- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The House Intelligence Committee is working to give more lawmakers access to secret information about covert operations. This undermines the security of America’s clandestine services by exposing them to more politically motivated leaks.

The disclosure of most sensitive intelligence to Congress is controlled by the president and limited to just eight top congressional officials from both parties. This includes House and Senate leaders and top members of the intelligence committees. Language in the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act — which is expected to come up for a House vote tomorrow — transfers control to the House and Senate Intelligence committees, giving them the ability to brief all their members.

There are 37 lawmakers between both committees. Additional briefings open the door to additional staff knowledge of the nation’s most secretive security efforts. Though congressional leaders say this change is necessary to strengthen intelligence oversight, it will only serve to further politicize the intelligence process and open the door to more leaks.

Congressional Democrats typically have expressed suspicions about expanding executive power, especially regarding President George W. Bush’s national security efforts. They need to apply that same critical eye to this congressional power grab.

The 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act also requires the administration to provide the intelligence committees with “general information” on any “significant undertaking” if the covert action could damage U.S. diplomatic relations, require significant spending, risk the release of tradecraft or result in possible deaths. Such broad definitions arguably encompass most covert activities. With that standard, intelligence officials could end up spending every waking hour on Capitol Hill briefing lawmakers.

The ability of Congress to undermine national security through abuse of its oversight power was driven home in the 1970s. Sen. Frank Church, Idaho Democrat, and Rep. Otis Pike, New York Democrat, compromised the integrity of secret information and sources and endangered countless agents and their assets by airing what they viewed to be the FBI’s and CIA’s dirty laundry. Those irresponsible politicians hobbled the CIA by reducing its intelligence-gathering capabilities. Endangering U.S. security by undermining our intelligence agencies is a mistake America cannot afford to make again.

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