Since the approval of the National Security Act of 1947, the American intelligence community (IC) has undergone a variety of structural and functional changes to better serve the needs of the executive. Although all of the 16 intelligence agencies which operate today are subordinate to the President, they also remain accountable to members of Congress. Congressional oversight committees therefore operate to ensure a proper balance is maintained between successful espionage operations and democratic openness. My intention is to review the evolution of the IC and determine what influences how effectively the executive branch facilitates congressional oversight of intelligence. Through this process, I also plan to objectively address the type of relationship that should now be cultivated between spy agencies and lawmakers in a world confronted with increasingly complex and diverse transnational security issues.
The importance of intelligence oversight (and related research) cannot be overstated, since such measures of accountability ensure the preservation of fundamental democratic principles. In regards to foreign intelligence activities, congressional oversight certifies that the United States pursues its national interests abroad while still upholding American values; from a strategic perspective, these committees also seek to align proposed foreign policy objectives with available national means (i.e. money, resources, time, and personnel). More importantly, congressional oversight committees monitor domestic counterintelligence operations to weigh national security concerns against protection of American civil liberties.
Through this research piece, I intend to test the merits of three competing hypotheses. In simple terms, I want to investigate whether partisanship (H1), institutional factors (H2), or issues (H3) best determine/influence the manner in which the executive interacts with congressional intelligence committees. Specifically, the analysis will target presidential administrations which served under the following circumstances: serving within a divided government, during one-party control of government, through a time of peace and finally during a period of elevated national threat.
This topic became of interest to me after the Air Force Academy sent me to work with the State Department’s bureau of Intelligence and Research this past summer. I am hoping to use some of my contacts from this period to speak with members of different intelligence agencies to gain their perspective on the issue. I am also going to try and speak with a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence or the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, focusing my questions on the current process of accountability rather than on specific issues.
I would appreciate any insight you may have on this topic and I look forward to speaking with everyone leading up to our meeting in November!
– Cadet First Class Tyler Glaze, United States Air Force Academy