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Reforming the U.S. Intelligence Community

Continuous oversight and accountability within the intelligence community is essential for maintaining balance within a democracy. Because it derives its powers from the Constitution itself, it is a legally and traditionally accepted mechanism to check the use of powers and ensure accountability in even the closest elements of the Executive branch – the intelligence community. While the executive branch has its own oversight mechanisms in place, the notion of oversight involves the kind which empowers another governmental body, the Legislative branch, to check upon executive powers.

The concept of oversight finds philosophical basis in the thought of Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill who viewed the process of oversight as the “key feature of a meaningful representative body. ” The precedent for this kind of oversight dates back two centuries prior, when a special House committee investigated the how confederated Indian tribes defeated an Army force in 1792 (Kaiser, 1988). Oversight as Wartime Check Mechanism: Truman Committee Oversight has been crucial in improving the economy of national security operations by detecting waste and overspending in the agencies implementing them.

Modern civilian intelligence capability in the U. S. did not exist until after World War II but before this era, congressional investigative committees have been formed to look into activities relating to war and national security activities. An example of congressional oversight that led to reform within the defense departments is the Truman Committee which is considered by many as the most successful exercise of Congress’ oversight functions and a precedent for vigilant audit especially during the reconstruction phase of every U. S. war effort.

Looking back, in 1941, then Senator Harry Truman was authorized to form an ad hoc, underfunded committee to investigate alleged waste, extravagance and fraud in military contracts during World War II. The Truman Committee revealed several excesses in the reconstruction effort, including extravagance in military construction, awarding contracts for faulty equipment and fraudulent practices. Until it was disbanded in 1948, the Truman Committee, after conducting “432 hearings and 300 executive sessions, went on hundreds of fact-finding missions, and issued 51 reports,” saved the U. S.

$15 billion dollars and saved the lives of hundreds of American soldiers (Roemer, 2007). The Truman Committee, by exposing the abuses of power within the national security agencies mainly the military top brass responsible for reconstruction, set a precedent for reform in audit and accountability. Oversight or investigative committees, though it might initially be gleaned as highly detrimental to the public image of the intelligence community, is a fact of life that should be present in a democracy. Had enormous spending and massive waste of resources been tolerated or left unchecked, national security would have been put at serious risk.

Oversight intends to work with, not hinder, full national security capacity in all levels of its implementation, including how intelligence or defense agencies spend or discharge its fiduciary capacity. The oversight process also tends to have broader impact not only on national security, but on other areas of government as well. The Truman Committee not only made recommendations for a checking mechanism to control excessive military claims on production but also recommended policies addressing the rubber shortage which later became a basis for administration policy.

Oversight as Reform Facilitator in Intelligence Gathering: 9/11 Commission The perception that oversight cripples the intelligence functions of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been a popular one, ever since the intelligence community suffered blows in image in the aftermath of congressional investigations on Vietnam, the Watergate scandal and CIA’s covert operations and assassination plots.

There are even some who assert that the executive branch eventually lost control over the CIA because of Congress’ push for “ownership” of the agency (Knott, 2001). Granting that the intelligence community in its entirety has had its share of tensions with Congress when setting justifiable limits on how they conduct operations in the name of national security without trampling on constitutionally-granted civil rights and liberties, congressional oversight has been an effective mechanism to facilitate the discovery of several lapses in the execution of intelligence gathering methods or techniques.

Oversight has become increasingly crucial as a way of facilitating reforms on intelligence gathering. It is during congressional inquiries on specific cases that limitations and failures on intelligence are often discovered and recommendations made in order to boost the capabilities and adjust budgets of intelligence agencies to effectively carry out their functions. This was evidenced in the tangible proof to suggest that there had been numerous lapses in intelligence leading to the terror attacks on September 11 as reported by the 9/11 Commission.

Described as an “an intelligence disaster of unprecedented dimensions”, September 11 was revealed as a failure of intelligence coordination and information sharing between the CIA and the FBI (Baker, 2007). After the Commission interviewed over 1,200 people in 10 countries and scrutinized over two and a half million pages of documents, including some highly-classified national security documents, it concluded that the FBI and CIA failed to serve competent intelligence to both President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

This led to several recommendations made by Congress that will boost the intelligence community’s capability to prevent similar attacks in the future. Among the recommendations made was the creation of a National Intelligence Director over both the CIA and the FBI, as well as policy changes in border security and immigration. Even as critics of congressional oversight had derided the 9/11 Commission of constricting the intelligence community, the fact remains that in an open and democratic government, oversight is a necessary tool to check on the powers given to the executive branch in carrying out national security policies.

It could be gainsaid that oversight committees have curtailed powers of the intelligence community, especially on funding. In fact, in several instances, the oversight committees were the ones actively pushing for bigger budgets in technical collection systems, HUMINT and particular covert actions. Conclusion The practice of oversight is a given in any democratic society, much more so, within an intelligence agency that has grown considerably in capabilities, size and resources.

History is replete with oversight’s role as the harshest critics of the intelligence community but in those instances, it has also become its defender, by providing and enabling room for reform and accountability. In this manner, the purpose of the intelligence community, in safeguarding the security of the American population is best served. References CRS Report RL30240 (2004), Congressional Oversight Manual. Kaiser, F. (1988). “Congressional Oversight of the Presidency,” Annals, 499, 75-89.

Knott, S. (2001). “Congressional Oversight and the Crippling of the CIA. ” Retrieved July 3, 2009 from History News Network, Website: http://hnn. us/articles/380. html Roemer, T. (2007). “Watching the Watchers. The Challenge of Intelligence Oversight. ” Retrieved July 3, 2009, from The Center for National Policy, Website: http://www. cnponline. org/ht/display/ContentDetails/i/1208 Baker, J. (2007). “Intelligence Oversight. ” Harvard Journal on Legislation, 45, 199-208.

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