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Public Statements

Intelligence Authorization Bill

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ROCKEFELLER. Mr. President, Congress has acted to improve our Nation's intelligence community--and therefore our national security--by passing an intelligence authorization bill and sending it to the President.

The President's signature will enact this bill into law and will implement several common sense solutions to problems in our large and unwieldy intelligence community that we have recognized for years. I believe the new Director of National Intelligence, Jim Clapper, is the right leader at the right time, and this timely bill will provide him the authorities he needs to do this job well.

The bill provides the DNI streamlined personnel management authorities throughout the intelligence community, including the authority to convert contractor positions to government jobs, move personnel from one agency to another, provide annual assessments of personnel levels for each agency, harmonize language training in different agencies, and conduct performance evaluations of personnel throughout the intelligence community.

It provides the DNI streamlined oversight for major acquisitions--perhaps most critically, to provide for interoperable information technology systems in different intelligence agencies--and strengthened budget authorities for his management of the intelligence community.

Beyond these improved DNI authorities, which I believe will significantly improve intelligence integration among the 16 agencies of the intelligence community, this bill also makes three substantial improvements in the independent oversight of intelligence. This constructive oversight is necessary to ensure that secret intelligence activities are legal, effective, and serve the national security interests of the United States.

First, the bill establishes a Senate-confirmed inspector general for the intelligence community who will have the authority to inspect any element or activity in any intelligence agency. Inspectors general play an important troubleshooting role in all agencies of our government, but nowhere is this role more important than in the intelligence community, where--unlike in government agencies whose activities are public--problems can often escape scrutiny.

For instance, in 2004 the CIA inspector general's report on the CIA detention and interrogation program played a significant role in alerting the executive branch and the congressional Intelligence Committees to significant problems with the program.

The new intelligence community inspector general that this bill establishes will complement and supplement the important work of the inspectors general of individual intelligence agencies.

Second, the bill provides for access by the Comptroller General and the Government Accountability Office to information regarding intelligence activities. This access will be similar to the GAO's access to the Department of Defense's Special Access Programs. I believe that this agreement between Congress and the administration on this GAO provision bodes well for future cooperation on intelligence issues.

On that note, the third--and, I believe, most important--improvement this bill makes to the independent oversight of intelligence activities pertains to congressional oversight.

Constructive congressional oversight of intelligence activities is crucially important--both for our national security and our national identity. We are a transparent democracy, and there is a natural tension between transparent democracy and secret intelligence activities.

The Congressional Select Intelligence Committees--which consist of representatives of the American people, selected from other specific congressional committees with jurisdiction over foreign policy, defense and judiciary issues--are vital to resolving that tension between democracy and secrecy.

Simply put, these committees act as a board of directors who verify that secret executive actions serve the interests of the shareholders--the American people.

That is why title V of the National Security Act of 1947 requires the President to keep the congressional Intelligence Committees ``fully and currently informed'' on all intelligence activities.

However, during the time that I was chairman and vice chairman of the committee from 2003 through 2009, I became very concerned about the way in which the executive branch interpreted this obligation. Rather than briefing the full committee, the executive branch restricted briefings about certain classified programs to the chairman and vice chairman only.

These restrictions impeded our oversight of these programs. This is not an academic issue; it is crucial to how our democracy makes secret national security decisions. Without the intelligence committees' meaningful independent review and oversight--the very reason for the committees' existence--intelligence programs are more susceptible to both mistakes and illegitimacy. This is the case regardless of which party is in the White House or which party has a majority in Congress.

With this in mind, last year I offered an amendment to this authorization bill that will establish in statute new requirements regarding congressional notification. My intent was to strengthen the committees' constructive oversight relationship with the executive branch and the intelligence community.

A bipartisan majority of the committee approved my amendment. While this provision has undergone some changes in the process of Congress's consideration of this bill over the past year, the key elements of these new notification requirements remain. The bill that the President will soon sign into law requires that:

(1) the congressional Intelligence Committees and the President must establish written procedures regarding the details of notification processes and expectations;

(2) the President must provide the committees written notice about intelligence activities and covert actions, including changes in covert action findings and the legal authority under which an intelligence activity or a covert action is or will be conducted;

(3) the President must provide written reasons for limiting access to notifications to less than the full committee, and in such cases, provide the full committee a general description of the covert action in question; and

(4) the President must maintain records of all notifications, including names of Members briefed and dates of the briefings.

I strongly believe that congressional oversight of the executive branch's intelligence activities should not be adversarial; it should be a true, trusted and confidential partnership aimed exclusively at improving our Nation's collection and analysis capabilities, and ensuring the effectiveness and legitimacy of our covert action programs.

I think these new requirements for congressional notification are an important step toward such a partnership.

These new requirements--and this authorization bill as a whole--are the result of hard work and difficult negotiations after years of partisan divisions on intelligence issues.

The President has not signed an authorization bill into law since December 2004, and the last time Congress passed an intelligence authorization bill was February 2008, when I was chairman of the committee. Unfortunately, President George W. Bush vetoed that bill because it banned the use of coercive interrogation methods by any agency of our government, and the bipartisan majorities that passed the bill were not large enough to overcome the President's veto.

After all these difficult years, the bill that we are sending to the President today is exemplary of the bipartisan cooperation that is absolutely necessary for our intelligence community to perform as well as we need it to perform.

I want to commend my Intelligence Committee colleagues, particularly Chairwoman DIANNE FEINSTEIN and Vice Chairman KIT BOND and their staff, for sticking to it and completing the difficult negotiations with the administration and the House that brought this bill across the finish line.

This law will make our country more secure. Let us continue to build on this effort in the months and years to come.

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