Sunlight joins coalition demanding fix for intelligence collection oversight

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National Security Operations Center floor in 2012, a branch of the NSA. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Today, Sunlight joins a coalition of 40 organizations and 13 experts calling for changes in the way the House of Representatives conducts oversight. We are also releasing a white paper produced by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that explains in detail how broken the system is — and how we can start to fix it.

The urgent need for more oversight is underscored by broad policy revelations, such as the Snowden disclosures and the recently released, and heavily redacted, Senate torture report. Both revealed unconscionable abuses of individuals’ human rights and a stunning lack of knowledge by those charged with ensuring those abuses do not occur.

While Congress’ oversight role is shirked by many elected officials, many are desperately struggling to access the information necessary to achieve even a basic understanding of the intelligence community’s activities. Indeed, many representatives have made public statements directly addressing this issue:

  • Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.: “[B]oth the FISA Courts and the two intelligence committees have stepped on the gas and there has been a failure of oversight.”
  • Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich.: “If you don’t know about the program, you don’t know what to ask about.”
  • Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va.: “If I can’t get basic information about these programs, then I’m not able to do my job.”
  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.: “In fact, attempts to conduct vigorous oversight have been ignored and effectively blocked.”
  • Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.: “[T]he deeper more endemic problem lies in a CIA, assisted by the White House, that continues to try and cover up the truth.”

Our recommendations call for big and small reforms, from a recomposition of the intelligence committee in the House to a guarantee that staff actually have the clearance to receive classified information. (That second one is an incredibly low bar that the House apparently tripped over decades ago.) It’s time to help oversight get back on its feet.

We’ll be tweeting with our allies using the #NSAOversight as we move this effort forward, and we encourage you to join the conversation.