The intelligence services of the United States, like their counterparts in most countries, exist principally to serve the needs of the executive authority. The US intelligence apparatus, however--unlike that of most countries--also makes a large part of its output available to the legislative branch.
It has not always been so. Before the mid-1970s, Congress was given relatively little intelligence, and access to it was limited. The Congressional investigations of US intelligence agencies in 1975-76 by the Church and Pike Committees fundamentally altered this situation. For the first time, voluminous amounts of intelligence were shared with the investigating committees. When permanent oversight committees were subsequently established in both Houses, the trend toward ever-increasing disclosure continued.
Ground rules to govern intelligence-sharing were agreed to shortly after the oversight committees began operations, but none were written down, and over time these understandings often gave way in the continuing tussle between the overseers and the overseen. Twenty years later, the system still operates without formal rules of the road.
In 1992, Congress amended the National Security Act of 1947 to spell out specific duties for the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), among them the obligation to provide intelligence "where appropriate, to the Senate and House of Representatives and the committees thereof." In enacting this language, however, Congress shed no light on what it regarded as an "appropriate" level of intelligence support for itself. Nor did the executive branch use the occasion to specify what it thought was "appropriate" to provide to Congress.
The absence of precision on this point did not slow the flow. Since 1992 the volume and scope of intelligence support provided to Congress have grown steadily. More Members and their staffs are aware of what intelligence can do for them and are availing themselves of it. Not only is most finished intelligence available; Members and staff are able to obtain briefings from intelligence agencies at the drop of a hat on virtually any subject they choose. Although the provision of such support has the potential for overwhelming the capabilities of the Intelligence Community to the detriment of its customers in the executive branch, neither side thus far has seen fit to set parameters for this support.
Indeed, serious problems appear to have been avoided, for the most part, because intelligence agencies have sought to accommodate Congressional requests in some manner. Congress, in turn, has generally demonstrated a willingness to protect the intelligence it has been given. While there have been bumps along the way, none has been cause for fundamentally altering the relationship. Nor have they led, for the most part, to internal changes by either side to prevent their recurrence. Intelligence producers and their Congressional consumers continue to muddle along from one episode to the next, accommodating where they can, bending where they must.
As intelligence-sharing with Congress has grown, however, so too have tensions between the Intelligence Community and the rest of the executive branch. Congress's increased access to intelligence often provides it with ammunition for challenging administration policies. By the same token, intelligence information may lend support to administration initiatives, causing executive officials to see intelligence agencies as allies in their political struggles with the Hill.
Although the changes in the political dynamic brought about by expanded intelligence-sharing are commonly acknowledged, relatively little has been done to structure intelligence support in a manner that would reduce tensions between the Intelligence Community and the rest of the executive branch while preserving the analytical independence and integrity of the Intelligence Community itself. Policymakers fear being accused of politicizing the intelligence process should they make any attempt to manage it. Intelligence producers shy away from policymakers who they know will be displeased by what they plan to say to Congress. As the demand for intelligence support increases, moreover, practical considerations further reduce opportunities for consultation.
Pitfalls also are apparent for Congress in this relationship. Members who succumb to the temptation to use intelligence to do political battle risk embarrassment, criticism, and even legal consequences. Members who rely on intelligence that subsequently proves wrong may be chagrined to find themselves on the wrong side of a politically significant vote.
Part I of this study describes in general terms how intelligence-sharing with Congress has developed since 1947. It does not try to analyze every significant interaction during this period, but rather seeks to identify the features that have characterized the relationship over time and to examine key milestones. It is not intended as an analysis of how Congress performed oversight of intelligence activities (including covert actions) during this period, although, as a practical matter, Congress's access to substantive intelligence has to a large degree been a function of its attitude toward oversight.
Part II contrasts Congress as a user of intelligence with consumers in the executive branch.
Part III describes how intelligence-sharing with Congress is carried out today.
Part IV assesses the effects of intelligence-sharing on the work of the legislative and executive branches--including the work of the Intelligence Community itself.
Part V discusses difficulties in the relationship for the Intelligence Community, for the rest of the executive branch, and for Congress itself.
Part VI contains the author's conclusions and recommendations as to how the relationship between the Intelligence Community and Congress might be made less contentious and more predictable and, at the same time, better satisfy the needs of both branches.
Much has been published about Congressional oversight of intelligence, but relatively little has been written about the meaning and impact of intelligence-sharing with Congress. While the historical analysis in part I relies primarily on written sources (including an unpublished draft CIA History Staff study), the remainder of this monograph draws principally on interviews with more than 50 knowledgeable individuals, including present and former Members of Congress and their staffs, Intelligence Community officials, and executive branch officials outside the Intelligence Community. In the interest of encouraging candor, each of these interviews was conducted "off the record"; thus, in all but a few cases, the views attributed to individuals are not attributed by name.