Congressional Access to Intelligence Information: The Appearance of a Check on Executive Power
20 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2012 Last revised: 11 Feb 2015
Date Written: June 15, 2012
This essay describes Congress’s access to intelligence information and shows how that access has evolved over the last four decades. Congress can access this intelligence information through three distinct channels: by the members themselves, by Congressional staff, and by Congressionally created agencies that assist Congress in oversight: the General Accounting Office (GAO) and agency Inspectors General (IGs). Access directly by members might seem to be the optimal approach. But Congress accomplishes most of its work through its direct and indirect agents: Congressional staffers who work directly for members or committees, and those who work for the GAO or agency IGs. While there are certain tasks that only a member of Congress can perform, such as introducing and voting on legislation or convening a hearing, members conduct most of their work through their direct and indirect agents – their own staffers and the GAO and IGs. A critical issue for Congressional oversight is whether Congress’s agents have access to the information they need to help Congress in that task. Even where the executive branch has permitted members to access information directly, its limits on access by staffers and the GAO have been particularly significant in preventing effective oversight.
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: Suggested Citation