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House Dems Planning Major Changes To Secret CIA Briefings Of Congress

By Greg Sargent

In a move that could spark another fight with the GOP over CIA intelligence and secrecy, House Dems are quietly preparing to make major changes to the ways the CIA briefs Congress on covert actions, by broadening the pool of members of Congress who will have access to such private briefings, a source familiar with deliberations says.

Dems on the House Intelligence Committee have drafted a new bill that would strip the President of his authority to limit such briefings to the so-called “Gang of Eight” — the leaders of the House and Senate from both parties, and the leaders of the Congressional Intelligence committees — and allow a larger group of members of Congress to attend.

The move, which is being championed internally by House Intel chair Silvestre Reyes, would also compel the CIA to keep a far more detailed record of these briefings, though these details still need to be worked out. The source, who is familiar with the contents of the bill, confirmed the details to me.

The new measure — which would mean as many as two dozen members of Congress would be kept abreast of CIA covert actions — would lessen the likelihood of he-said-she-said arguments over what the CIA told Congress, such as those that have erupted over what Nancy Pelosi was told and when.

It could also spark a battle with Republicans, who may charge that increasing the number of people with knowledge of covert actions could compromise our security.

The measure (to be included in this summer’s big intelligence authorization bill) would strike a provision from the National Security Act of 1947 that gives the President the authority to limit such briefings to the “Gang of Eight” in Congress if he (or she) chooses.

Instead, it would allow all members of the Intelligence committee — which numbers nearly two dozen — to attend the briefings if they wish. If the President wants only the “Gang of Eight” to attend, it would be left to the Intel committee to determine what to do and would empower it to ignore the President’s wishes.

It’s unclear how Republicans, or Dems on the Senate side, or the White House will react to this news when it goes public; it could spark a major fight that could prevent these reforms from being enacted. This is one to watch.


Update: Both Duncan Black and Spencer Ackerman argue persuasively that should this measure pass, it would represent a real step forward towards genuine Congressional oversight over the intelligence bureaucracy.



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