Sharing Secrets With Lawmakers:
Congress as a User of Intelligence
John C. Gannon, Deputy Director for Intelligence
Intercultural Center Auditorium
March 20, 1997
Good morning . . . I am delighted to be here to help kick off this
pathbreaking conference on "Sharing Secrets with Lawmakers."
I am proud to say I'm an analyst. So, it didn't take me long after arriving here this morning to recognize that some of you were beginning to suspect that I'm not George Tenet. Looking out at you now, in fact, reminds me of some my encounters on the Hill when stern and suspicious eyes fix on me as if to say this guy ain't what we ordered. And it is sometimes downhill from there . . .
So first, let me tell you George, too, is disappointed that he could not be here this morning. Somehow in the past 24 hours his calendar got turned upside down and his personal focus on Congress took a dramatically different turn. George is a former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who worked on intelligence in the White House before coming to CIA as Deputy Director in 1995.
George's nomination by President Clinton to be the next DCI is, in my view, and the view of many of my colleagues, a fitting tribute to a smart guy who knows and loves the intelligence business and cares deeply about the fine people who make intelligence an honorable profession. It's also a visible reminder of how well we in the intelligence community and Congress work together.
And second, let me tell you how pleased and excited I am to substitute for George at this particular conference in which I and all the people who work for me--the Directorate of Intelligence--have a strong interest. I am not only a willing participant, but an enthusiastic one and I plan to stay after my speech to share in your discussions.
The focus of this conference is how Congress uses intelligence. The jumping-off point for our discussion today is the recently published study on this topic by Britt Snider. Britt, who will speak to you shortly, is a good friend to many of us both in the Intelligence Community and Congress. He brings a wealth of experience to this issue, and his monograph on the evolution of Congress as a user of intelligence, and how that process works today, is an important, relevant, and groundbreaking work.
The subject demands more attention than it has received. Britt's study is in a sense overdue.
Almost everyone interested in national security policy is aware of the important role of the Congress in the oversight of intelligence activities. There has been tremendous evolution in Congress' oversight responsibility--from an informal, low-key arrangement to a more structured, professional, and formalized process. How oversight has improved over the years and how it works today--extremely successfully, in my view--has been the subject of many fine studies.
But the role of Congress as a consumer of intelligence is less well known. To some, it may seem a new and perhaps a radical idea. In fact, its neither.
I know that from my own experience as an analyst and a manager in the Directorate of Intelligence that Congress is a legitimate and responsible intelligence consumer. I first briefed Congress two decades ago while working as an analyst of Latin American affairs. And since becoming DDI, I have participated in more than fifty briefings and hearings before Congress.
Now sometimes I forget how much fun it is to brief Congress. Members sometimes ask nit-picking questions that are annoying to us analysts who like to think we deal with the big picture. Some members actually grill us with rapid fire questions that can reduce our usual DI eloquence to a gasping stammer and I can cite personal experience. But it's okay. Colleagues from any of our four directorates returning from the Hill will invariably tell you: "it went great!" That's CIA's code for mere survival.
But it's is also okay because our substantive engagement with Congress has opened our analysis to healthy challenge; has helped Congress better understand the complex business it is charged with overseeing; and has made us more accountable to the American people--which is what our Constitution intends and what the post Cold War political environment demands. CIA, in my opinion, needs to reach out to Congress and the public.
Will Rogers said that if you ever inject truth into politics, you have no politics. Not always! Our experience in the Directorate of Intelligence is that Congress has a strong appetite for objective analysis and has a legitimate need for the information we provide to help its members make informed decisions. Our relationship with Congress, I believe is highly beneficial to both sides.
Congress' demand for intelligence support and analysis has grown steadily, and it's reinforced to me every working day when we are asked to send CIA analysts to Capitol Hill to brief members and staff on our nation's most important foreign and security policy issues.
So, from my perspective, the subject of this conference is not exactly novel. This is territory familiar to many of us who have been insiders. But the great service to us all that Britt has accomplished in his excellent study is to provide one of the first road maps we have of this relatively unknown role of the Congress.
