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by John J. Harter

It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, or more dangerous to handle, than to institute a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.

– Niccolo Machiavelli, 1532

Rhetoric about “runaway government spending” contributed to striking Republican victories in the 2010 Congressional elections, but those who roar the loudest about deficits and the growing national debt fail to propose spending cuts that would significantly affect the deficits. They conspicuously ignore the enormous outlays for our military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention anachronistic Pentagon establishments in Europe, South Korea, and countless other countries. They rarely speak of extravagant weapons systems — like the F-22 fighter aircraft — that Congress forces on a Pentagon that doesn’t want them. The recent explosive growth of the intelligence community and its increasing drain on our national budget is totally exempted from public discourse.

Meanwhile, our infrastructure is crumbling: our highways, bridges, sewers, and water pipes are falling into disrepair to a degree that menaces public safety. Our schools, from pre-school through graduate school, are starved for resources and struggling to stay afloat, falling far short of public needs. Our economic health requires a massive shift from our bloated military and intelligence communities to public investments that yield economic returns. Pending recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform will inexorably demand scrutiny, debate, and action by the new Congress. Since its expected push for cuts in spending may include recommendations to reduce defense budgets that are bound to be controversial, it is timely to review some relevant history.


Two leading experts on Congress call our national legislature The Broken Branch,1 pointing to its legislative stalemates and near-record-low public approval. They excoriate its failure to check and balance the Executive Branch. They cite its refusal to track the abysmal record of the Department of Homeland Security before and after Hurricane Katrina. They build a powerful case for overhauling Congress, concluding that if the major changes needed are to come about they are “most likely to originate outside” Congress.2 Curiously, their much acclaimed analysis ignores the failure of Congress to deal objectively with relations between the United States and the rest of the world.

The Constitution endows “the First Branch of Government” with sweeping foreign affairs responsibilities, namely the powers: (1) to declare war; (2) to raise and support armies; (3) to confirm or reject treaties and appointments of major officials; (4) to probe abuses, expose corruption, and evaluate existing and proposed laws; and (5) to control federal purse strings, i.e., “to lay and collect Taxes…to pay Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare.”3

However, Congress sharply reduced Americans’ ability to evaluate our foreign affairs objectively when it enacted the National Security Act of 1947, which created the secretive Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with a top-secret mandate to find enemies and to shield the sources and methods it relied upon from public discovery, a formidable military establishment with a duty to develop top-secret contingency plans to respond quickly to any perceived threat anywhere in the world, and a National Security Council as a top-secret channel between those agencies and the President for approving clandestine acts and military plans. Our obsession with geostrategic issues since that time has effectively vitiated the capacity of the Department of State to integrate economic issues, the pursuit of international law, reliance on the United Nations system of organizations, and human rights considerations into its global responsibilities.

Throughout American history tension and conflict between the executive and legislative branches of government have often marred the conduct of our foreign relations. For the first century, the framers’ design that made Congress the first among equals was honored: Congress generally set the national agenda, especially regarding matters of war and peace. During the twentieth century our Presidents increasingly ignored the constitutional constraints that inhibited their predecessors by unilaterally deploying military forces outside the United States. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson launched forays into Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean that exacerbated long-term instability and stunted indigenous political development in those countries. After World War II the congressional role in international affairs continued to atrophy, as the Executive Branch began to inform rather than consult Congress regarding matters outside our borders. President Truman virtually bypassed Congress when he sent troops into Korea in 1950, setting a precedent cited by subsequent Presidents who felt it was necessary for the United States to wield its power around the world.

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs are supposed to be the principal congressional bodies for overseeing U. S. foreign policy. In practice, these committees have had steadily shrinking influence on the overall conduct of U. S. relations with other countries, as the Intelligence, Armed Services, and Appropriations Committees (and, to a lesser degree, the Finance, Agriculture, and Commerce Committees) have assumed growing influence over international activities. No congressional mechanism exists to coordinate the bewildering array of activities spawned by these disparate bodies. The residual jurisdiction of the two committees nominally responsible for monitoring U. S. foreign affairs thus excludes military, clandestine, and other programs that deeply impact U. S. relations with other countries.


