Bob Corker talking to Fox News Sunday:
“As the top Republican on Senate Foreign Relations, as you sit here today, do you feel that you actually know what the government is and isn’t doing in surveilling Americans?” “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked the Tennessee Republican.
“No,” Corker replied. ” I don’t think there are many people that work harder than I do. I’m not on the Intelligence Committee, and obviously they are privy to information that I am not, but absolutely not. And that’s why I wrote a letter to the president this week to ask that the head of this organization come in and brief folks from top to bottom.”
The director of the NSA should brief lawmakers on each program that’s underway, how they are being used and what their intent is, Corker said. Then Congress can help determine what sort of oversight is necessary.
“Look, I appreciate efforts to keep Americans secure,” Corker said. “At the same time, this is in front of us, we are not in front of it. … The American people want to know that those of us who are elected, (Rep.) Eliot (Engel) and I know, understand fully what’s happening here. I don’t think we do. I would imagine there are even members of the Intelligence Committee themselves that don’t fully understand the gamut of things that are taking place.”
A veteran intelligence official with decades of experience at various agencies identified to me what he sees as the real problem with the current NSA: “It’s increasingly become a culture of arrogance. They tell Congress what they want to tell them. Mike Rogers and Dianne Feinstein at the Intelligence Committees don’t know what they don’t know about the programs.” He himself was asked to skew the data an intelligence agency submitted to Congress, in an effort to get a bigger piece of the intelligence budget. He refused and was promptly replaced in his job, presumably by someone who would do as told.
How do you reform an intelligence agency without debasing its ability to do its job in protecting us? You don’t do it the way that liberals tried to “reform” the CIA with the Church Committee back in the 1970’s. That effort eviscerated our human intelligence gathering capability and caused morale to sink so low at the CIA that it didn’t recover for more than a decade. Dozens of agents in the operations end of the CIA ended up resigning.
But recent revelations about NSA surveillance have made reforming that agency of paramount importance. A “culture of arrogance” suggests that leadership up and down the flow chart needs to be changed. Congressional oversight itself must be overhauled. Even if this meant the increased possibility that sensitive information would be leaked, it would be worth it if the reforms helped to make the agency more accountable to Congress and the law.
It won’t be easy but it has to be done.