To outside observers, the close relationship between CIA analysts and our elected representatives and their staffs might seem a bit unusual. After all, intelligence professionals and legislators are different beasts.
Intelligence analysts traditionally have worked behind closed doors, although this is changing as we become more engaged with outside experts. They typically try to keep a low profile. By training and title, they should be experts on their subjects.
Legislators, on the other hand, must be generalists, no matter what specialties they may bring to a tough job. They must work in an open public arena. They need good intelligence, but they also are required to engage in a wide open, raucous floor debate. And the secret intelligence that sometimes undergirds a controversial foreign policy decision is not the best explanation to use with angry constituents.
It should be no surprise that intelligence producers and Congressional consumers don't always see eye to eye. Even the best intelligence is not always used wisely. Sometimes the limitations of intelligence are not understood.
There is a often-told story about a distinguished Congressman who, when shown a chart of various categories of covert action, reacted angrily. He barked, "What the hell are you doing in covert parliamentary operations?"
When it was explained that the box on the chart he was pointing to was paramilitary operations he was much reassured, remarking, "The more of these, the better. Just don't go fooling around with parliamentary stuff. You don't know enough about it."
The Congressman got it right. Those of us in the Intelligence Community need to understand better how Congress works and how best to serve its intelligence needs.
Whatever the potential pitfalls, the fact is Congress is a growing consumer of intelligence. Why is the demand growing? One reason is that an increasing number of members and staff understand and appreciate what intelligence can offer.
Another reason, I think, is CIA's reputation for providing well-reasoned, objective analysis. I think our consumers on the Hill appreciate the fact that our analysts are not pushing a particular agenda or policy and they want to keep it that way.
From its earliest days CIA was responsive to Congressional requests for intelligence. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Congressional interest was focused primarily on making sure CIA had financial support for the national effort to contain Communism during the Cold War.
Later, in the early and mid 1970s, the pendulum swung the other way. To many, it seemed that Congress wanted to know everything. I don't want to steal from Britt's presentation. But let me just say we've come a long way since the mid-1970s. The relationship, I think all observers agree, is in dynamic balance. And the Intelligence Community sees the Congress, a full partner in national security affairs, as a responsible consumer of intelligence.
To me, there are two key reasons for the importance of Congress as an intelligence consumer.
First, as I suggested earlier, legislative oversight is improved when Congress is a regular user of intelligence. Avid consumers of the product are more likely to understand the production process, or at least to care about it--to want to learn about it.
And second, intelligence support to Congress enhances intelligence collection and strengthens the decision-making process related to our nation's foreign and security policies and deepens the trust of the American people in their democratic institutions.
Let me speak first about the relationship between the roles of the Congress as a user of intelligence on the one hand, and its oversight responsibilities on the other.
The United States has the strongest system of legislative oversight of intelligence of any country in history. The law demands that Congress be fully informed, in a timely manner, about covert action, all other significant intelligence activities, and our successes and failures. We have worked hard to establish procedures to ensure that happens.
The statutory responsibilities are not the sole basis for the dialogue we enjoy with Congress. It may come as a surprise to some--especially at this moment--but CIA welcomes Congressional oversight. We believe it is both necessary and that it strengthens our capabilities to perform the vital intelligence missions required by our elected leaders.
We appreciate the extra responsibilities oversight puts on the Congress in the way of keeping secrets entrusted to it, providing funding for our activities, and supporting our efforts to recruit, train, and develop the very best young men and women in America.
It is absolutely clear to me that, to discharge its Constitutional mandate to provide for the common defense, the Congress must fully exercise both of its roles regarding intelligence: that of oversight, and as a consumer of intelligence. These roles are very different but they are in fact complementary. One helps the other, and to weaken one would be to diminish the other.
Congress does the country and the intelligence community the greatest service it can when it handles both roles well. There are several reasons why this is so.