The National Security Act of 1947 diminished the role of the foreign affairs committees by launching a super-secret national security establishment that operates outside meaningful congressional surveillance. Many critics have pointed to the danger inherent in this situation.4 The 1947 legislation also contravened the foreign policy design Secretary of State Cordell Hull framed during World War II that envisaged an emphasis on international economic issues, collective security, and international law under the umbrella of the United Nations.

With the advent of the cold war, congressional committees that empower the Pentagon began dispensing enormous sums allowing the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps to underwrite a long series of wars and military interventions and to provide military assistance to governments around the world. Massive military intelligence budgets were routinely approved — and sometimes even increased — by Congress, even without seeking testimony by impartial experts as to their merit. Membership in the Armed Services and Defense Appropriations subcommittees became highly prized because it enabled members to bring military installations and defense industries to their home districts. It was a wonderful way to dispense “pork.”

Not coincidentally, Congress continued to oppose unifying the military services into one large management unit, in part because individual senators and congressmen benefit from a decentralized military that opens more avenues for defense spending, providing more jobs for voters in their districts. As far as military bases and operations are concerned “the question before Congress almost always is not what to build but who should build it,” according to a prominent expert.5 Lobbyists always ensure that more gets built than military experts recommend.

With a more efficient structure, military installations would be concentrated in fewer districts and contract dollars would be channeled to fewer and more cost-effective and reliable suppliers. In the United States, defense dollars are divided among 46 states, and naval facilities are located in 33 states, some of which have no access to major waterways. The United States is the only country that has a separate medical service for each branch, while other countries rely on a single medical department to attend to the needs of all military personnel.

A large percentage of Washington’s 25,000 “special interest” lobbyists focus their attention on the huge defense budget. They put prodigious pressure on members of the Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, mostly in private, off-the-record interactions.

“Where you have to look out is when things get quiet,” notes former Congressman Lee Hamilton, “or when measures come up that are out of the public eye. A small change in wording here, an innocuous line in a bill there — that’s where specific groups can reap enormous benefits that might not have been granted had they been held up to public scrutiny.”6

Since much of the horse-trading that defines defense policy and spending takes place behind closed doors, opportunities abound for defense contractors to press their special interests outside public gaze. A former congressional staffer describes the Pentagon budget process as a zoo. “Nobody can tell you what goes on in developing the Pentagon budget or in the actual delivery of what is bought with that money,” he says. “No one has ever been able to audit the Pentagon’s budget. Everyone who tried to get his arms around that mess has just given up in total despair. It makes people suicidal. They basically end up focusing on just one or two pieces of the puzzle, and the whole pile floats away through the system. Any one piece of the Pentagon budget pales into insignificance. It’s an amalgam of petty deals and carve-outs.”7
Political, economic, and financial interactions between the United States and Germany, Japan, England, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and many other countries8 are significantly affected by the U. S. military facilities and activities those countries host. Although this is largely ignored in congressional deliberations on the Pentagon budget, these programs have a significant impact on U. S. relations with those countries.


In the sixty years since the inception of the CIA, congressional interest in its operations has ranged from timidity and caution to blind acquiescence. Haunted by hazards — sometimes spurious and always shrouded in secrecy — that could ostensibly imperil national security, Congress squanders vast amounts of money on counterproductive, ill-defined, and ill-starred programs and projects. Wasteful and badly handled CIA operations in Guatemala, Iran, and Laos, for example, received much adverse press attention. In the mid-1970s, following the Watergate scandals and press accounts of botched management, glaring misdeeds, and bungled covert operations, congress created select committees on intelligence in both Senate and House “to oversee and make continuing studies of the intelligence activities and programs of the U. S. Government.”9

The putative function of those committees is to ensure the utility and effectiveness of agencies they oversee,10 and to ascertain whether funds allocated to them represent appropriate expenditures. Their ability to exercise these duties is severely handicapped when they lack relevant information and context and are locked into super-secret procedures. The paradoxical effect is that the committees authenticate government acts for which the government will not accept responsibility.

