Intelligence Sharing Improves with Allies, Lags with Congress

03.10.13 | 3 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Commander of U.S. Central Command said last week that he is “encouraged” by the willingness of U.S. intelligence agencies to share information with military allies, which is becoming “a standard practice rather than the exception.” At the same time, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee complained that her committee has not been receiving the intelligence information that it requires to perform its oversight function.

“As I travel throughout the AOR [area of responsibility] and see the promise of new initiatives and the risk posed by numerous challenges, I receive requests from military leaders across the region to increase intelligence sharing between our militaries,” said Gen. James N. Mattis, CENTCOM Commander, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 5.

“In order to demonstrate our commitment, I requested the Intelligence Community to begin drafting releasable products for our most trusted partners in the Levant, on the Arabian Peninsula, in the Central Asian States, and in South Asia as a standard practice rather than the exception,” Gen. Mattis said.

“I am encouraged by the personal attention the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is giving these matters. Director Clapper’s strong emphasis and encouragement for the intelligence community to produce intelligence in a manner that eases our ability to responsibly share information with our military counterparts creates a stronger, more focused front against our common enemies and builds our partner nations’ confidence. We are grateful for the nimble manner in which our intelligence community has strengthened our efforts to checkmate more of our enemy’s designs,” Gen. Mattis testified.

But in a notable contrast, congressional leaders say they have not gotten similar cooperation from the intelligence community, and they have less reason for encouragement.

“There is a very strong feeling on both sides of the aisle that the [intelligence] committee is not receiving the information it needs to conduct all oversight matters in the manner in which we should,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, during the Senate confirmation of John O. Brennan to be CIA Director on March 7.

“There is the matter of Office of Legal Counsel opinions concerning the targeted killing of Americans. The committee needs to understand the legal underpinning of not only this program but of all clandestine programs, of all covert actions, so we may ensure the actions of the intelligence community operate according to law,” Sen. Feinstein said. “Absent these opinions, we cannot conduct oversight that is as robust as it needs to be.”

With respect to the opinions on targeted killing, at least, the committee was finally able to reach an accommodation with the Administration while the confirmation process was pending, which included “staff access and without restrictions on note taking,” she said.

“I want to thank the administration. I think increasingly they understand this problem of the need for us to access more information. It is not a diminishing one, it is a growing one, and it is spreading through this House– and I suspect the other House as well,” Sen. Feinstein said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he “reluctantly opposed” the confirmation of Mr. Brennan because “the administration has stonewalled me and the Judiciary Committee for too long on a reasonable request to review the legal justification for the use of drones in the targeted killing of American citizens.”

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