While the president and the intelligence community cling to “Congressional oversight” as a justficiation for the pervasive intelligence-gathering programs in place within the US, members of Congress theselves are saying that they don’t have the information they need to exercise real authority over the NSA. A recent report in The Guardian quotes two House members, Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Alan Grayson (D-FL), who have both requested information about the agency and its programs from the House Intelligence Committee, only to be rebuffed.
In a June 25th request, Rep. Griffith asked the committee for the “classified FISA court order(s)” discussed on Meet the Press the previous weekend — a 2011 opinion holding that many of the NSA’s programs under the FISA Amendments Act were unconstitutitional. Weeks later he requested additional information surrounding Yahoo’s legal challenge to the NSA’s PRISM program and Verizon’s supplying of customer metadata to government intelligence agencies. More than six weeks since the first letter, Griffith still hasn’t received a response.
In Rep. Grayson’s case, the committee did sometimes respond to his requests for information. “The transcript is classified,” read one such reply to a request for the text from a vote — itself a decision to refuse an earlier request for information. So far, neither Griffith nor Grayson have received the information they requested.
Adding to the overall lack of oversight, media reports containing classified information are similarly barred from Congress. Last month, Grayson attempted to circulate slides published by The Guardian only to be told that he could face sanctions because the material they contained was still classified, echoing the Obama administration’s 2010 decision to ban the WikiLeaks website from federal computers while the diplomatic cables it sought to block access to were being published in major newspapers. Expressing frustration at the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Griffith said, “my oath is to make informed decisions, and I can’t do my job when I can’t get even the most basic information about these programs.”