from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 9
January 23, 2006


The rudiments of Congressional oversight -- its legal basis, its functions, and the diverse forms it takes -- are concisely described in a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service.

"Congressional oversight refers to the review, monitoring, and supervision of federal agencies, programs, activities, and policy implementation.... Congress's oversight authority derives from its 'implied' powers in the Constitution, public laws, and House and Senate rules. It is an integral part of the American system of checks and balances."

See "Congressional Oversight," updated January 3, 2006:

Integral though it may be, there is a widespread perception that congressional oversight has atrophied in recent years.

"Everyone recognizes that the failure of congressional oversight was one of the reasons why we have some of the problems in the intelligence community today," said Sen. John McCain on NBC Meet the Press on November 21, 2004.

"We really don't have, still don't have, meaningful congressional oversight," McCain said.

Last week, Rep. Henry Waxman released two reports that compare Congress' relentless probing of the Clinton Administration with the anemic oversight of the present Administration.

"On issue after issue, the Congress has failed to conduct meaningful investigations of significant allegations of wrongdoing by the Bush Administration," Rep Waxman wrote. "This approach stands in stark contrast to the breadth and intrusiveness of congressional investigations of the Clinton Administration."

See "Congress' Abdication of Oversight," January 17, 2006:


The existing controversy over reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act -- portions of which will "sunset" if they are not renewed -- acquired a new dimension with the disclosure last month of an NSA domestic surveillance operation.

Some now argue that the Patriot Act should not be reauthorized before the Bush Administration's claims of inherent presidential authority to conduct domestic intelligence surveillance outside of the framework of law (FISA) are confronted and clarified.

"The extensive new powers requested by the executive branch in its proposal to extend and enlarge the Patriot Act should under no circumstances be granted unless and until there are adequate and enforceable safeguards to protect the Constitution and the rights of the American people against the kinds of abuses that have so recently been revealed," said former Vice President Al Gore in a January 16, 2006 speech.

Much of the Patriot Act is unobjectionable to anyone, and some of it is positively sensible. But it also has controversial provisions on "national security letters" as well as several totally extraneous provisions inserted by House Republicans.

A detailed assessment of the entire piece of legislation was prepared by the Congressional Research Service. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See "USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (H.R. 3199): A Legal Analysis of the Conference Bill," January 17, 2006:


A new report from the Congressional Research Service presents a skeptical overview of the development of kinetic energy interceptors -- anti-missile missiles -- for defense against incoming ballistic missiles.

"The data on the U.S. flight test effort to develop a national missile defense (NMD) system are mixed and ambiguous. There is no recognizable pattern to explain this record nor is there conclusive evidence of a learning curve over more than two decades of developmental testing."

A copy of the new CRS report was obtained by Secrecy News.

See "Kinetic Energy Kill for Ballistic Missile Defense: A Status Overview," January 18, 2006:


The rules and procedures for protecting classified information in Congress -- which differ in the House and the Senate -- are described in another new CRS report.

See "Protection of Classified Information by Congress: Practices and Proposals," updated January 11, 2006:


The Central Intelligence Agency has selectively declined to publish on its web site at least three unclassified reports produced by the Center for the Study of Intelligence that present an unflattering picture of the Agency, US News reported this week.

See "A Tangled Web Woven," by David E. Kaplan, US News and World Report, January 30, 2006:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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