The Big Question
So what is the "significant intelligence program" that's now slowly making its way into the public eye? That is the big question for the day. We now know that Rep. Pete Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, sent a strongly-worded letter (pdf) to President Bush back in May regarding an ongoing intel operation:
"I have learned of some alleged intelligence community activities about which our committee has not been briefed. If these allegations are true, they may represent 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." Hoekstra added "The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play Twenty Questions to get the information that it deserves under our Constitution."
Today we learn (from another NYT article) that a whistle-blower from within the intelligence community disclosed the program's existence to Hoekstra, which combined with the chairman's letter prompted a briefing from the Administration to the Intel Committee on the operations being undertaken. Hoeksta said on "Fox News Sunday" "Some people within the intelligence community brought to my attention some programs that they believed we had not been briefed on. They were right."
Hoekstra added "We can't be briefed on every little thing that they are doing, but in this case, there was at least one major - what I consider significant - activity that we had not been briefed on that we have now been briefed on. And I want to set the standard there, that it is not optional for this president or any president or people in the executive community not to keep the intelligence committees fully informed of what they are doing."
The Washington Post report on Hoekstra's statements yesterday notes that the chairman "appeared mollified." But, he reiterated "I wanted to reinforce to the president and to the executive branch and the intelligence community how important, and by law the requirement, that they keep the legislative branch informed of what they are doing."
If Hoekstra was concerned enough about this program to write such a stern letter to the President, my guess is this operation is a pretty big deal. It's good to see Hoekstra finally speaking out on these issues (better late than never), but I hope that he and his committee aren't "mollified" into complacency with a single briefing, and continue to assert their oversight power as we move forward.