Congress Oversees Spies by Relying on Spies

It makes sense but it also shows that Congress oversees the deep state mostly nominally.

How can the deep state be so autonomous if Congress oversees it? A recent McClatchy article demonstrates what many have already figured out. Legislators don’t have the time or knowledge or experience to run intelligence agencies. Anyone who has watched the Bourne movies knows how this works. By their nature, government bureaucracies tend to find ways to get what they want from those who are supposed to oversee them. Spy agencies are no exception.

McClatchy reports, “Intelligence Committees lean on ex-spies to oversee spy agencies.

Lawmakers assigned to oversee the sprawling U.S. intelligence apparatus rely strongly on a staff that in recent years has included scores of onetime spooks, analysts and lawyers who previously worked at the spy agencies under scrutiny.

According to a comprehensive analysis by McClatchy, at least one-third, and perhaps far more, of the professional staff members who carry out the work of the House and Senate intelligence committees are themselves veterans of the agencies that the two panels oversee.

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That reliance raises questions about how effectively the two oversight committees carry out supervision of a swelling intelligence empire that now employs some 107,000 people with a combined budget projected to reach $78.4 billion next year.

Some national security experts see little problem as long as the spy agencies thwart any repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks – and so far, the agencies have succeeded. Their triumphs are secret, and largely unheralded.

In other areas of government, watchdog groups are legion. But the intelligence agencies operate with limited oversight, run on a long leash and pay for operations from budgets unconstrained by external audits, making it dfifficult to identify and rein in ineffective programs or outright misconduct. The task of spotting fraud, waste and abuse (never mind misplaced priorities) is challenging at best, if not impossible.


“The system isn’t perfect,” said Fred Fleitz, a former senior CIA analyst who later served as staff on the House intelligence panel. “We have fairly small committees with small staffs overseeing a huge intelligence bureaucracy of 17 intelligence entities, tens of thousands of employees and billions of dollars of spending.”

Still, Fleitz added: “I think it generally works.”

Others disagreed, saying the committees don’t have sufficient staff to do their jobs, and former employees can protect favored intelligence agencies or programs.

“The oversight committee is looking at a very big vista through a very small keyhole,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress, a civil liberties and government reform group in Washington.

Read the entire McClatchy story.

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