
Senator Bill Frist
United States Senate
Dear Senator Frist:
As you know, the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission concluded in its report that improving and strengthening congressional oversight of the intelligence community would greatly contribute to America's security. In the Commission's view, effective congressional oversight would help our intelligence agencies deliver the accurate and unbiased intelligence that is so essential to America's success in the global war on terror.
Despite the unanimous finding of the Commission on this critical issue, I am concerned that the Republican-controlled Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is still not providing the kind of rigorous oversight urged by the 9/11 Commission and required by the Constitution and the Senate's Standing Rules. This Committee's failure to conduct oversight of critical and controversial national security decisions by this Administration contributes to the perception that this Republican Congress is unwilling to hold this Administration accountable for its mistakes and missteps.
For example, despite the fact that the Bush Administration's detainee, interrogation, and rendition policies have increased the risk to our troops and contravened or ignored international law, Chairman Roberts has blocked an investigation.
The Committee has a similar record on another issue of critical significance to our troops and our security -- how the Bush Administration used, and perhaps misused, intelligence to sell its case for war with Iraq. Although more than two years have passed since the Chairman grudgingly consented to launch an investigation, the Committee has yet to interview key Administration officials, let alone produce a report.
Finally, I am particularly concerned with the Chairman's inaction on the Bush Administration's efforts to conduct domestic surveillance on American citizens without a warrant. I strongly support efforts to take down Al Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations but believe we must do so in the most effective means possible. However, I am concerned that by choosing to launch a program based on a shifting and questionable legal rationale, President Bush has jeopardized its effectiveness by increasing public awareness of this highly sensitive program, jeopardizing terrorist prosecutions, and dividing the American public whose support is critical for any effort we undertake against terrorists. Attorney General Gonzales' letter to the Senate yesterday is the latest demonstration of how the Administration's shifting rationale for this program has raised concerns that are causing members on both sides of the aisle to request a full and complete investigation.
I understand that Chairman Roberts committed to hold a committee vote to launch an investigation of the Administration's NSA program on February 16th.. Despite the Chairman's repeated assurances that he would permit such a vote, ultimately he refused to allow the committee to do so. Press reports indicate the Chairman reneged on his promise to hold a vote after heavy White House pressure.
I understand that the Chairman has reversed himself again, and has promised a vote for March 7th. This vote will be a critical test of whether this Republican-controlled Congress can conduct critical oversight of the Bush Administration, the intelligence community, and a Bush Administration surveillance program that has raised many legitimate concerns. While I appreciate the Chairman's commitment to this vote occurring on March 7th, further procedural maneuvers to delay or prevent reasonable and thorough oversight by the Intelligence Committee on the Administration's handling of pre-war intelligence or the NSA matter would be a troubling development that would require the attention of the full Senate.
In the post-9/11 world, America cannot afford a Congress or a congressional committee, especially one as important as the Senate Intelligence Committee, to become lax in its duties. I hope you will agree that the committee is too important to our national security for us to allow it to become an extension of the White House public relations operation, and that you will do everything in your power to ensure the March 7th vote takes place.