House Intelligence Report: No Second Thoughts

05.28.14 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Of the many lessons to be learned from the unauthorized disclosures of classified intelligence information by Edward Snowden, one of them is that the congressional intelligence oversight process did not function properly in the years leading up to those disclosures.

It seems indisputable that the intelligence oversight committees did not accurately comprehend or effectively represent the full spectrum of public concern over intelligence surveillance practices. Had they done so, current efforts to limit or revise those practices would have been unnecessary.

But in its new report on the intelligence authorization act for Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) does not pause for any kind of reflection, let alone self-criticism. It does not inquire why the intelligence oversight process has seemed inhospitable to the kinds of public concerns that emerged in Snowden’s wake. It does not consider whether the Committee’s own practices need to be altered to provide for greater public engagement. It does not even mention Snowden’s name, referring instead to “a former NSA contractor.”

Rather, the new intelligence bill’s primary response to the Snowden episode is to increase the rigor and intensity of current personnel security practices.

“Over the past year, massive unauthorized disclosures of classified intelligence information caused immense damage to our national security. The Intelligence Community might have been able to prevent those unauthorized disclosures if it continuously evaluated the backgrounds of employees and contractors,” the House Committee report asserted.

“Continuous evaluation allows the IC to take advantage of lawfully available government and public information to detect warning signals that the current system of five-year periodic reinvestigation [for renewal of security clearances] misses. That information may include: foreign travel; reports of foreign contacts; financial disclosure information; checks of criminal, commercial marketing, and credit databases; and other appropriate publicly available information,” the report said.

But the Committee did not explain how closer scrutiny of any of these categories of information could have prevented the Snowden disclosures. If Snowden is neither a spy nor in search of financial gain, then none of these factors would have assisted in anticipating or preventing his actions, and an altogether different type of response would be needed.  But the Committee was not prepared to consider that possibility.

The new House Committee report includes several other noteworthy features:

*  “The Committee’s concerns about insufficient intelligence funding… are exacerbated by the great expense necessary to remediate the damage from illegal disclosures of classified information.”

*  The House bill would require declassification review of documents collected in the May 2011 Abbottabad, Pakistan mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

*  The bill would elevate the Inspector General of the National Security Agency, making the position subject to presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.

*  The bill would require the President to establish a written plan for how to respond to an unauthorized disclosure of a covert action program.

*  The bill would require the Director of National Intelligence to submit an annual report to Congress on violations of law or executive order by Intelligence Community personnel.