Obama’s Intelligence Leaders: For GAO Oversight Before They Were Against It

Yesterday, we talked about how Rahm Emanuel opposed indefinite detention before he started working for it with Lindsey Graham.

Today, Steven Aftergood shows that Obama’s two intelligence heads, Leon Panetta and Dennis Blair, supported GAO oversight of intelligence activities before–presumably–they supported yesterday’s veto threat of GAO oversight.

As a Congressman in 1987, Leon Panetta actually introduced a measure to give GAO oversight authority over the CIA.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and others have repeatedly argued that the GAO could usefully supplement the intelligence oversight process without detracting anything.  “It is Congress’s responsibility to ensure that the IC carries out its critical functions effectively and consistent with congressional authorization. For too long, GAO’s expertise and ability to engage in constructive oversight of the IC have been underutilized,” Sen. Akaka said last year.

In 2008, Sen. Akaka chaired a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing (at which I testified [pdf]) on the feasibility and utility of GAO intelligence oversight.  “Congress must redouble its efforts–that is what we are trying to do–to ensure that U.S. intelligence activities are conducted efficiently, effectively, and with due respect for the civil rights and civil liberties of Americans, and I will work to see that it does,” Sen. Akaka said then.

Amazingly, an earlier version of the proposal for an expanded GAO role in intelligence oversight was introduced in 1987 by then-Rep. Leon Panetta, who is now the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

According to Rep. Panetta’s proposed “CIA Accountability Act of 1987″ (pdf) (H.R. 3603 in the 100th Congress), “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Comptroller General [who directs the GAO] shall audit the financial transactions and shall evaluate the programs and activities of the Central Intelligence Agency” either at his own initiative or at the request of the congressional intelligence committees.

And during his confirmation hearings, Blair was open to the possibility of GAO oversight as well.

At the January 22, 2009 confirmation hearing (pdf) of Adm. Dennis C. Blair to be Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Blair also acknowledged a role for GAO in intelligence oversight.

Sen. Ron Wyden asked him: “If the GAO is conducting a study at the direction of one of the intelligence committees using properly cleared staff, will you give them the access they need to do their work?”

Adm. Blair replied: “Senator, I’m aware that the direction of GAO studies and the terms of them are generally subject to talk between the two branches of government for a variety of reasons, and subject to having those discussions, ultimately I believe the GAO has a job to do and I will help them do that job.”

But, along with Obama’s opposition to investigating the Amerithrax investigation, he is now threatening to veto legislation that advocates just this kind of oversight.

13 replies
  1. klynn says:

    I am sorry EW… My tin foil has me asking again about the Bent Spear incident of 2007…lots of interesting pressures changing minds.

    Back on topic…

    Adm. Blair replied: “Senator, I’m aware that the direction of GAO studies and the terms of them are generally subject to talk between the two branches of government for a variety of reasons, and subject to having those discussions, ultimately I believe the GAO has a job to do and I will help them do that job.”

    The “changing of minds” pattern is pretty much a breadcrumb all on its’ own.

    • PJEvans says:

      subject to talk between the two branches of government

      They maybe should have asked which two branches he was speaking of.

  2. BoxTurtle says:

    Oversight only occurs when congress and the executive are in different hands.

    Boxturtle (and sometimes not then)

    • fatster says:

      and @4 and @6. Perhaps they think “oversight” somehow means ”to overlook” as in “ignore”.

      • EternalVigilance says:

        Perhaps they think “oversight” somehow means ”to overlook” as in “ignore”.

        Of course that’s what they mean. No intentionally, but effectively.

        It’s like “Department of Defense.”

        And “Department of Justice.”

        And “Change.”

  3. plunger says:

    From over on Raw comment thread:

    rschop [Moderator] 0 minutes ago

    It is obvious what was the reason the Bush administration did not want the 9/11 Commission to interview the detains, and in particular Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

    They did not want these detainees to reveal that they had been at the Kuala Lumpur al Qaeda planning meeting in January 2000 planning both the attacks on 9/11 and the Cole bombing.

    All of the al Qaeda terrorists at this meeting were photographed by the Malaysian intelligence for the CIA and almost all were identified.

    If these detains were interviewed they would reveal to the world that the CIA had photographed them at this al Qaeda Summit, and then let them walk away to carry out the Cole bombing and the 9/.11 attacks.

    The CIA would be completely destroyed by this revelation, since they would be unable to explain their actions when they clearly knew who was at Kuala Lumpur. At the time of this meeting KSM even had a $2,000,000 reward on his head, for the Bojinka plot. and Bin al-Shibh was roommate to three of the 9/11 pilots. Had the CIA not hidden this information both al Qaeda plots could have been prevented. The proof of this is the fact that while 12 al Qaeda terrorists were identified at Kuala Lumpur, the CIA has only released photographs of three of these terrorists, Walid Bin Attash, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.

    This even explains why the CIA will never release the rest of the photographs.

  4. ubetchaiam says:

    It all comes down to power; positions taken prior to acquiring office are suddenly no longer rational because to do such would mean to give up the recently acquired power.

  5. rjrnab says:

    Mother Jones could do a better job of OGA(AL CIA DA) oversight then GAO. Some real patriots stopped more high treason during Bent Spear 2007(@ 1), which I’m sure even MoJo will never be able to uncover. It’s like ‘Legacy of Secrecy’ time again.

  6. bobInpacifica says:

    Let’s do some detective work: There’s an animal that comes into your yard at night and does damage but you don’t see it. You assume it’s a raccoon, but the damage is different than what raccoons do. What is it?

    Why are these people for oversight and then are against it? Why are Senators against NSA spying before they are for it? What corrupting power is operating here?

    An even better question: Why did the Republicans in the Summer of 2008 almost unanimously vote for the FISA capitulation when it was pretty obvious that a Dem would win the Presidency? Hint: Spying power doesn’t accrue to the President or the Executive Branch. It accrues to the spying agencies.

    The long story short, the majority of people voted the Republicans out because they wanted change. Is there a change in our wars? Yeah, there are more troops in Afghanistan. Is there a change in the NSA? Yeah, no one talks about the NSA anymore. A change in oversight? Yeah, a change of minds.

    When our country was founded under the banner “All men are created equal” women couldn’t vote, millions of “equal” men were slaves, and unpropertied men couldn’t vote. The Senate was constructed to be a brake on populist tendencies of the hoi polloi. What’s changed? Well, far too many of the underclass have lost their right to vote via the drug wars. Citizenship requirements keep another large segment of the underclass out of the voting booth. But mostly, people are discouraged from voting. The Democratic statuary in the Executive Branch (LBJ, Carter, Clinton, Obama) keep moving to the right no matter how Democrats in general move. So the electoral process functions opposite to the will of the people.

    And finally, the electoral process is subservient to the permanent government. No matter who you vote for and for whatever reason, you will get NAFTA, GATT, oil wars, drug wars, wars on terror, domestic spying.

    The game is rigged. It always has been. People believe the tripartite government model taught in grade school when that’s not how things work at all. The US government works for Big Energy. Our military are the Hessians who fight to extract energy from under the feet of brown people around the world. Our intelligence services are the Pinkertons of the World. They train generals around the world to torture, to kill populist leaders, to quash union movements. And if they can be Industry’s thugs around the world, don’t you think that they have office space for a few files on politicians back here on the homefront?

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