Members of Congress calling Congressional oversight of the United States intelligence empire flaccid at best, and utterly incompetent at worst, is becoming a trend. Recently in The Guardian, Rep. Alan Grayson called Congressional oversight of the National Security Agency a “joke.”
Calling oversight in Congress nothing more than “overlook,” Rep. Grayson also stated that he has “learned far more about government spying on citizens from the media than [from] official intelligence briefings.” Us too, Congressman.
The comments of a lone, controversial representative in the House isn’t usually news, but Rep. Grayson’s comments come as a member of a larger grouping that is worth highlighting.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee sent the president a letter, complaining that briefings provided to Congress were “limited” and did not provide “a fulsome accounting of the totality of surveillance activities conducted by the federal government, and in particular, by the NSA.”
He went on to repeat a refrain that by now is quite familiar:
As a result [of lukewarm briefings], members of Congress regularly read new revelations on the front pages of various newspapers. Even more troubling, members of Congress are left to wonder why the prior briefings provided by the Executive Branch did not cover the material contained in these articles.
Senator Patrick Leahy agrees:
We sometimes find we get far more in the newspapers — we get crossword puzzles as well — we get more in the newspapers than in classified briefings.
Now, you might say, it can’t be as bad as all that, can it? Well, it’s actually worse. Even when you manage, as a member of Congress, to get the intelligence apparatus into the same room as yourself, you have to essentially beg them for answers.
Here’s Rep. Justin Amash on the game he is forced to play with the NSA:
So you don’t know what questions to ask because you don’t know what the baseline is. You don’t have any idea what kind of things are going on. So you have to start just spitting off random questions: Does the government have a moon base? Does the government have a talking bear? Does the government have a cyborg army? If you don’t know what kind of things the government might have, you just have to guess and it becomes a totally ridiculous game of 20 questions.
With members of both political parties in both chambers of Congress shouting that their own oversight is a farce, we can safely agree with them. That fact undercuts the NSA’s horse-beaten-dead line that it has more oversight than darn near anyone else. No. Oversight on paper is just that.
As such, the NSA’s spying activities are essentially unilateral authority provided to the Executive Branch of the United States government to decide whether I get privacy. That won’t do.
Top Image Credit: Zoe Rudisill