Section 321 chips away at that
power and simultaneously expands the scope of the briefings that the
administration would be required to give.
The Gang of 8 process
is much derided by critics who argue that intelligence oversight cannot
be effective unless full oversight committees are fully briefed, and
unless the balance of power between the executive and legislative
branches over control of classified information shifts in Congress's
"There is a long
tradition spanning decades of comity between the branches regarding
intelligence matters, and the Administration has emphasized the importance of
providing timely and complete congressional notification, and using "Gang of 8"
limitations only to meet extraordinary circumstances affecting the vital
interests of the United States," the administration writes. "Unfortunately, section 321 undermines
this fundamental compact between the Congress and the President as embodied in
Title V of the National Security Act regarding the reporting of sensitive
intelligence matters - an arrangement that for decades has balanced
congressional oversight responsibilities with the President's responsibility to
protect sensitive national security information. Section 321 would run
afoul of tradition by restricting an important established means by which the
President protects the most sensitive intelligence activities that are carried
out in the Nation's vital national security interests."
The administration also objects to language that would subject internal
executive branch legal deliberations over intelligence policy to the
congressional oversight process.
Elsewhere in the statement, the
administration chides Congress for its proposal to establish an
inspector general with oversight responsibilities for the entire
intelligence community. Why? It might constraint the president's "constitutional
authority to review and, if appropriate, control disclosure of certain
The theme of this memo, and of the administration's defense of the
state secrets doctrine, is that President Obama believes that the
executive branch, and only the executive branch, controls the release
of classified information. The bright line they've drawn here is not
a-historical, but given recent history, it will provoke a clash with
Congress, and, down the line, trigger a major Supreme Court case.
Congressional sources say that the White House veto threat will be sufficient to persuade House Democrats to remove the provision from the bill, which was scheduled to be debated tomorrow.