Its deliberations on the intelligence budget are more complete when Congress knows about the analytic problems we are all wrestling with and the substantive conclusions we are drawing.
Congress can pass better legislation governing the conduct of intelligence activities when it has the full picture on intelligence targets.
And Congress can have greater confidence in the intelligence it receives precisely because the oversight process is thereto help us prioritize and focus resources, to get us to ask hard questions about our activities and analysis, and, finally, to provide that link of trust with the American public.
Its critical that the American people be confident that intelligence works for the defense of democracy, that it is conducted in accordance with our democratic values, and that it remains under the rule of U.S. law.
This brings me to my second point about how our support to Congress as an intelligence consumer strengthens the public trust and enhances our overall foreign and security policies.
Obviously, the vigorous system of Congressional oversight that has been in place for many years now is one way, indeed, it is the most important way, for the public to have that confidence and trust in our intelligence agencies.
That trust is extended and deepened when the public knows that their elected representatives, through the select committees on intelligence, receive much of the finished intelligence produced by the Community--upwards of 5,000 such publications in a year. And much of this now delivered electronically through a secure interactive system called Policynet. We're trying to get ahead of the technology curve.
Even more important--because this is how we provide the intelligence most relevant to the Members needs--are the substantive briefings we provide across a wide array of issues. In fact, last year DI analysts provided more than 600 briefings to Congressmen and their cleared staffers.
This type of interaction is an increasingly important part of the mission of our directorate. It's not without problems or difficulties, and it's a real challenge to manage the relationship effectively.
Let me close by presenting a few of these challenges that I hope the conference will address.
First, we face the challenge of balancing secrecy versus openness. Increasingly, we are called upon by Congress to provide unclassified analysis and share our views in open session. This raises a fundamental tension in our profession over the protection of sources and methods. It also puts us in the middle of policy battles and exposes us to charges of politicization, real or imagined.
It's not always easily to provide a frank analysis in an open environment. Our analysts are not trained to be politically savvy. As all source analysts they are trained to speak objectively to the intelligence evidence and we must preserve this ethic at all costs. Sometimes, we seem to be like the child who tells the truth because we are too naive to think of anything else. Miss Manners reminds us that blurting out the complete truth is considered adorable in the small child until he or she says, "Mommy, is this the fat lady you can't stand?" Controversial intelligence analysis has some parallel.
The second challenge we face concerns balancing the needs of the oversight committee versus the other committees of Congress and individual members. We know that the 535 members of Congress have a potentially insatiable appetite for intelligence--a demand that could place an enormous burden on intelligence community resources. Nobody is well served if CIA tries to afford each member equal treatment, with tailored, personalized support. Yet we cannot deny the legitimate intelligence needs of members well beyond the oversight and national security committees. This is a tough one and must be considered a work in progress.
Finally, as our support to Hill consumers continues to grow, we face the challenge of maintaining the atmosphere of trust and partnership that we now enjoy. Every briefing or paper we deliver to Congress carries the potential that someone in the Executive or Legislative branch will not like the analysis and will challenge it on politicization grounds. In short, by supporting Congress more aggressively, we become a more prominent player--with all the attendant risks--in the battles that are the hallmark of a healthy democracy.
How do we manage these challenges? As Britt's study highlights, there are no simple answers. Perhaps it would help to draw your attention to a small pamphlet that is widely distributed around CIA. It lays out the guidelines for CIA officers who brief Congress. It says that CIA officers should follow the Four Cs--Candor, Completeness, Correctness, and Consistency. The standard we rigorously enforce is that we will provide intelligence that is complete, relevant, responsive to congressional interest, and delivered in a timely way.
As Britt's monograph demonstrates, while the sharing of intelligence with lawmakers has expanded dramatically in recent years, and while we in the Intelligence Community have made significant strides in how we provide that intelligence, there is room for improvements on both sides.
Thanks again to Brian Latell and our hosts here at the ISD for the opportunity to consider these questions. I look forward to the discussion. Thank you.