As the 9/11 Commission concluded, the best oversight mechanism is public exposure.11 If the media and the public don’t know what the intelligence community is actually doing, congressional overseers should at least confirm that its activities comply with approved foreign policy and are rational responses to existing circumstances. To do this, no matter how intelligent and well-informed individual members of the committees may be, they should seek the counsel of independent experts outside the closed circle of those advocating covert acts before approving them.

At issue here is the value of “intelligence” (secret information made available to a few senior government officials) and “covert operations” (measures intended to influence political, economic, or military conditions or developments in other countries in a way that will not reveal the role of the U. S. Government). It is inherent in the secret nature of such activities that no one, except those who perform the acts, and (to a degree) their immediate superiors, can know how extensive or how useful they are.

The CIA does not deny its presence in virtually every country in the world, but what its agents do is secret (and officially deniable). The intelligence committees cannot make sensible judgments regarding these matters merely on the basis of secret staff analyses, interrogation of individuals responsible for conducting the operations, and Inspector-General reports.

The one congressional committee that conscientiously sought to penetrate those mysteries was the House Select Intelligence Committee chaired by Congressman Otis Pike in 1975-76. The CIA strenuously resisted efforts of the Pike Committee to discharge its mandate by impeding its access to information, silencing witnesses who wanted to testify, publicly charging it with “McCarthyism,” making claims of privilege, and, in the words of its final report, “foot-dragging, stonewalling, and deception.”12 One prominent critic noted that Henry Kissinger, as President Ford’s Secretary of State, “while appearing to cooperate with the Committee, worked hard to undermine its investigation.”13 After several stormy months, the Pike Committee voted (9 to 7, along party lines) to release its Final Report on January 23, 1976.14 The House of Representatives subsequently directed the Pike Committee not to release the report until the President certified that it did not contain information that would adversely affect intelligence activities. That effectively killed it as a government document. However, the report was leaked to Daniel Schorr, then a correspondent for CBS News, and The Village Voice newspaper published it in full on February 16, 1976. CBS suspended Schorr and the House Ethics Committee investigated him and threatened him with jail for contempt of Congress if he did not disclose his source. Schorr refused, and the Committee decided 6 to 5 against citing him for contempt. Pike, a Congressman since 1960, left Congress soon after.

Since that time the intelligence committees have not vigorously kept close tabs on the CIA and other intelligence agencies. They blandly accepted erroneous CIA reports regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (and the political manipulation, if not outright misrepresentation, of relevant information) and CIA mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, for example. The claim that the nation’s national security compels secrecy regarding such matters is arguable.

The transparent flaw in congressional oversight of the intelligence community is that the committees depend solely on information provided by agencies they are supposed to oversee. This makes it impossible for Congress to evaluate the secret sources and methods of the intelligence community, even when there is compelling evidence that those sources and methods are unreliable.15 Meaningful oversight cannot be conducted in the dark; it requires access to and corroboration of potentially relevant information.

To justify withholding information, the intelligence community promotes the misperception that Congress is a major source of “leaked” secrets that adversely affect national security. To the contrary, credible experts maintain that most leaks of secret information developed from CIA sources come from the Executive Branch.16 The intelligence community also contends that the extreme sensitivity of its operations precludes congressional staff involvement in oversight. Senators and representatives themselves are required to inspect documents in a locked office without taking notes, all the while under surveillance. To cite one illustrative example, during the run-up to the Iraq War, a 92-page report on allegations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was made available to members of congress only. Staffers responsible for safeguarding the report say only a handful of Senators and Representatives actually read beyond the five-page summary.17

In addition to the general practice of the intelligence community of withholding information, questions are frequently raised about the accuracy of information that is supplied. Before the Senate authorized the President to send U. S. forces to the Persian Gulf in December 1990, CIA briefers warned the Senate Intelligence Committee of the strength of the Iraqi military. “[T]he Iraqis would use chemical and biological weapons against the coalition forces,” the briefers said, “and in all likelihood, the United States was in for a prolonged conflict of at least six months’ duration involving many casualties.”18 As a result of these briefings some committee members voted against the resolution authorizing troop deployment. Even when accurate information is provided, it is sometimes voluminous, technical, and complicated, and committee members rarely have time to digest it.

