Diane Roark and the Drama of Intelligence Oversight

01.31.11 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Judging from appearances, the conduct of congressional oversight of intelligence is usually professional, placid and rather dull. Just beneath the surface, however, the process is sometimes filled with tension, conflict and human foible.

In her day, Diane S. Roark, a Republican staffer on the House Intelligence Committee from 1985 to 2003, elicited an impressive amount of hostility from intelligence agencies. Last year, her name surfaced again in connection with the pending prosecution of former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, who was charged with unlawful retention of national defense information.

“Regarding Congressional oversight, Members of Congress were supportive” of intelligence, said former NSA deputy director Barbara McNamara in a December 15, 2003 statement (pdf) to the 9/11 Commission. “But while some staffers were good, some staffers were overly intrusive and vindictive.”

Diane Roark fell in the latter category, as far as Ms. McNamara was concerned. “Ms. Rourke [sic] would form alliances with individuals in the IC and have them serve as her spies. These spies were easy to spot — they were people who really believed in their own programs as being the best and needing support from Congress,” Ms. McNamara said.

One of those purported alliances, it later turned out, was with Thomas Drake. According to the April 2010 indictment of Mr. Drake, he “had a self-described ‘close, emotional friendship’ and ‘different and special’
relationship with Person A [i.e., Ms. Roark] that included the unauthorized disclosure of unclassified and classified information to [Ms. Roark] while [Ms. Roark] worked as a congressional staffer and after [Ms. Roark’s] retirement in May 2002.”

Their relationship was based on shared values, her attorney told the Washington Post. “He was very concerned about waste and mismanagement and so was she.” (“Act of honor, or betrayal?” by Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, July 14, 2010).

Ms. Roark’s concerns and her actions won her a visit from the FBI in July 2007. FBI agents seized “emails and other items” from her residence, according to a recent status report (pdf) in the Drake prosecution. She is not charged with any crime.

House Intelligence Committee chairman (and later DCIA) Porter J. Goss praised Ms. Roark’s career performance in a March 20, 2002 floor statement.

“Diane is known as a very dedicated, tough-minded program monitor who digs into the issues and forces agencies to see and understand what they sometimes miss themselves. She is also known as a very knowledgeable taskmaster, and her arrival at an agency is often anticipated with apprehension,” Mr. Goss said.

“I think that this is the type of oversight capability that the American people are entitled to and should demand. I cannot think of any greater tribute for Diane than knowing that agency leaders throughout the community recognize that her instincts and assessments are sound,” he said.

But from the perspective of Ms. McNamara of the NSA, “There is a fine line between what is professional disagreement and what is personal animosity.”

Some recently published resources on congressional oversight of intelligence include the following.

“Intelligence Issues for Congress” (pdf), Congressional Research Service, updated January 20, 2011.

“Legal Perspectives on Congressional Notification” (pdf), hearing before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, October 22, 2009 (published December 2010).

“Congress’s Right to Counsel in Intelligence Oversight” by Kathleen Clark, University of Illinois Law Review (forthcoming).