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People from various countries have mandated their governments all over the world to run the affairs of their specific countries or kingdoms on their behalf. Such governments have the authority to enforce laws and policies that would protect the wellbeing of the nation. Almost all governments in the present-day world comprise three arms namely the legislature, executive, and judiciary.
The three arms of government are expected to work in collaboration and in accordance with the law while at the same time acting independently as stated by the law. Traditionally, the three arms of government were supposed to provide checks and balances to each other on behalf of the citizens. Congressional oversight role, which forms the basis of discussion in this study, falls within the described relationship.
Congress Role in Strategic Intelligence
The congress has a major role in strategic intelligence due to its position as one of the three arms of government. The intelligence community can be described as a department in the executive arm of government.
When this community is being supervised by the congress, Erwin reveals that the intelligence community “describes the trend in intelligence spending from 1980 to the mid-1990s and the projected spending trend from the mid-1990s to 2001” (2013: 2). The congress derives its mandate from the citizens to be their representative in governance.
Therefore, its main role is to “establish priorities and to align relevant budgets accordingly” (Erwin 2013:6) to secure the interests of citizens that it represents who also pay taxes to the government. Lenart et al. confirm that intelligence services have their role in the provision of security to citizens as a role of the national government otherwise known as the executive arm of the government.
As security matters, intelligence services are supposed to be conducted in utmost secrecy with most of information about their operations being classified and only available to authorized persons. The congress has a role in controlling and allocation of resources to different government agencies through the passing of the budget (2010: 4).
This allocation comes together with accountability on how the money allocated has been used. Therefore, intelligence community is obligated to account for all finances that it has received or requested. It “gathers, analyzes, and shares potential threat information with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies” (2013: 3).
Accountability requires a breakdown of all vote elements that make up the budget, which in this case will allow the congress an insight into the intelligence community’s work. The second role that allows the congress to have an oversight duty over the intelligence community is the legislative role bestowed on it, which comes with the watchdog duty.
When the congress makes laws, it also follows up the same as a way of ensuring that the laws are followed to the latter and that they include those that create the intelligence community. In fact, intelligence community is not above the law. It has to adhere to all laws that have been passed by congress. The congress therefore ensures that all government agencies operate within the laws that have been made.
According to Rosenbach and Peritz, its oversight role is mandated on a few members who make up the “House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence” (2003:18). This committee is a 16-member board that deals with all matters to do with intelligence queries. It reports to the full house on its findings.
The third role that bestows the congress with an oversight role is the power given to it by law to put any information to the public domain. Armed with this authority, the congress can make public any information that is deemed confidential by simply declassifying it. The basic need that gives the congress all these powers is because it is the people’s representative elected through a popular vote.
Therefore, its being in existence is to secure the interests of citizens. The need for the congress to provide an oversight role to the intelligence community started back in the 1970s after Church and Pike committee findings that called for the regulation of the operations of the CIA.
It was becoming a rogue agency that did not “focus on threats relating to border security, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) issues” (2003: 2). The failures of the intelligence community in Somalia, on their reporting falsely of the chemical weapons in Iraq and its failures leading to the 9/11 attacks have heightened the need for oversight of these agencies.
The intelligence community has been accused of infringing on the rights of citizens by illegally carrying out monitoring activities that violate the laws that protect them (the citizens). Intelligence as part of security receives a lot of money for its operations. This money has to be accounted for because it belongs to taxpayers who would wish to understand where all taxes they pay go.
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Therefore, members of the congress have a duty in ensuring that all the monies allocated to all government agencies including the congress are accounted for and that they are proved to have been used for the purpose they were meant for in the budget.
The need for congress to provide an oversight role has always come out as controversial due to the sensitive matters that come from the intelligence information desk. The congress is made up of politicians who are deemed too unqualified to provide such an oversight role. Such politicians are seen as interference to intelligence communities’ work discussed above.
Erwin, Marshall. Intelligence Spending and Appropriations: Issues for Congress. London: Congressional Research Service, 2013. Web.
Lenart, Brienne, Joseph Albanese, William Halstead, Jeffrey Schlegelmilch, and James Paturas, Integrating public health and medical intelligence gathering into homeland security fusion centers. Web.
Rosenbach, Eric, and Aki Peritz. Confrontation or Collaboration? Congress and the Intelligence Community. Harvard Kennedy School and Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, 2003.