The intelligence committees play a dominant role in determining the budgets of their clients. Members and staff complain that dealing with budget minutiae requires much of their time, leaving little to consider larger issues — apparently not realizing that budget items are substantive issues. A former staff member explained: “[T]he way intelligence budgets are presented to Congress, the few new activities are under the microscope…while [most] continuing programs go unscrutinized.”19 To avoid co-option by the intelligence community, Senate Intelligence Committee members were for years limited to eight-year terms. However, the Senate leadership, accepting a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, decided in 2004 that it takes that long to get up to speed on intelligence matters.20

Finally, competition between the intelligence and appropriations committees diffuses oversight, since the split jurisdiction allows the intelligence community to play one committee against the other, thus getting the blessing (and the funds) sought without careful review. No one, least of all members of the intelligence committees, can know the real costs (enormous) and benefits (if any) of the secret sources and methods they routinely authorize. However, one result is to support military and secret police budgets of governments around the world as they compete with educators, healthcare givers, and infrastructure engineers for scarce resources.

One perceptive Senator was appalled by his up-close exposure to CIA secrecy. As Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the early 1980s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan became convinced that the CIA was thoroughly dysfunctional. From that time until he died, Senator Moynihan carried on a lonely struggle against the CIA’s obsession with secrecy. In the early 1990s he called for its abolition. The media and his Senate colleagues ignored him. Undeterred, Moynihan repeatedly lambasted the CIA for its inability to get the facts straight. The problem, Moynihan insisted, was that secret “intelligence” gathered by CIA analysts was unreliable because no one could be held accountable for it.21

In short, Congress has abjectly forfeited its duty to oversee foreign policy and has fatally compromised the power of the purse. As former Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill allegedly said, Congress has too often shied from both the word and deed of oversight. “Oversight” includes inquiries about policies, actions, and accountability. It should be ubiquitous, exercised through hearings, meetings, and informal settings. The most effective method of ensuring responsible government behavior, however, is through open hearings and diligent investigations into executive branch operations. Unfortunately Congress rarely invokes its most powerful oversight tool: the power to probe and inform the public.

Not explicitly sanctioned by the Constitution, the power of Congress to conduct investigations is firmly set in U. S. law. As Chief Justice Earl Warren affirmed on behalf of the Supreme Court, the power:

is inherent in the legislative process [and] that power is broad. It encompasses inquiries concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or positively needed statutes. It includes surveys of defects in our social, economic, or political system for the purpose of enabling the Congress to remedy them. It comprehends probes into departments of the Federal Government to expose corruption, inefficiency, or waste.22

In 1959 Justice John Harlan extended Warren’s definition of that power, pointing out that historically Congress has inquired into a wide range of national interests to determine whether or not to legislate or appropriate from the national purse. He said: “The scope of the power of inquiry, in short, is as penetrating and far-reaching as the potential power to enact and appropriate under the Constitution.”23

Congress conducts investigations through its committees. A standing committee with jurisdiction over a certain area may initiate a probe on its own, or either chamber may entrust a particular inquiry to a select, or special, committee. In either case, an investigating committee is usually granted important powers: It may subpoena witnesses and materials; it can administer oaths to witnesses who will then face the threat of prosecution for perjury if their testimony can be proved false; it can grant partial immunity from prosecution to witnesses who refuse to testify or produce materials because of their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination; it can initiate contempt proceedings against those who defy its subpoenas and commands; and it can instigate suits to achieve compliance with its subpoenas and lawful orders.24

Some committees have produced startling results, plus and minus: (1) Senator Tom Walsh’s Teapot Dome Committee in 1923-24 revealed that President Harding’s Attorney General was mired in corruption; (2) Harry Truman’s investigation of defense industries during World War II uncovered widespread bribery in granting military contracts and propelled Truman on a trajectory to the White House; and (3) Sam Ervin’s Watergate Committee in 1973-74 established felonious conduct by President Nixon, leading to his resignation and the incarceration of several of his key assistants. Other “investigative” committees have done incalculable harm. The 1939 report of Congressman Martin Dies’ House Un-American Activities Committee25 pronounced a lurid contrast between “Americanism” and “Communism” that helped lay an ideological foundation for the Cold War.26 Senator Joe McCarthy took it from there. All Congressional committees can conduct investigations, but they rarely do. I attended numerous Congressional hearings in the 1970s and observed the great difference media interest makes. Front-page articles in mainstream newspapers lure a horde of reporters to the press table, which in turn inspires committee members to interrogate witnesses aggressively. On the other hand, when the press is absent, no more than two or three committee members characteristically attend hearings, and they generally ask superficial questions.

