The Bush administration was running several intelligence programs, including one major activity, that it kept secret from Congress until whistle-blowers told the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, the committee’s chairman said on Sunday.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said on Fox News Sunday he had written a four-page to President George W. Bush in May warning him that the failure to disclose the intelligence activities to Congress may be a violation of the law.
In doing so, he confirmed a story that first ran in Sunday editions of the New York Times.
“I take it very, very seriously otherwise I would not have written the letter to the president,” Hoekstra said.
“This is actually a case where the whistle-blower process was working appropriately and people within the intelligence community brought to my attention some programs that they believed we had not been briefed on. They were right,” said Hoekstra, a close ally of Bush.
“We asked by code name about some of these programs. We have now been briefed on those programs but I wanted to reinforce to the president and to the executive branch and the intelligence community how important by law is the requirement that they keep the legislative branch informed of what they are doing,” Hoekstra said.
The White House declined to comment directly on the allegations in Hoekstra’s letter. “We will continue to work closely with the chairman and other congressional leaders on important national security issues,” said Alex Conant, a White House spokesman.
Critics have charged that the Bush administration has a penchant for secrecy and has pushed its legal powers to the limit and possibly beyond in pursuing its “war on terror.” But Hoekstra’s complaint was particularly significant since it came from a strong supporter of the administration’s tactics.
Hoekstra complained in his letter to Bush that the U.S. Congress “simply should not have to play ‘Twenty Questions’ to get the information that it deserves under our Constitution.”
In the letter and the interview, Hoekstra did not provide details about the programs, which presumably remain secret.
Hoekstra had been briefed about both the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program and the Treasury Department’s tracking of international banking transactions, both of which were leaked to the media.
He said he did not expect to be briefed about everything intelligence agencies were doing but at least one of the secret activities was a major program which Congress definitely should have been informed about.
In the letter, Hoekstra said the lack of disclosure possibly constituted a “breach of responsibility by the administration, a violation of the law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the members of this committee who have so ardently supported efforts to collect information on our enemies.”
© Reuters 2006