No Mere Oversight: The Role of Congress in Effective Intelligence
Charles Battaglia, former Staff Director, Select Committee on Intelligence
John Moseman, former Chief of Staff, and former Director of Congressional Affairs, Central Intelligence Agency
L. Britt Snider, former Inspector General of the CIA and Minority Counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
Denis McDonough, Senior Fellow and Senior Adviser to Distinguished Senior Fellow Tom Daschle, The Center for American Progress
from left: Moderator Denis McDonough, L. Britt Sniderh, Charles Battaglia, John Moseman
The Role of Congress in Effective Intelligence
Effective congressional oversight of intelligence – so vital to America’s national security and its democratic values – currently faces intense partisan pressures, said intelligence professionals Tuesday at a luncheon event hosted by the Center for American Progress.
Three distinguished experts spoke on a panel entitled “No Mere Oversight: The Role of Congress in Effective Intelligence.” The discussion coincided with the Center’s release of a new report, “No Mere Oversight,” about the state of Congress’s relationship with the Intelligence Community. Denis McDonough, coauthor of the report with Mara Rudman and Peter Rundlet, was the moderator. Speakers included L. Britt Snider, formerly CIA counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and John Moseman, who served as CIA Director of Congressional Affairs. Charles Battaglia, a former senior staff member for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, joined them on the panel.
McDonough began by presenting a summary of the report’s conclusions, compiled from research and interviews with dozens of intelligence professionals. “Congressional oversight of intelligence is broken, and it is broken largely as a result of partisanship,” he said. The panelists echoed his sentiments, drawing on up to 35 years of professional experience with oversight committees.
Because of the gravity of the issue to national security, intelligence oversight committees were originally designed to be relatively apolitical. The result, said Snider, was serious bipartisan congressional oversight that worked effectively with agencies. “The committees have proved themselves,” he said. “It has worked in the past.”
Now, according to Battaglia, political objectives have become paramount, and the result is “an unhealthy situation.” With a partisan oversight committee, said Snider, the “tendency for agencies is to draw back within their shells” because of fears that information is going to be distorted or leaked for political purposes. “This is a good government issue, not a political issue, and right now we’re letting politics interfere with getting the job done.”
This politicization of intelligence oversight turns a strength into a weakness, said the participants. “We recognize the importance of oversight,” Moseman said. “It brings some discipline to the system by making sure bad ideas don’t get acted on.”
Congressional oversight can also help prevent intelligence failures, according to the panelists. It creates an overall picture and develops accountability among the many different agencies. There is an incentive, Moseman said, to not “wait until after an event to learn about it” when Congress is going to be holding agencies responsible.
With the current controversy over domestic surveillance effective, oversight is more important than ever. “Oversight in a democracy with secret intelligence agencies is about as important as it gets,” said Moseman, “and it ought to be treated that way on the hill.”
Note: All video provided in QuickTime (MPEG-4) format.
Charles Battaglia has more than 35 years of service in the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. From 1997 to 2000, he served as the staff director of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs where he directed authorization, oversight and legislative activities for veterans’ health care and benefits. From the mid-1980s to 1997, Mr. Battaglia served as a senior staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence where he directed congressional oversight and program and budget reviews of all intelligence agencies. His tenure on the SSCI included assignment as staff director of the Committee in the 104th Congress. Mr. Battaglia, a retired naval officer, also recently served as Executive Director of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
John Moseman, currently a Principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, has 32 years experience in all three branches of the federal government. Until recently he served as chief of staff to CIA Director John McLaughlin. Prior to that, he served as Director of Congressional Affairs, CIA. He also served as Deputy Staff Director on the Commission on the Roles and Capabilities of the United States Intelligence Community, commonly referred to as the Aspin-Brown Commission. And he worked in several senior capacities in the U.S. Senate, including as Minority Staff Director to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Mr. Moseman received a B.A. from the University of Nebraska and a J.D. from the College of Law, University of Nebraska.
L. Britt Snider has had an extensive career in the intelligence community, having served as Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (Counterintelligence and Security), Minority Counsel for the Select Committee on Intelligence for the U.S. Senate, and General Counsel for the Select Committee on Intelligence for the U.S. Senate. In 1995, Mr. Snider became Staff Director of the Aspin-Brown Commission. He then went on to serve as Special Counsel to CIA Director George Tenet. In 1998, President Clinton nominated Mr. Snider to be the second Inspector General of the CIA. He served in that capacity until 2001. Mr. Snider received a B.A. from Davidson College and a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Denis McDonough is Senior Fellow and Senior Adviser to Distinguished Senior Fellow Tom Daschle at the Center for American Progress. Prior to joining American Progress, Denis was Legislative Director for Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado. From July 2000 to December 2004, Denis was Foreign Policy Adviser to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. Prior to his time working in the Senate Leadership, Denis was a Fellow with the Robert Bosch Foundation of Stuttgart, Germany from 1999 to 2000. During that yearlong fellowship, Denis worked with the Bundestag in Berlin and the German Chapter of Transparency International in Munich. From 1996 to 1999, Denis was a member of the Democratic Professional Staff of the House International Relations Committee, where he was focused on U.S. policy in Latin America. He earned a Masters Degree from Georgetown University (1996) and graduated summa cum laude from St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN (1992).