Congressional Research Service: Congress & President Never Share “Same Intelligence”


Senator Dianne Feinstein asked the Congressional Research Service to sort out President Bush’s claim that before the Iraq invasion, his office and the Congress shared the “same intelligence.”
To give you the punch line early, CRS’s answer to the President is that that is simply untrue.
According to the report:

The executive branch generally does not routinely share with Congress four general types of intelligence information:

the identities of intelligence sources;
the “methods” employed by the Intelligence Community in collecting and analyzing intelligence;
“raw” intelligence, which can be unevaluated or “lightly” evaluated intelligence, (18) which in the case of human intelligence (19) sometimes is provided by a single source, but which also could consist of intelligence derived from multiple sources when signals (20) and imagery (21) collection methods are employed; and,
certain written intelligence products tailored to the specific needs of the President and other high-level executive branch policymakers. Included in the last category is the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), a written intelligence product which is briefed daily to the President, and which consists of six to eight relatively short articles or briefs covering a broad array of topics. (22) The PDB emphasizes current intelligence (23) and is viewed as highly sensitive, in part, because it can contain intelligence source and operational information. Its dissemination is thus limited to the President and a small number of presidentially-designated senior administration policymakers. (24)

Furthermore, the CRS report outlines other “structural reasons”, many quite sensible in TWN’s view, why Congress does note receive routine access to certain intelligence.
Nonetheless, the claim that the President made rang hollow from the moment he uttered it.
From the report:

Reasons for Congress Not Receiving Routine Access to Certain Intelligence.
In not providing Congress routine access to source identities, executive branch officials cite the need to protect against “leaks” or unauthorized disclosure of information that the Intelligence Community generally considers to be the most sensitive in its possession.
As more individuals are briefed about sources, it is contended, the greater is the risk that this information will be disclosed, inadvertently or otherwise. Such leaks could jeopardize current or future access to possibly valuable intelligence, and endanger the lives of intelligence sources providing the information.
Executive branch officials similarly point to security-related concerns in explaining why Congress is not routinely provided intelligence methods, particularly collection methods. As in the case of source protection, officials argue that effective intelligence collection demands that the methods – human and technical — used to collect the intelligence be protected by limiting the number of individuals witting of those methods.
Officials, in part, also cite security concerns in withholding raw intelligence. Because raw intelligence sometimes is derived from a single source, the source is arguably more vulnerable to identification and ultimate exposure. Even when intelligence is collected from multiple sources, as is sometimes the case when signals and imagery intelligence collection efforts are employed, knowledge of those collection methods can sometimes be determined from the underlying raw intelligence.
They cite two additional reasons for restricting congressional access to raw intelligence. First, they contend that it would be “dangerous” if a Member of Congress were to gain access to, and possibly make policy decisions based upon, raw, unevaluated intelligence that has not been placed in context. Second, they argue that as a practical matter Congress lacks the physical capacity to securely store the volume of raw intelligence the Intelligence Community generates. (25)
Finally, executive branch officials restrict congressional access to written intelligence products — including the PDB — that are tailored to the needs of individual policymakers. They assert that it would be inappropriate to provide these products to Congress because they are tailored to the specific needs of individual policymakers, and often include information about the policymaker’s contacts with foreign counterparts, as well as the reactions of those counterparts. (26)
Although PDB consumers have access to all such intelligence, it should be noted that intelligence sources, methods and operational information historically have been tightly restricted within the executive branch, as well. Intelligence Community analysts, for example, have rarely if ever have had access to such information. To the limited extent that they have, their access has been based largely upon their need to know the information for the purposes of conducting analysis. (27)
While congressional intelligence officials have not routinely requested access to the types of intelligence information discussed above, they have questioned the executive branch’s security concerns with regard to certain raw intelligence, noting that it generally is more widely available to executive branch officials. (28) Their comments suggest that they dispute whether Congress is less capable than is the Executive in its ability to evaluate and safeguard sensitive intelligence.

Three quick reactions to this logic on WHY national security intelligence is not more routinely shared with Congress.
First, while TWN believes that the logic outlined above is largely sensible, that doesn’t mean that there should not be constant efforts made to find management structures for intelligence that do allow greater Congressional access to this material because it would enhance the quality of information that feed into Congressional legislation and decisions. More efforts should be made to make sure that over time Congress sees more of this intelligence, not less — which is the case today.
Second, the concern about “raw intelligence” applies to members of the administration who see such “unpackaged” information as well. John Bolton, with the help of his CIA-employed chief of staff, became a consumer and a purveyor of raw intelligence in his role as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. There should have been an effort to curtail Bolton’s use and abuse of intelligence early in his tenure. The Vice President’s office also engaged in this abuse of access to unfiltered intelligence and committed the same serious mistakes that the administration fears Congress would make in their justification not to share this material with legislators. This makes no sense if the White House can’t police its own team on this front.
Third, in unique policy matters such as the decision to go to war when the lives of American men and women are being put on the line, the process of “routine” intelligence information management should be suspended.
The Executive Branch’s near-monopoly of control over the gathering, interpreting, and dissemination of intelligence must be accessible — fully — to Congress when there are matters of war and peace being weighed. Congress is an equal branch of government with an oversight duty over the Executive that requires it to be made aware of information that informs the President in this high-stakes matters.
Congress must re-assert its rights on this front and knock back the naturally expansive powers of the presidency.
Executive privilege should be suspended after it becomes clear that the White House deceived the American public. Furthermore, President Bush’s claim that the war against Iraq was justified even if the intelligence on WMDs had shown that Hussein’s WMD arsenal was empty is enough for Congress to compel the White House to more systematically share intelligence in all national security matters.
The President was given a mandate for the “possibility of going to war”, among other options, based on intelligence estimates about Iraq’s capabilities. For Bush to say that the intelligence wouldn’t have mattered one way or another is an outrageous and unacceptable admission.
The continued fabrications and spinning that come out of the White House about why it was justified to kill tens of thousands of Iraqis and American soldiers in this “war of choice,” as Richard Haass has called it, should disgust most Americans. President Bush and Vice President Cheney have deeply damaged the power, status and moral credibility of the United States.
I have some confidence that some serious moderate Republicans are crafting a “successor regime” to Bush that will try to change the course Bush has set. But it’s also important for Democrats to get into this game.
Jack Murtha opened a door, and Senator Reid’s Rule 21 move was a good one to keep the American conversation on the question of the White House’s use and abuse of intelligence — but frankly, we are still waiting for a cohesive, compelling national security vision from leading Democrats that indicts this White House for its errors and gives American citizens confidence that Dems might get it right if they get the helm in 2009.
— Steve Clemons