Congressional oversight committees must hire ex-spies to keep track of intelligence community – Forward Observer Shop

Congressional oversight committees must hire ex-spies to keep track of intelligence community

The U.S. intelligence community has grown so large and pervasive since the end of World War II that today, the two congressional committees tasked with oversight routinely hire ex-spooks, former operatives, and one-time IC employees so they can fulfill their duties.

A recent analysis by a media organization has discovered that at least one-third — and perhaps more — of the staffers hired by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), both of which were formed in the 1970s following an intelligence scandal, were former members of at least one of the 17 agencies comprising the U.S. intelligence community:

That reliance raises questions about how effectively the two oversight committees carry out supervision of a swelling intelligence empire that now employs some 107,000 people with a combined budget projected to reach $78.4 billion next year.

Some national security experts see little problem as long as the spy agencies thwart any repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks – and so far, the agencies have succeeded. Their triumphs are secret, and largely unheralded.

In other areas of government, watchdog groups are legion. But the intelligence agencies operate with limited oversight, run on a long leash and pay for operations from budgets unconstrained by external audits, making it dfifficult to identify and rein in ineffective programs or outright misconduct. The task of spotting fraud, waste and abuse (never mind misplaced priorities) is challenging at best, if not impossible.

“If you look at defense programs, there are all kinds of civil society groups that look for inefficiencies or waste or bad ideas and can shine some light on those inefficiencies,” said Larry Hanauer, a security expert who served on the staff of the House intelligence panel from 2005 to 2010. “There are no such entities that can do that when it comes to intelligence programs.”

Source: McClatchy DC

Why it’s on our radar: The fact that the intelligence community (IC) is as large as it is necessitates the hiring of former agency employees and officials so that the congressional agencies can engage in something approaching effective oversight. But that revelation is in and of itself daunting.

That said, and without trying to sound conspiratorial, there is also a concern that former IC staffers can also steer committees away from sensitive compartmentalized and other top secret operations that could certainly use some oversight but rarely if ever get any. It is important to remember that the IC’s prime directive is to protect the country and that work must necessarily take place in the shadows, lest our enemies learn things we don’t want them to know. But that’s what makes it so difficult to have a large and powerful IC apparatus in a representative republic; taxpayers who are footing the bill and expect to have a say in things via their elected political leaders…don’t.

Also, with poor oversight or at least the inability to conduct effective oversight, there is a greater potential for abuse, which we’ve seen at varying times during the previous two administrations prior to President Trump taking office. 

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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