Monday, December 19, 2005
  Nope - No Intelligence There.

December 14, 2005

TO: Sen. Dianne Feinstein
FROM: Alfred CummingSpecialist in Intelligence and National SecurityForeign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division

SUBJECT: Congress as a Consumer of Intelligence Information

This responds to your request for a discussion of Congress and its role as a consumer of national intelligence, and for a listing and a description of some of the U.S. Intelligence Community's principal intelligence products, including an identification of those which the executive branch routinely shares with Congress, and those which it does not.

Limitations on Congressional Access to Certain National Intelligence
By virtue of his constitutional role as commander-and-in-chief and head of the executive branch, the President has access to all national intelligence collected, analyzed and produced by the Intelligence Community. The President's position also affords him the authority - which, at certain times, has been aggressively asserted (1) - to restrict the flow of intelligence information to Congress and its two intelligence committees, which are charged with providing legislative oversight of the Intelligence Community. (2) As a result, the President, and a small number of presidentially-designated Cabinet-level officials, including the Vice President (3) - in contrast to Members of Congress (4) - have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information, including information regarding intelligence sources and methods. They, unlike Members of Congress, also have the authority to more extensively task the Intelligence Community, and its extensive cadre of analysts, for follow-up information. As a result, the President and his most senior advisors arguably are better positioned to assess the quality of the Community's intelligence more accurately than is Congress. (5)

In addition to their greater access to intelligence, the President and his senior advisors also are better equipped than is Congress to assess intelligence information by virtue of the primacy of their roles in formulating U.S. foreign policy. Their foreign policy responsibilities often require active, sustained, and often personal interaction, with senior officials of many of the same countries targeted for intelligence collection by the Intelligence Community. Thus the President and his senior advisors are uniquely positioned to glean additional information and impressions - information that, like certain sensitive intelligence information, is generally unavailable to Congress - that can provide them with an important additional perspective with which to judge the quality of intelligence.

1. Reportedly "furious" about what he apparently believed to be unauthorized disclosures of classified information by Congress, President Bush on Oct. 5, 2001, ordered that the provision of classified information and sensitive law enforcement information be restricted to the Republican and Democratic leaders of both the Senate and House, and to the chairmen and ranking members of the two congressional intelligence committees. Until the President issued his order, and in keeping with prior practice, all Members of the intelligence committees had access to most such information. Bush agreed to rescind his order after several days, following a personal telephone conversation between the President and Sen. Bob Graham, then-chairman of the Senate's intelligence committee, and after negotiations between White House staff and Graham. See Bob Woodward, Bush at War, pp. 198-199. (Simon and Schuster).
2. The Senate established its intelligence oversight committee, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), in May 1976. The House of Representatives followed suit in July 1977, creating the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI).
3. Central Intelligence Agency website [].
4. To the extent that Members of Congress are entitled access to intelligence information, it is by virtue of their elected positions. Members are not subject to background checks, nor are they issued security clearances, as are congressional staff who are provided access to classified information.
5. This memorandum does not directly address the quality of Intelligence Community (IC) collection and analysis, but rather limits its focus to the degree of access to intelligence information enjoyed by federal government policymakers - including Members of Congress - and the degree to which that access enables them to assess its quality.
There exists extensive commentary which does address the quality of the Intelligence Community's collection and analytic capabilities, including more recently that contained in a report issued by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission. See WMD Commission, Report to the President of the United States, March 31, 2005 [Hereafter, cited as the WMD Commission Report].

This is an excerpt from the complete memo. To see the complete memo go here:
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