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Pete Hoekstra, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, confirmed yesterday that his committee got briefed on a "significant" intelligence program only after a whistleblower revealed its outlines to Congress. The New York Times reports on Hoekstra's revelations:
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday that the Bush administration briefed the panel on a "significant" intelligence program only after a government whistle-blower alerted him to its existence and he pressed President Bush for details.
The chairman, Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, wrote in a May 18 letter to Mr. Bush, first disclosed publicly on Saturday by The New York Times, that the administration's failure to notify his committee of this program and others could be a "violation of law."
Mr. Hoekstra expanded on his concerns in a television appearance on Sunday, saying that when the administration withholds information from Congress, "I take it very, very seriously." ...
"We can't be briefed on every little thing that they are doing," Mr. Hoekstra said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." "But in this case, there was at least one major — what I consider significant — activity that we had not been briefed on that we have now been briefed on. And I want to set the standard there, that it is not optional for this president or any president or people in the executive community not to keep the intelligence committees fully informed of what they are doing."
In this case, Hoekstra could not be more correct. If the White House and the intel community had a major ongoing effort in the war on terror, they have to keep Congress notified -- if for no other reason than their own protection. One of the positive defenses that the Bush administration had for the NSA surveillance and SWIFT financial tracking programs is that Congressional leadership had been briefed on the efforts. After all, Congress represents the people's branch of the government; strictly speaking, the states elect the executive. Our representatives have to have the information necessary to keep the executive in check, even when that only means a small subset of Congress.
Whoever revealed this program did so properly, in accordance with the law. When people working within classified programs suspect that the operation does not comply with the law or with policy, they have other options than running to the press. In fact, Lichtblau undermines his previous efforts by noting this incident. It shows that whistleblowers can work directly with Congress to ensure proper oversight of the executive branch. When people opt to leak to the Lichtblaus and Risens of the world, it clearly has other motivations than simply legal compliance; those leaks come from political power plays and need to be stopped. The legally approved system clearly works, and we do not need our secrets splashed across the New York Times.
What next? Hoekstra may want to hold closed hearings with DNI John Negroponte to find out what else he doesn't know, and do so under oath to establish a perjury disincentive. Congress needs to establish that it must play a role and take some responsibility for the war on terror. If the White House breaks free of the siege mentality that all these leaks have caused, it will see the benefits of such an approach.
Tom Maguire has more analysis at Just One Minute.Sphere It View blog reactions
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