J. William Fulbright was different. As Chairman, he led the Senate Foreign Relations Committee through many congressional hearings. His shining hour came during six days of televised testimony on the War in Vietnam in February 1966, which initiated a slow U-Turn in public opinion about the War. The hearings captivated an exceptionally large and growing audience. Senator Fulbright published a book later in the same year27 contesting the consensus of the national security elite that Cold War geopolitics necessitated U. S. military intervention in Vietnam.


Conventional wisdom holds that capable and dedicated congressmen and senators could do the necessary oversight. The heroic, but futile, efforts of Senators Moynihan and Fulbright, and Representative Pike indicate otherwise. Senator Moynihan discovered from his service on the Senate Intelligence Committee that the CIA’s mistaken reliance on well-paid but unreliable under-cover agents often led it to unwise political assessments and counter-productive covert operations. During his last few years he railed incessantly about CIA incompetence, to no avail. Senator Fulbright, as chairman, unable to focus the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on excessive military influence on U. S. foreign policy, pressed the creation of a comprehensive examination of the foreign policy process in the Foreign Relations Act of 1972. Unfortunately, the resulting Murphy Commission on the Organization of the Government for the Conduct of Foreign Policy28 was completely preoccupied with “national security,” essentially commending the roles of the CIA and the Pentagon.

Congressman Pike initially succeeded in mobilizing the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee to undertake a wide-ranging and unprecedented survey of intelligence activities, probing beneath CIA’s inflexible shields of secrecy and identifying pervasive judgment errors. In the end, the House repressed the committee’s report, while besmirching the reputation of the Congressman, who soon thereafter forfeited his seat in Congress. The committee’s recommendations, which would have forced the CIA to be more accountable, were neither publicized nor acted upon.

The CIA continues to identify enemies abroad and the Pentagon fights them. Every Afghan, Iraqi, or Pakistani killed or maimed in the name of anti-terrorism leaves behind relatives and colleagues seeking revenge. The National Security Council, lacking independent eyes, ears, and analysts, mostly endorses the secret recommendations of the CIA and the Pentagon. And the Congress, the media and the public blandly accept the status quo, fearing that aggressive questioning would be at least unproductive and possibly counter-productive. Foreign policy is virtually defined as military policy, inherently neglecting the imperatives of economic policy, international law, the environment, and human rights.

Some critics point to compartmentalization as a fundamental impediment to more effective congressional performance. Reciprocal deference rules. Individual members are preoccupied with their own committee business, trusting their colleagues to meet other public needs under the aegis of their committees. Most members don’t normally heed warning signals affecting issues outside their primary areas of interest unless and until they know they must vote on those issues or they are inundated with letters, emails, and telephone calls about those issues. At that point, they try to become instant experts.

The 9/11 Commission concluded that, of all its recommendations, strengthening congressional oversight was “the most difficult and the most important, because that would require an improved committee structure.” So long as oversight is governed by current congressional organization, rules, and resolutions, “the American people will not get the security they want and need,” the commission said. And, it added, “The other reforms we have suggested will not work if congressional oversight does not change.”29

There is precedent for comprehensive congressional reform. The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 significantly improved the ability of our elected representatives to perform their duty. That legislation provides a model that could be followed in the twenty-first century. The initial impetus for the 1946 act came from outside Congress. Arthur Krock, a prominent columnist for The New York Times, recommended that the then existing eight military oversight committees should be merged into a single House/Senate body. His column elicited no effective response at the time from congressional leaders, but prominent members of the American Political Science Association were paying attention.

