- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

Democrats say they will begin a vigorous push for oversight of programs the Bush administration has used in the war on terrorism when they take control of Congress next year.

But they acknowledge they face many of the same barriers their Republican predecessors did and say they must walk a fine line between oversight and unpopular “gotcha” politics.

The incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate intelligence committee — Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia — has said he intends to press for information about the administration’s use of the National Security Agency to conduct secret wiretapping of terrorism suspects and the CIA’s program of detention and interrogation of so-called “high-value” detainees.

“We will be much more aggressive” than the Republicans were, an aide to Mr. Rockefeller said. “We will not be worrying about whether the answers to the questions we are asking will embarrass the administration.”

Republicans denied that the committee had soft-pedaled oversight and said Democrats would have a difficult time overseeing such secret and controversial programs.

“The president controls access to classified information,” said one Republican official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The official said committee staff engaged in a constant tug of war with the administration about who was allowed to sit in on briefings. “The dynamic for information access is not going to change” in the new Congress, the official said.

But Rep. Silvestre Reyes, who will take over as the chairman of the House intelligence committee, said things were going to change in January.

“We haven’t done our job as a Congress in oversight,” the Texas Democrat said on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”

Charles Battaglia, a former Democratic staff director for the Senate intelligence committee, told United Press International the administration has been far too restrictive in allowing access to information to panel members and staff.

“If the committee is to do its job, they should have access to everything short of the actual identities of agents” spying for the United States, Mr. Battaglia said.

Republicans maintain that because the entire committee has been briefed on both the wiretapping and interrogation programs, there is little more to do.

“Everything is known” about the programs, the Republican official said.

Rockefeller spokeswoman Wendy Morigi, while saying it is too early to comment in detail on the senator’s oversight plans, disputed the official’s claim, calling it “off base.”

“The reality is, [Mr. Rockefeller] has made repeated requests to the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the FBI, the director of national intelligence and the White House for a lengthy list of documents and other information, including the presidential orders authorizing the (NSA wiretapping) program, and these have been denied without justification,” she told UPI.

Mr. Rockefeller “has said on numerous occasions that he will continue to press for this information,” Miss Morigi said.

Democrats acknowledge that they need to walk a fine line between robust oversight and enforcing accountability on the one hand, and “gotcha” politics, which are likely to be especially unpopular in the national security arena.

“Our great nation did not elect us to look backwards,” Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, said recently.

Mr. Meehan, who will serve as chairman of the new House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations, said Democrats were “committed to looking forward and solving the problems previous Congresses have failed to address without miring us in the counter-productive assignment of blame.”

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