“If intelligence agencies are spying on Congress, they are circumventing oversight and usurping power from our elected leaders.”
by Keith Farrell
New allegations of CIA spying on members of Congress have surfaced, the implications of which are alarming. It has been alleged that Central Intelligence officers hacked into California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office computers over a disputed committee report on waterboarding. This is not the first allegation of such activity from US intelligence agencies. When questioned by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders this past January the NSA refused to deny it had spied on Congress.
There is a certain irony in the extralegal intelligence apparatus that Congress has built, empowered, and protected, turning on its masters. It is hard to be moved to sympathy for lawmakers like Feinstein who have their privacy violated, when they continue to justify spying on all Americans. Some might be attempted to shrug it off as Congress’s just deserts.
There is a more troubling concern, however. Congress is charged with oversight of these agencies. It stands to reason, that if intelligence agencies are spying on Congress, they are circumventing oversight and usurping power from our elected leaders. The potential for intelligence agencies to illegally gather information on Congressional procedures, meetings, investigations or legislation turns the idea of oversight on its head. Instead, an intelligence community which acts in an illegal manner can skirt oversight by knowing what oversight committees know and what they may be looking for.
The potential for blackmail also exists. When CIA Director David Patraeus resigned last year, rumors abounded that he had blackmailed by the Obama administration. While there was no substantive evidence to back up these claims, it is true that Patraeus had to resign not because of any social attitudes towards infidelity the country may hold, but because his extramarital affair made America’s head spy vulnerable to blackmail.
Consider the unscrupulous behavior of the many lawmakers who have suffered through public scandals concerning adultery, lewd conduct, or otherwise embarrassing conduct. Infamous cases include former Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s soliciting of sex in an airport bathroom, former Florida Representative Mark Foley’s sexually suggestive emails to underage congressional pages, and former North Carolina Senator John Edward’s cheating on his dying wife. Public knowledge of these legislator’s actions led to their disgrace and the loss of their political careers. Anyone possessing knowledge of such behavior by a politician would be in a position to blackmail that individual. Anyone in a position to blackmail a politician may be able to influence legislation or elections.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was right when he called the CIA’s actions a “serious constitutional breach” that “cannot happen in a free country.” Even the possibility that such activity is happening should alarm every American. The spying on Congress by intelligence agencies jeopardizes our democratic processes. It should be a chief concern of all lawmakers and the White House. Perhaps these developments will motivate Congress to rein in intelligence agencies. Americans could always hope, though minus considerable public pressure it seems unlikely.