In 1941 the association established a committee, comprised of ten prestigious academicians and public servants, to study congressional operations. Dr. George B. Galloway, the committee chairman, dedicated the next five years to congressional reform, and he proved to be relentless. The committee’s final report, four years in the making, attracted the League of Women Voters and other enthusiastic champions, virtually forcing Congress to pay attention.30

Eventually, House Speaker Sam Rayburn echoed the committee’s plan for action, publicly decrying the increasing inability of Congress to meet the growing demands on its members. Several influential Senators and joined him in pressing for comprehensive reorganization of the committee system, better legislative scrutiny of the Executive branch, improved control over the federal budget, and more systematic use of committee hearings.

Among other reforms, the resulting bill abolished and consolidated committees, cut back the number of committee assignments for each Senator and Representative, reduced jurisdictional confusion by better defining committee responsibilities. When President Truman singed the bill into law in August 1946, he called it one of the most significant advances in congressional organization. However, the bill did not facilitate more rational congressional consideration of international issues.


We need mechanisms in the executive and legislative branches that could take a broader view of our approaches to a rapidly changing world. Essentially, this translates into a robust Department of State charged with formulating an agile and innovative foreign policy, able to ensure the effective implementation of that policy, and supported by a first-class diplomatic corps entrusted with commensurate responsibilities. That can only come about when the congressional committee system is restructured to center greater authority on the foreign affairs committees.

The degree of secrecy required to protect the assumptions, plans, and operations of the national security establishment should be reduced. In weighing trade-offs in the allocation of scarce government funds, budgetary priorities in the White House and Congress should favor flexible programs and activities that facilitate transition to a new global order over those designed to bolster the existing order. The Information Security Oversight Office of the National Archives (ISOO) should be empowered to review the rationale of those who oppose more robust declassification of government documents.

Growing frustration over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and their spillovers in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia), budgetary pressures, and the ambiguous mandate delivered by American voters on November 2 may mean the time is ripe to replace the National Security Act and the institutions it created with more transparent, broader gauged, and more accountable foreign policy instruments.

This cannot be done overnight. It will require short-term, intermediate, and long-term approaches. No later than January 2011, some improvements can be initiated. The Department of State, with active support from the congressional foreign affairs committees, should enhance its internal structure by tying its policy planning arm to its analysts, improving coordination between its military and economic bureaus, ensuring greater authority of its ambassadors over military and intelligence contingents in their embassies, adding more economic and other non-military experts to the NSC staff, and strengthening the capacity of the Office of Management and Budget to analyze and make recommendations concerning military and intelligence budgets.

The State Department should replace the CIA in providing the President’s Daily Brief (PDB). In the past, the written versions of the top-secret PDB tended to be a sensationalist list of presumed threats to national security with little if any background, context, or analysis. The President needs more balanced briefings from seasoned diplomats capable of assessing trends and implications. Beyond these immediate steps, the President could ask Congress to institute a bipartisan task force to consider ways and means of improving its effectiveness in dealing with foreign affairs. An apt model might be the National Commission on Social Security Reform that was created early in the Reagan Administration to find solutions to the threatened bankruptcy of social security. The commission forged a compromise that averted disaster.

Our democracy functions best with inputs from enlightened think tanks, NGOs, the media, and public-spirited individuals. Unfortunately, too many of these have been co-opted (if not absorbed) by the national security establishment. Visionaries dream that in the long run, a virtual cultural revolution will sanction transformation of our current world based on the geo-strategic premises we inherited from our forebears to a better-integrated, peaceful global society. How that can be accomplished is beyond the scope of this article, but it may be necessary if Planet Earth is to remain a sustainable habitat for humankind.bluestar

