Rep. Rush Holt and Steven Aftergood write: Who watches the watchmen?
In the U.S. House of Representatives, the answer to that question – in theory, at least – is the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), which is charged with overseeing the nation’s spy agencies: the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and more.
HPSCI was created in 1977 in the wake of Nixon-era surveillance abuses to serve as a powerful counterbalance to the spy agencies’ inclination to spy on everyone, everywhere, all the time.
Because of the sensitive nature of HPSCI’s work, the committee usually meets in secret, deliberates in secret, and even passes legislation in secret. But all this secrecy creates a problem: How do we know that HPSCI is, in fact, watching the watchmen effectively?
Last year, all the world learned it wasn’t. As the explosive revelations from Edward Snowden and others demonstrated, the intelligence community had been collecting the communications of essentially every American.
Now, for the first time since Snowden’s disclosures, HPSCI has brought its annual intelligence authorization bill to the House floor, where it quickly passed by a vote of 345-59 on Friday morning. This should have represented an opportunity for a dramatic overhaul of the intelligence community and for some critical examination of HPSCI’s own role. But it appears that HPSCI has lost sight of its founding principles – that it is, in effect, choosing allegiance to our nation’s spies, rather than to the law-abiding citizens who are being spied upon. [Continue reading…]