Pelosi and White House Reach a Deal on Intelligence Oversight

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CQ reports a deal, months in the making, between Pelosi and the White House on tougher Congressional oversight of covert intelligence programs. Pelosi had taken a surprisingly hard line over the summer, bucking an Obama veto threat to insist on a pair of new watchdog measures: first, that the GAO be given the power to audit covert operations and second, that the full intelligence committees be informed of presidential findings authorizing those covert ops.

In the end, say sources familiar with the deal, the two sides split the difference. The White House backed down on GAO, accepting a directive from Congress to the Director of National Intelligence to work up a plan with GAO for auditing covert programs. And Pelosi backed down on disclosure to the full committees, allowing the President not to brief them if he gives reasons why he can’t. The President would still have to brief the Gang of Eight (the party and intelligence committee leaders in the Senate and House).

CQ quotes the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence committee as saying, “We can do more to protect Americans from attack, and passing the intelligence authorization bill and improving congressional oversight over our spy agencies is an important first step.” Bond had backed a deal with Democrats and the White House last summer, only to have it blocked by Pelosi.

Secrecy advocates will complain about the compromise. Some, however, like Steven Aftergood at Federation of American Scientists, have argued that GAO auditing was the more important of the two provisions. Experts at GAO are already cleared for top secret/SCI defense department programs and there’s never been a breach resulting from that access, Aftergood says. Forced to choose a watchdog between the GAO and, for example, a Congressman who was impeached by his own party, it seems the Democrats chose the GAO.

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