John Hudson writes at Foreign Policy that if the Republicans take control of the Senate, it almost certainly means even less oversight of the nation’s intelligence services — even less than the weak-kneed Democrats have provided while they’ve been in charge.
Republicans stand to gain as many as eight seats in the Senate this election. But America’s spies stand to gain much, much more.
If the Nov. 4 elections deliver a GOP-controlled Senate, the chairmanship of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee is likely to go to a North Carolinian whose unwavering support for the CIA and NSA could radically transform the committee’s oversight agenda.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), an outspoken defender of enhanced interrogation techniques and broad government surveillance powers, is next in line for the chairmanship. Unlike the current Democratic head of the committee, Dianne Feinstein of California, Burr has been harshly critical of a yet-to-be-released report on the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture practices — a view shared by many in the agency.
And although Burr’s views about NSA data collection largely mirror Feinstein’s, his distaste for publicity and devotion to secrecy could fundamentally alter the way the committee operates on a day-to-day basis. “I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly,” Burr told reporters in March. “If I had my way, with the exception of nominees, there would never be a public intelligence hearing.”For an intel committee that has feuded publicly with CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper with a ferocity not seen since the Church Committee hearings of the 1970s, the change would be stark.
“A Burr-led committee is not going to look anything like a Feinstein-led committee,” a GOP Senate aide told Foreign Policy on condition of anonymity. “He’s much more of a person who will do things behind the scenes than throw things in the press like Feinstein has.”
Feinstein has been bad enough. That infamous and still-secret report on the CIA torture regime would likely remain secret. Indeed, it would not surprise me if the Obama administration has taken so long to finish the redactions on the report specifically so that if the Republicans take over, they can get the public release of the executive summary of the report revoked by a Republican-led Intelligence Committee (Obama and his hand-picked CIA director, John Brennan, have been opposed to its release from the start).
That report, while it apparently does slam the CIA pretty hard for participating in torture, explicitly does not include anything at all on those who actually ordered the torture to be carried out. So it’s already weak and already being so heavily redacted that most of it will be gibberish, but now we could see it quashed completely and remain hidden from the public.