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No Mere Oversight

Report outlines how Congress could ensure that the U.S. Intelligence Community effectively discerns grave threats to our national security.

Congressional Oversight of Intelligence is Broken

The Center for American Progress today releases a comprehensive study of congressional oversight of the U.S. Intelligence Community, "No Mere Oversight: Congressional Oversight of Intelligence is Broken," that delineates where Congress is failing in its oversight duties and how past congressional methods, ways and means of effective oversight could be revived to correct the problems. In the study, authors Denis McDonough, Mara Rudman and Peter Rundlet explore the history of congressional oversight of the Intelligence Community and then examine how past congressional experience could be drawn upon today by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to ensure effective intelligence gathering capabilities are the norm, not the exception.

After the catastrophic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and after more than three years (and counting) of lost American lives and treasure in Iraq partly because of faulty and misused intelligence, there’s no longer any doubt about the crucial importance to U.S. national security of obtaining robust, accurate, and objective intelligence. Every person in America has a stake in ensuring that our policymakers take actions based on the best available intelligence.

The collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence is a very complicated process, made more difficult because it is necessarily conducted under a shroud of utmost secrecy. It is the job of the 17 executive branch agencies that make up the so called Intelligence Community to perform these functions, but Congress has an essential role to play with respect to ensuring that these agencies have the resources and guidance they need to do their job well and within the limitations of the laws and Constitution of the United States.

As Americans are learning every day, effective congressional oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies run by the executive branch is critical to protecting our national security as well as the values of freedom and openness on which our country was founded. Recent news headlines that the National Security Agency is collecting the phone records of tens of millions of Americans without the knowledge of key congressional committees underscores the need for Congress to serve as the American public’s watchdog in overseeing intelligence agencies.

Congress must ensure the U.S. Intelligence Community has the resources it needs to identify terrorist threats at home and abroad while also ensuring that intelligence operations are conducted consistent with the law and the Constitution. Alas, Congress today has been negligent on both scores — with profound implications for the safety and security of America. The consequences of faulty pre-Iraq war intelligence are mounting daily in the Middle East and around the world just as the United States must unite the world behind efforts to stop Iran from charging headlong into production of nuclear weapons material.

To learn how Congress could harness the oversight tools it needs to ensure the U.S. Intelligence Community effectively discerns these and other grave threats to our national security, please read the Executive Summary and the full report released today:

No Mere Oversight (PDF)

To learn more about our luncheon event today, at which Charles Battaglia, former Staff Director, Select Committee on Intelligence, John Moseman, former Chief of Staff, and former Director of Congressional Affairs, Central Intelligence Agency, and L. Britt Snider, former Inspector General of the CIA and Minority Counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, will discuss the report with its authors, please go here.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Mara Rudman

Former Senior Counselor