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Profile: National Security Act

National Security Act was a participant or observer in the following events:

Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, tells President Bush that his administration’s practice of only briefing a select few Congressional leaders on highly classified programs violates the National Security Act of 1947. Harman is referring to Bush’s practice of briefing the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprised of the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House, the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate, and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, about the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. Harman, a member of the Gang of Eight since 2003, says that she has found, she writes, “that the practice of briefing only certain Members of the intelligence committees violates the specific requirements of the National Security Act of 1947. The National Security Act requires that ‘The President shall ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States….‘…The Act makes clear that the requirement to keep the committees informed may not be evaded on the grounds that ‘providing the information to the congressional intelligence committees would constitute the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.’” Harman notes that the one exception to the president’s duty to keep all committee members informed, covert action that entails “extraordinary circumstances affecting vital interests of the United States” and thereby limits notification to the Gang of Eight, applies only “to covert actions, not intelligence collection activities.” Harman adds, “For all intelligence activities that are not covert actions, the Executive Branch’s duty is clear: the ‘heads of all…entities involved in intelligence activities shall…keep the congressional intelligence committees fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities.” Harman says that merely briefing the Gang of Eight does not provide “effective oversight,” especially in light of the restrictions on the lawmakers: “Members of the Gang of Eight cannot take notes, seek the advice of their counsel, or even discuss the issues raised with their committee colleagues.… As you know, both congressional intelligence committees are select committees, formed of Members who hold the highest security clearances and have a proven ability to safeguard classified information.” Harman concludes, “In my view, failure to provide briefings to the full congressional intelligence committees is a continuing violation of the National Security Act.” [US House of Representatives, 1/4/2006] Two weeks later, the Congressional Research Service will issue a report on the requirements of the Act agreeing with Harman’s conclusion (see January 18, 2006).

Entity Tags: Congressional Research Service, “Gang of Eight”, George W. Bush, House Intelligence Committee, National Security Agency, Jane Harman, Senate Intelligence Committee, National Security Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) finds that the Bush administration broke the law when it refused to provide timely and complete briefings to the appropriate members of Congress on the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program. The CRS’s legal analysis concludes that the administration’s limited briefings are “inconsistent with the law.” The CRS performed the analysis at the request of Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the eight members of Congress that Bush allows to receive limited information on the NSA program. Harman, who calls the CRS report “a solid piece of work,” wrote to Bush on January 4, 2006, to inform him that she believes the information should be provided to all the members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. The briefings, which are intentionally limited in scope, are provided only to eight members of Congress: the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Harman says that an upcoming briefing, scheduled for February 6, should include all members of the intelligence committees. The briefings on the NSA program are held through the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Though Harman is in agreement with the CRS that the briefings are legally inadequate, House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) has said he believes the briefings are adequate for Congressional oversight.
bullet The CRS finding is based on the requirements of the 1947 National Security Act, that mandates that all of the members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees be “fully and currently informed” of intelligence activities. The Act says that “covert actions” can only be revealed to the “Gang of Eight,” but, the CRS finds, since the NSA’s domestic surveillance program does not appear to be covert, limiting the briefings to just eight members of Congress “would appear to be inconsistent with the law.” The memo gives several options for the administration to bring itself into compliance with the law, noting, for example, that “[t]he executive branch may assert that the mere discussion of the NSA program generally could expose certain intelligence sources and methods to disclosure.” [New York Times, 1/18/2006; Washington Post, 1/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Jane Harman, “Gang of Eight”, Bush administration (43), House Intelligence Committee, National Security Act, Peter Hoekstra, National Security Agency, Congressional Research Service, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A memo from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) finds that President Bush appears to be in violation of the National Security Act of 1947 in his practice of briefing only select members of Congress on the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. Bush has provided only limited briefings to the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the four Congressional leaders and the four ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. But the 1947 law requires the US intelligence community to brief the full membership of both committees on the program. The memo is the result of a request by Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), who wrote Bush a letter saying that she believes he is required under the Act to brief both committees, and not just the Gang of Eight (see January 4, 2006). The White House claims that it has briefed Congressional leaders about the program over a dozen times, but refuses to provide details; the Congressional members so briefed are forbidden by law to discuss the content or nature of those classified briefings, even with their own staff members. “We believe that Congress was appropriately briefed,” says White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. The CRS agrees with Harman that the single exception to such full briefings under the law, covert actions taken under extraordinary threats to national security, is not applicable in this instance. Unless the White House contends the program is a covert action, the memo says, “limiting congressional notification of the NSA program to the Gang of Eight…would appear to be inconsistent with the law.” [US House of Representatives, 1/4/2006; Congressional Research Service, 1/18/2006 pdf file; Washington Post, 1/19/2006] The day after the CRS memo is released, Senate Democrats John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) and Harry Reid (D-NV), along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Harman, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, write to Vice President Dick Cheney demanding that the full committees be briefed on such intelligence matters in the future. [Washington Post, 1/20/2006] On February 9, Bush will allow Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former NSA chief Michael Hayden to brief the full House Intelligence Committee on the program (see February 8-17, 2006).

Entity Tags: Jane Harman, John D. Rockefeller, National Security Agency, National Security Act, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michael Hayden, House Intelligence Committee, George W. Bush, Dana Perino, “Gang of Eight”, Alberto R. Gonzales, Harry Reid, Congressional Research Service, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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