Sen: National Security Experts Underscore DeWine (R) Intelligence Failures
I just got off a conference call arranged by the campaign of Rep Sherrod Brown (D-Avon) for reporters and bloggers to talk to three national scurity experts: Rand Beers, President of the National Security Network and former member of the National Security Council under Presidents Clinton and Bush; Peter Rundlet, Vice President for National Security at the Center for American Progress and former counsel for the 9/11 Commission; and Denis McDonough, Senior Fellow and Senior Adviser at the Center for American Progress and former International Relations Committee staff member. Rundlet and McDonough are co-authors of the book “No Mere Oversight: Congressional Oversight of Intelligence is Broken."
As reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer yesterday, Mike DeWine attends public meetings of the Senate Intelligence Committee only about half of the time. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) has since defended DeWine by saying that Ohioans are "well served" by Mike DeWine's work on the intelligence committee.
Beers opened the call by saying that it is accurate to say that much of the committee's work is classified and therefore occurs in closed sessions. On the other hand, public hearings "still represent an important part of what committees do." In particular, public statements by the directors of intelligence agencies occur at public hearings, and "this is how the public is informed about the views of the intelligence community." The questioning of these witnesses by committee members is therefore "an important task." However, the big bombshell was when Beers said that according to committee staffers DeWine's "attendance in closed sessions is about the same" as at public sessions, and DeWine is "not a particularly active member" of the committee. Thus, DeWine cannot merely shrug off the public hearings and contend that his active role occurs in the closed sessions.
Rundlet said that good intelligence is essential to winning the war on terror, and the foiling of the recent London plot to bomb airliners is proof. He then quoted Woody Allen for the point that "80% of life is showing up," and stated that if you don't show up for public hearings you are not conducting proper oversight. "The American public is being asked to trust the executive branch to do right and the legislative branch to oversee that," he said, and "public hearings are the only window that the public has into that process. We need to see our representatives getting tough on the executive branch, and public hearings are where we see that."
McDonough made three basic points: (1) that legislative oversight is critically important, given that it is enshrined in the Constitution and the press and other government bodies are unable to oversee intelligence matters; (2) the importance of public hearings is shown by Congressional committee hearings in the 1970s that revealed that intelligence agencies were involved in domestic espionage, an abuse that led Congress to pass the FISA Act; and (3) like other committees, the peformance of the Senate Intelligence Committee must be judged by the fruit of its labors, and in this instance the performance is very poor. In support of the last point, McDonough pointed out that no intelligence bill has been passed in the last two years, unlike the prior 25 years, which is a very troubling signal to the intelligence community. Also, all committees are required by Senate rules to report every two years on their accomplishments during the prior session of Congress. We are near the end of the 109th Congress and the Senate Intelligence Committee still has not reported on its work during the 108th Congresss. Thus, "the Senate Intelligence Committee and its members are not living up to their responsiblities." It is not just Iraq where the United States has not had good intelligence, he said, but also Iran and North Korea.
Blogger Bob Geiger asked what power a member (as opposed to the chair) has to push for greater oversight by the committee, and it was pointed out that because this committee has only one more Republican than it has Democrats, it is very possible for members to work across the aisle to get things done if they so choose, as have Sen. Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Hagel (R-ND). It was also stated that individual members owe a heavy duty to the non-member Senators to engage in genuine oversight of intelligence matters, because committee members have access to classified information and other Senators do not. Finally, it was mentioned that the critical nomination and confirmation hearings for intelligence agency heads are public, and DeWine missed crucial nomination meetings.
UPDATE: The audio of the call is available here.
The Brown campaign has checked on Senate Intelligence Committee attendance for all members over the last two years and reports that DeWine has attended only 33% of the public meetings of the Senate Intelligence Committee (4 out of 12). The combined attendance for DeWine’s committee colleagues was 60%. Only one member of the fifteen-member committee missed more meetings than DeWine.