After Edward Snowden revealed to the world that America snoops on its neighbors and citizens, many politicians in Washington cried foul, insisting that such intelligence-gathering activities infringed on Americans’ constitutional rights. So why have none of these outspoken critics done anything to shed more light on the troubling details? According to McClatchy, it’s not that the Senate Intelligence Panel doesn’t have the authority; they simply lack the will:
Buried in the pages of Senate Resolution 400, which established the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1976, is a provision that allows them to try. Across those nearly 40 years, it’s never been used.
The committee’s failure to make use of the provision even once, critics say, underscores a problem with congressional oversight: Congress has proved unwilling to openly question the intelligence agencies’ claims that something must remain secret.
“Clearly, there are some secrets that the government should protect. So it’s serious business,” said former Democratic U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who co-chaired the government’s investigation of 9/11. “But . . . Congress has been, I think, far too deferential to the president in letting him control the classification system.”
The irony of that deference has been on display for the past two months as Congress debates whether the NSA’s collection of domestic telephone metadata goes beyond what Congress intended when it passed the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: The debate became possible only because a former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, who now faces criminal charges, leaked a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing the program.