The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), revealed earlier this week that he had demanded the Bush Administration brief him and select members of Congress on an undisclosed intelligence program. The administration, he said, had complied, leaving the public with the impression that Hoekstra was finally taking seriously his panel’s responsibilities for oversight of the U.S. Intelligence Community after failing to do so previously in his tenure.

But Hoekstra’s private outburst to the president and subsequent public confirmation of the exchange appears to have been driven more by his antipathy toward the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael Hayden, and his loyalty toward Hayden’s predecessor, former fellow Republican Congressman Porter Goss, than any serious oversight concerns. This is seriously disturbing given the need to restore professionalism at the CIA after years of political interference.

As the Center for American Progress noted last month in a comprehensive study titled “No Mere Oversight: Congressional Oversight of Intelligence is Broken,” partisan political considerations during the past decade have crippled the ability of Congress to police the activities of the U.S. Intelligence Community. This inexcusable inactivity by the House and Senate oversight committees has occurred despite the essential role Congress must play to ensure that the intelligence 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.

There is a need to restore professionalism at the Central Intelligence Agency after it was overwhelmed by political interference in the run up to the war in Iraq and the subsequent push by Goss to squelch any criticism of the administration’s Iraq policies from within the CIA. Goss’s efforts led to resignation in 2004 of CIA deputy director of operations Stephen Kappes, who was promptly reappointed to the post by Gen. Hayden upon his arrival at the agency.

Hoekstra was deeply critical of Hayden at the time of his appointment earlier this year, and no doubt looked upon the return of Kappes as deputy director as another slap in the face for his old friend Goss. So, now Hoekstra’s apparently back to the old game of playing “gotcha” with the Intelligence Community – a practice detrimental to America’s national security that contributes little to effective oversight but offers a chance to score political points.

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. 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.

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.

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 by the Center for American Progress last month:

No Mere Oversight

To read or view coverage of a recent event at the Center for American Progress on this topic featuring former CIA officials and senior Senate staff please go the following link:

No Mere Oversight: The Role of Congress in Effective Oversight

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