Dysfunction in Congress can damage the country in many ways, but none may be as serious as a failure to fill its role in the system of checks and balances set up by the U.S. Constitution.
When Congress heads back to Washington after the August recess, members of the Senate face a serious test on whether they can assert control over the U.S. intelligence agencies. Late in July, just before senators and representatives headed for home, Central Intelligence Director John Brennan admitted that CIA staffers had broken into the Senate’s computers.
Why is this issue important? Because it’s the responsibility of the Senate to oversee the nation’s intelligence agencies. If the CIA can undermine or sabotage the Senate’s oversight, Americans have reason to worry that the country’s intelligence agencies are running amok.
Not only has the size of intelligence operations grown, advances in technology have made their surveillance activities more pervasive and powerful. When Edward Snowden first blew the whistle on how the National Security Agency was spying on Americans, his revelations seemed incredible to some. But it was not long before even the giant technology companies admitted they were surprised by the extent of surveillance and joined the call for reform.
Now it turns out that the CIA is spying on its boss: the U.S. Senate. The CIA apparently was worried about a report the committee is working on about interrogation tactics used by the military.
This controversy should not be brushed aside as another partisan squabble. It’s about the basics of the American system of government. Senate oversight is the only way the public can get America’s spies under control.
Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star