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RawStory.com June 20, 2006

Citing 'lack of cooperation,' government watchdog will continue to limit role in US intelligence oversight

By John Byrne

Citing a "lack of cooperation," the government’s internal auditing organization said in a letter to an Ohio senator last week that they will continue to limit intelligence oversight to formal requests from Congressional intelligence committees, RAW STORY has learned.

The statement was made in a footnote to Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Government Management, in a letter from the Director of Defense Capabilities for the Government Accountability Office.

"For us to undertake such work would require the sponsorship of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence or the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence," wrote GAO official Derek Stewart. "While we have the authority to do such work, we lack the cooperation we need to get our job done in that area. As a result, unless and until we receive such cooperation, and given GAO's limited recourse, we will continue our long-standing policy of not doing work that relates directly to intelligence matters unless requested to do so by one of the select intelligence committees."

The GAO’s statement was found by Steven Aftergood, Director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. Aftergood says the GAO has repeatedly struggled to police intelligence, citing resistance from the CIA.

The announcement further complicates efforts to examine the work of US intelligence agencies in a time where they have been repeatedly criticized for failing in providing accurate intelligence on Iraq. Because Republicans control both Congressional intelligence committees, the policy means that intelligence reviews can only be conducted if a majority of Republicans on the Committees -- or the Republican chairman -- approves a request.

Paul Anderson, a spokesman for the GAO, said the policy was not new. He added that the agency had not been asked to conduct intelligence reviews.

“David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO, has expressed this position previously in congressional testimony, media interviews and other forums, as have other senior GAO personnel,” Anderson said in an email message. “We are willing to undertake reviews of the agencies in the Intelligence Community, but we have not been asked to do so by the relevant oversight committees."

Senate Intelligence Committee staff director Bill Duhkne said the Committee has its own process for evaluating intelligence.

"The Committee has its own internal Audits and Evaluations staff for the purposes of auditing intelligence programs," Duhnke said.

The Republican intelligence director said that the intelligence community has been cooperative with their requests.

"As is always the case between the branches of government, however, there are times when we disagree with the content and form of information provided the Committee," he added. "But, that is part and parcel of what is often a negotiated process between two separate branches of government with their own constitutional powers and responsibilities."

Many in Congress don’t even know the GAO can be tasked with examining intelligence, Aftergood says.

“Almost everything the intelligence community does is classified,” he said. “But the GAO has clearances.”

“The GAO could multiply the investigative staff of the committees by a very large factor,” he added.

Senate Intelligence Committee still struggling with Iraq

The GAO’s policy on intelligence oversight is especially pertinent now as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence continues their investigation into pre-war Iraq intelligence and statements made by Bush Administration officials prior to war. Partisan scuffles between Republicans and Democrats on the Committee, along with a decision by the Republican chairman to delay an inquiry into former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, have delayed the current probe.

“It may be that the Phase II investigation is so politically charged that the Committee would want to take it on itself,” Aftergood said. “If that were so, there are myriad other oversight tasks waiting to be done that the GAO could undertake. In other words, they could help share the oversight burden.”

“As they say in the letter last week to Senator Voinovich 'we have the authority to do such work but we lack the cooperation to get the job done,'” he added. “It’s not a question of authority, it’s a question of political will and direction.”

John Pike, Director of the defense watchdog GlobalSecurity.org, says he hopes the intelligence committees will avail themselves of the GAO’s resources.

“I would hope that the committees would make use of GAO in their oversight work, given the small size of their staffs and the general lack of information from other sources,” Pike told RAW STORY Monday. “The problem, of course, is that the word oversight means both oversee and overlook, and sometimes it seems there is too much overlooked and not enough overseen.”

Copyright 2006, RawStory.com