CIA and the Congress


CIA and Congress   


Armed Services Committees of the two Houses are concerned, no holds are barred. These small subcommittees are generally made up of the senior members of the full committees and have free access to any information they wish, not only of an intelligence nature, but about the inner workings of the Agency, including specific operations, budgets, personnel strength and so forth. Also, one or two key staff members of these subcommittees have all of the clearances necessary for similar access. The members themselves are not formally cleared, their access to various categories of classified information being based on their membership on the committee rather than formal clearance procedures by the Executive Branch.
Thus there are no problems with regard to what material to provide to our Oversight Subcommittees. The problems arise in dealing with other committees, especially where things that we consider internal Agency matters impinge on problems which the committees feel legitimately concern them. For example, the Foreign Relations Committee, in its overview of the State Department and the Foreign Service, may feel that it should know what embassy slots abroad are occupied by Agency officers. The Inter-American Affairs Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee may call for an Agency explanation of allegations of Agency involvement with certain multi-national corporations. Or Senator Fulbright may want to know whether the Agency has contact with Soviet emigre groups to an extent that might jeopardize detente.
Where operational details are involved-especially those relating to sensitive sources and methods-the Agency has followed guidelines laid down by the Chairmen of our Oversight Subcommittees, and generally no exceptions are made to the strict rule against passing operational information except with the approval of the Chairmen of these Subcommittees. However, like everything else in the real world of politics in a democratic society, there are no absolutes. Rules are usually flexible, and where disagreements occur, compromise is always considered preferable to confrontation. Thus, should a particular Senator express special concern over an allegation that a diplomatic incident in some foreign capital was the result of the misfire of an Agency operation, it is entirely possible that the Chairman of one of our Oversight Subcommittees might call him aside and, relying on his honor as a Senator to be discreet, explain to him the facts. Or the Subcommittee Chairman might arrange, on the basis of his colleague's assurances to respect confidences, for an Agency officer to brief him in full detail on the matter in question. There have, of course, been cases where such confidences have been broken, probably more often by inadvertence than design, but perhaps this is not too high a price to pay to avoid the kind of confrontation that would help nobody, and least of all the Agency. For, as the late Senator Russell once cautioned an Agency official, "There isn't a single member of this Senate that's so lowly that he can't make life unbearable for you fellows if he decides he wants to do it."
There are, of course, occasions when activities which start out as strictly clandestine operations end up as subjects of legitimate concern to other than members of the Intelligence Oversight Subcommittees. For example, when covert Agency assistance to the Meo tribes in Laos was first initiated, it appeared both necessary and feasible to maintain a posture of plausible denial. But, as often happens, what started out as a strictly covert program had more and more requirements heaped upon it by higher authority. As more and more people became involved, the U.S. media and other curious bystanders became more and



Posted: May 08, 2007 08:41 AM
Last Updated: May 08, 2007 08:41 AM