1 Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, Oxford University Press, 2006. 272 pp.
2. Ibid. p. 227
3. Mann and Ornstein point out that the first article of the Constitution, which frames Congressional powers, is twice as long as Article II, which defines and limits the reach of the Executive Branch. When push comes to shove, they say, Congress can override Presidential vetoes. It can also impeach and remove Presidents. Ibid., p. 14
4. For example: “Dysfunctional Congressional oversight of the intelligence community is clearly dangerous to the safety of the United States and our Constitutional rights.” Denis McDonough, Mara Rudman, and Peter Rundlet, No Mere Oversight, Washington, D. C., Center for American Progress, 2006. p. 21
5. James M. Lindsay, Congress and the Politics of U. S. Foreign Policy, ed. by Thomas E. Mann. Washington, D. C., Brookings, 1990. p. 72
6. Lee H. Hamilton, How Congress Works, Bloomington, Indiana University, 2004. p. 94
7. Confidential interview, December 2005
8. Colombia, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Romania, Saudi Arabia, for example
9. S. R. 400, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, May 19, 1976.
10. Nominally, the committees have jurisdiction over “the intelligence activities” (a widely used term rarely defined beyond identifying them with the “National Security” of the United States and blanketing them under absolute secrecy) of several secret agencies.
11. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Final Report, 2004, p. 103
12. Frank J. Smist, Jr., Congress Oversees the United States Intelligence Community, 1947-1989, Knoxville, Univ. of Tenn. Press, 1990. p. 207. Smist describes in detail the more superficial investigations of the Church Senate Committee that paralleled the Pike Committee in 1975-76 (pp. 25-81)
13. Mark M. Lowenthal, Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy. Washington, CQ Press, 2000 pp. p. 143
14. The report was extremely critical of the CIA. It discussed intelligence failures in Vietnam, the Soviet Union, the Middle East, Portugal, and Cyprus. It asserted that covert actions had been “irregularly approved, sloppily implemented, and at times forced on a reluctant CIA by Presidents and their national security advisors.” It maintained that the risks of intelligence collection, as practiced by the CIA, were not worth the costs and that policy-level mechanisms for reviewing risk assessment were inadequate. It found that secret procurement channels were used to purchase refrigerators, television sets, cameras, and watches, and that one CIA station spent more than $86,000 on liquor and cigarettes. It reported that most contracts entered into by the intelligence community were sole-sourced. It concluded that intelligence budgets were deceptive, in part because of “a close, almost inbred relationship between OMB officials and intelligence budget-makers.” Smist, op. cit., p. 209
15. A prominent expert has observed that “[t]here are no written rules…governing what intelligence will be shared with the Hill or how it will be handled.” L. Britt Snider, Sharing Secrets with Lawmakers: Congress as a User of Intelligence, Center for the Study of Intelligence, February 1997. Chapter III, p. 1
16. Lowenthal, op. cit., p. 143
17. Dana Priest, “Congressional Oversight of Intelligence Criticized.” The Washington Post, April 27, 2004. p. A-1
18. Snider, op. cit., Chapter V, p. 12
19. Mary K. Sturtevant. “Congressional Oversight of Intelligence: One Perspective,” American Intelligence Journal, summer 1992
20. Workshop on Congressional Oversight and Investigations, H. Doc. No. 96-117, Washington, D. C., GPO, 1979. p. 3
21. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secrecy: The American Experience, 1998, Yale University Press, 262 p. p. 198
22. Watkins v. United States, 354 U. S., 178, 187 (1954)
23. Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U. S., 109, 111 (1959)
24. James Hamilton, The Power to Probe, New York, Random House, 1976, 333 pp. See Chapter III, “The Congressional Tools,” pp. 56-100
25. Raymond W. Smock, Ed., Landmark Documents of the U. S. Congress, Washington, D. C., Congressional Quarterly, 1999. pp. 351-355
26. Inter alia, the committee concluded, Communism is (1) unusually active in our schools, both openly and subtly, (2) gaining influence within the two major political parties, (3) allied with every crackpot scheme to undermine our system of free enterprise and private initiative, and (4) seeking to embroil this country in a foreign war by the propagation of the doctrine of collective security.
27. J. William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power
28. Final Report of the Commission on the Organization of the Government for the Conduct of Foreign Policy, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, June 1975
29. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Final Report, op. cit., p. 419
30. Smock, op. cit. , pp. 351-355


John J. Harter‘s 29-year Foreign Service career included assignments to South Africa, Chile, Harvard University, Thailand, and Geneva. He also served in the Department of State’s UN and Latin American bureaus and for several years as an economic writer/editor for USIA. He was elected to two terms on the Governing Board of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) and, as AFSA’s conference affairs officer, he organized and managed sixteen conferences on topical international economic issues. The U.S. Agency International Development most recently employed him to declassify documents.


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