Congress’s Right to Counsel in Intelligence Oversight

47 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2011 Last revised: 14 Jun 2011

See all articles by Kathleen Clark

Kathleen Clark

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: January 18, 2011


This article examines Congress’s ability to consult its lawyers and other expert staff in conducting oversight. For decades, congressional leaders have acquiesced in the executive branch’s insistence that certain intelligence information not be shared with congressional staffers, even those staffers who have high-level security clearances. As a result, Congress has been hobbled in its ability to understand and analyze key executive branch programs. This policy became particularly controversial connection with the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program. Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chair Jay Rockefeller noted the “profound oversight issues” implicated by the surveillance program and lamented the fact that he felt constrained not to consult the committee’s staff, including its counsel. This article puts this issue into the larger context of Congress’s right to access national security-related information, and discusses congressional mechanisms for protecting the confidentiality of that information. The article also provides the most comprehensive history of congressional disclosures of national security-related information. That history suggests that the foremost danger to confidentiality lies with disclosure to members of Congress, not to staff. The article identifies several constitutional arguments for Congress’s right to share information with its lawyers and other expert staff, and explores ways to achieve this reform.

Keywords: Intelligence, Intelligence Community, CIA, Covert Action, Checks and Balances, Legislation, Secrecy, Surveillance, Oversight, National Security, President, Congress, Lawyers, Public Law, Ethics, National Security Law, Professional Responsibility

Suggested Citation

Clark, Kathleen, Congress’s Right to Counsel in Intelligence Oversight (January 18, 2011). University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 2011, p. 915, 2011, Washington University in St. Louis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-01-01, Available at SSRN:

Kathleen Clark (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States
314-935-4081 (Phone)
314-935-6493 (Fax)

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