January 19, 2006
Democratic Leaders to Cheney: Congress Must Be Better Informed on National Security Matters
Washington, D.C. - House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Senator John Rockefeller, senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Congressman Jane Harman, senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to Vice President Cheney last night requesting that Congress be kept better informed on national security matters.
The text of the letter follows:
January 19, 2006
The Vice President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. Vice President:
Under our Constitution, Congress has critical oversight responsibilities for executive branch activities, including those related to intelligence. The executive branch must provide Congress with the information it needs to conduct proper supervision of intelligence matters. With numerous questions raised about the National Security Agency (NSA) program publicly acknowledged by the President, we write with two requests.
First, we ask that all future consultations with Congress on this program be open to all members of the Senate and House intelligence committees. Second, we request that you work with us and other interested members of the Senate and House to develop a more effective means to keep Congress, through its intelligence committees, fully and currently informed on vital national security matters.
We strongly support intelligence operations, consistent with our laws, to prevent acts of terrorism and recognize the need to keep these operations secret. Yet, the framers of the Constitution clearly intended that the executive branch be held accountable to the Congress and the American people for its actions. Reiterating this crucial duty, the National Security Act of 1947 requires the President to keep the congressional intelligence committees fully and currently informed on all intelligence activities. These committees are responsible for considering and protecting information on sensitive intelligence matters.
The Bush Administration has repeatedly failed to meet that responsibility. Instead, it has chosen to limit the information it provides Congress, and relied excessively on restricted notifications, such as the so-called "Gang of Eight" arrangement. Under this process, only eight Members of Congress are briefed and they are expected not to discuss these briefings with anyone else, including other members of the intelligence committees who are responsible for the oversight of important national security matters. Moreover, it appears these briefings leave out numerous important details. Such a practice is inconsistent with the requirement to keep Congress fully and currently informed and does not ensure adequate oversight.
Indeed, it has been our experience that many of the restricted notifications on intelligence matters that we have received from your Administration have been on precisely the sort of issues that would have benefited from the scrutiny of the full membership of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
This problem has been made particularly evident by the NSA program recently disclosed by the President. According to the President's public explanation, this ongoing program originated several years ago and involves the surveillance of people in the United States by our intelligence agencies without a court order. It is not clear from the President's statements thus far why he felt he could not accomplish his objectives by following the procedures set forth in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or why he failed to propose amendments to address what he perceived to be shortcomings in the statute.
We believe, as do many members of the House and Senate of both parties, that the people's elected representatives are entitled to much more information about this program than the Administration has thus far provided. That is why there have been bipartisan requests, which we strongly support, for hearings into the legal and policy justifications for the Administration's actions and the operational conduct of this program.
We have concluded that discussions on this and other vital intelligence activities should include all members of the intelligence committees. We also urge the Administration to join in efforts to develop more effective ways to ensure that the committees have the information they need to do the work entrusted to them by their colleagues in Congress, and by the American people.
U.S. House of Representatives
John D. Rockefeller IV
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
cc: Speaker Hastert
Majority Leader Frist