Washington, DC — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, urging him to ensure that the Senate Intelligence Committee finally begins to exercise oversight of Bush Administration intelligence activities. Though the recommendation for increased oversight was unanimously approved by the 9/11 Commission, and though Intelligence Committee Chairman Senator Pat Roberts has repeatedly claimed that he would exercise oversight, Senator Roberts has systematically blocked any inquiry into the myriad questionable Administration activities, including reports of detainee abuse, and revelations of spying on American citizens. After reneging on a similar claim little more than a week ago, Senator Roberts has now announced that he will hold a vote on inquiry into the domestic spying program next week. Especially given the Bush Administration’s shifting legal justification for the program, Democrats are calling on Senator Frist to ensure that Senator Roberts does not change his mind again.
The letter follows below.
March 1, 2006
Senator Bill Frist
United States Senate
Dear Senator Frist:
As you know, the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission concluded in its report that improving and strengthening congressional oversight of the intelligence community would greatly contribute to America’s security. In the Commission’s view, effective congressional oversight would help our intelligence agencies deliver the accurate and unbiased intelligence that is so essential to America’s success in the global war on terror.
Despite the unanimous finding of the Commission on this critical issue, I am concerned that the Republican-controlled Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is still not providing the kind of rigorous oversight urged by the 9/11 Commission and required by the Constitution and the Senate’s Standing Rules. This Committee’s failure to conduct oversight of critical and controversial national security decisions by this Administration contributes to the perception that this Republican Congress is unwilling to hold this Administration accountable for its mistakes and missteps.
For example, despite the fact that the Bush Administration’s detainee, interrogation, and rendition policies have increased the risk to our troops and contravened or ignored international law, Chairman Roberts has blocked an investigation.
The Committee has a similar record on another issue of critical significance to our troops and our security — how the Bush Administration used, and perhaps misused, intelligence to sell its case for war with Iraq. Although more than two years have passed since the Chairman grudgingly consented to launch an investigation, the Committee has yet to interview key Administration officials, let alone produce a report.
Finally, I am particularly concerned with the Chairman’s inaction on the Bush Administration’s efforts to conduct domestic surveillance on American citizens without a warrant. I strongly support efforts to take down Al Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations but believe we must do so in the most effective means possible. However, I am concerned that by choosing to launch a program based on a shifting and questionable legal rationale, President Bush has jeopardized its effectiveness by increasing public awareness of this highly sensitive program, jeopardizing terrorist prosecutions, and dividing the American public whose support is critical for any effort we undertake against terrorists. Attorney General Gonzales’ letter to the Senate yesterday is the latest demonstration of how the Administration’s shifting rationale for this program has raised concerns that are causing members on both sides of the aisle to request a full and complete investigation.
I understand that Chairman Roberts committed to hold a committee vote to launch an investigation of the Administration’s NSA program on February 16th.. Despite the Chairman’s repeated assurances that he would permit such a vote, ultimately he refused to allow the committee to do so. Press reports indicate the Chairman reneged on his promise to hold a vote after heavy White House pressure.
I understand that the Chairman has reversed himself again, and has promised a vote for March 7th. This vote will be a critical test of whether this Republican-controlled Congress can conduct critical oversight of the Bush Administration, the intelligence community, and a Bush Administration surveillance program that has raised many legitimate concerns. While I appreciate the Chairman’s commitment to this vote occurring on March 7th, further procedural maneuvers to delay or prevent reasonable and thorough oversight by the Intelligence Committee on the Administration’s handling of pre-war intelligence or the NSA matter would be a troubling development that would require the attention of the full Senate.
In the post-9/11 world, America cannot afford a Congress or a congressional committee, especially one as important as the Senate Intelligence Committee, to become lax in its duties. I hope you will agree that the committee is too important to our national security for us to allow it to become an extension of the White House public relations operation, and that you will do everything in your power to ensure the March 7th vote takes place.