Checks and balances ensure both Congress and presidential administrations oversee U.S. intelligence community.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Intelligence operations traditionally steeped in intrigue and mystery, is overseen in the U.S. by a stringent system of checks and balances.
The President and congress, both legislative and executive branches in Washington, each with unique powers, often spar over the actions of America’s intelligence community.
During the recent flare up between Congress and the Obama administration over a U.S.-engineered ‘Cuban Twitter’ known as Zunzuneo, the administration maintained that it had informed the proper congressional bodies, while members of Congress maintained that it was notified in only the vaguest of terms.
The U.S. Congress oversees the intelligence community primarily through both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Through both bodies it examines the legality of Washington’s intelligence operations, the intelligence budget and intelligence failures.
It is Congress’s central role in the U.S. government with its power of the purse that allows it to have a voice in the intelligence function. Each year Congress must appropriate funds for all executive agencies including the CIA, NSA, the office of the Director of National intelligence and FBI – the key players in the American intelligence community.
Congress' budget power brings with it a key leverage over the executive branch’s operations and its transparency. It does not have the ability to stop existing intelligence operations outright, but can nonetheless bring them to light through public hearings of senior administration officials and by cutting budgets to key federal agencies.
As a final check, all presidential nominations to head an executive agency must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
From the executive side, the president has oversight of the entire intelligence community and can appoint executive commissions to assess intelligence operations and activities.This was recently evidenced by U.S. President Barack Obama’s sweeping review of intelligence gathering methods following disclosures of sensitive programs by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. Additionally the president has one final power in being able to veto any legislation that Congress passes ensuring that congress does not have too much control.
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