There is nothing new about House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes leaving the panel’s secure room beneath the Capitol Building and heading to the White House complex or a related facility nearby to view raw intelligence, The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group has learned.
For years, intelligence committee chiefs have trekked to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue or to an intelligence agency to view such super sensitive intelligence material, because the congressional secure room can’t handle such material.
Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Pete Hoekstra, told TheDCNF that “if someone was going to present me with raw intelligence or unfinished intelligence or with intelligence which was designed for use by another part of the government, yeah, it’s very reasonable to expect that I would have to go somewhere else.” The Michigan Republican chaired the intelligence panel from 2004 to 2007.
Nunes has been harshly criticized by congressional Democrats for his decision to travel to the White House executive complex to view raw intelligence delivered by a whistleblower about allegations the Obama administration spied on then President-elect Donald Trump and his transition aides.
Nunes’ actions amount to collusion with the Trump White House, according to Democrats.
The New York Times Thursday went further, identifying two White House National Security Council (NSC) officials who assisted Nunes. The NYT concluded the unmasking of the NSC officials “is likely to fuel criticism that the intelligence chairman has been too eager to do the bidding of the Trump administration.”
But Col. (Ret.) Jim Waurishuk, who served at the NSC, told TheDCNF such viewings are “routine,” especially at the White House complex.
“Speaking from my experience, I talked to members of both sides of the aisle,” he told TheDCNF. “I’ve done that a thousand times. I say that’s routine because that goes on all the time when you’re dealing with the intelligence committee or the armed services committees. We regularly obliged them. Cleared committee chairmen would go over the White House once or twice a week.”
Waurishuk was also deputy director for intelligence at the U.S. Central Command, and is now vice president of OPSEC, a nonpartisan group of retired special forces and intelligence officials.
“The Members of Congress don’t get to see raw information,” Fred Rustmann, a 24-year CIA veteran, told TheDCNF. “They get to see finished information that has to be disseminated through normal channels.”
Members of the “Gang of Eight” — chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, plus top House and Senate leaders — cannot rely on getting real-time intelligence, raw intelligence or unfinished intelligence by sticking with their limited computers. They instead must travel elsewhere to access this highly sensitive information.
The congressional intelligence chiefs usually go to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to view the data. The complex is not in the White House itself, but sits next to it in an ornate 19th century building built in the French Second Empire style. The building contains the world’s most elaborate secure facilities known as Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIF).
Congressional officials can review raw intelligence at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., the National Security Agency in Ft. Meade, Md. and at 15 other intelligence agencies
“In the agency [the CIA], the computers are hooked up so the intelligence won’t go out of the agency,” Rustmann said. “Members of Congress would be forced to go to the CIA to view that information.”
Cooperation between the intelligence agencies and the congressional committees has not always been smooth.
Relations between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee nearly collapsed in rancor and discord during the Obama administration when senators and staffers were accused of stealing sensitive CIA information from a clandestine CIA facility.
Members of the Senate committee, led by then-chairman Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, reviewed information about interrogation techniques at a secret CIA location in Virginia. Mistrust by both sides erupted when printed portions of materials somehow left CIA custody, then turned up in a safe in a second-floor Senate building, according to The Guardian.
Critics wonder why raw intelligence can’t be viewed on Capitol Hill computers, but intelligence officials told TheDCNF that classifications would have to be downgraded before they could transmit some of the nation’s most sensitive documents to the less capable congressional computer systems. This would also greatly expand the number of people entitled to view the classified documents or tapes.
The raw intelligence issue exploded recently when in the final days of the Obama administration, the president expanded the sharing of raw satellite communications, phone calls and emails collected by the National Security Agency to 16 other intelligence agencies without the previous safeguard protections.
Waurishuk, who said he has routinely helped Democrats and Republicans view raw intelligence since 1990, called the recent Democratic attacks “temper tantrums.”
“I wish they would grow up and become adults,” he mused.