In commenting on our story this morning about the Senate intelligence committee invoking a non-disclosure agreement to prevent a former staffer from talking to us about the way congressional oversight of the intelligence community works — or doesn’t work — Steven Aftergood raises an additional point: “One problematic aspect of congressional oversight of intelligence that is not often addressed is the heavy, disproportionate representation of former intelligence community employees … among the professional staff of the oversight committees.”
On one hand, this is perfectly understandable since such former intelligence employees bring much-needed subject matter expertise to the task of oversight, along with an existing security clearance. On the other hand, they may also possess a narrow, compliant perspective and a set of personal interests that limit their effectiveness, particularly if they ever hope to return to the ranks of their former employers. Meanwhile, it is hard to think of an intelligence committee staff member who joined the committee following a career devoted to civil liberties, government accountability or personal privacy.
That’s not a smear of intel committee staff. It’s just another way in which the loop is closed. Tightly circumscribed oversight by undermanned committee staffs, many of whom were themselves once members of the intel community, goes to the same basic point: What we think of as congressional oversight is very different from the kind of oversight the intelligence community gets.