Last night, the news broke that Vice President Dick Cheney himself ordered the CIA to keep its spying operations secret from the U.S. Congress. The Executive Branch is required by law to inform Congress of its intelligence activities.
That’s a black eye for the Republicans when it comes to government spying and illegal coverups. However, there’s a black in this story for the Democrats too. Even as this story is breaking, President Obama and congressional Democrats are working to preserve Bush-era government secrecy about spying, and to block effective oversight of the programs, many of which are continuing under Obama.
Last month, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee added section 321 to the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2010, H.R.2701. Section 321 would, if passed, expand the number of members of the House of Representatives who must be informed of intelligence activities. The whole House Intelligence Committee, not just its leaders, would be briefed by the White House.
President Obama immediately announced that he opposed the measure, and would veto it if it was passed by Congress. Obama’s argument: Informing members of Congress of the activities of Executive Branch could endanger national security. That’s a remarkable justification coming from a former instructor in constitutional law, because the Constitution gives Congress the power to conduct oversight of all Executive Branch activities in order to preserve a balance of powers which is the foundation of true national security.
Besides, Obama’s argument includes the extraordinary premise that members of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the United States House of Representatives are likely traitors who are just waiting to trade spy secrets to the enemies of the USA. It’s a profound insult to Congress.
So, how did congressional Democrats react to this slap in the face from Obama? They surrendered, and agreed to help Obama maintain the Bush-era procedures to block effective congressional oversight, and keep abusive spy operations secret from the American people.
Remember how, just hours after Obama was inaugurated, he promised “a new era of transparent and open government”? I’d like Obama supporters to explain to me how his efforts to keep warrantless spying programs secret from the American people are compatible with that promise.