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Congressional Tension Revealed in CIA Files

Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images
Former CIA Director Porter Goss, who also chaired the House Intelligence Committee for seven years, knows the tension between lawmakers and intelligence agencies firsthand.

In the seven years that Porter Goss chaired the House Intelligence Committee, the Florida Republican thought he was getting all the information he needed from the CIA to do his job.

After he left Congress in 2004 to become CIA director, he found out he wasn't getting the whole story at all.

"I was told some things as chairman of the oversight committee, that when I got to be director of CIA, weren't quite exactly as they had been explained to me," Goss said. "That did cause some kerfuffle. There were some people sailing a little bit close to the wind in how they were sharing information with the overseers, and I called them on it."

That information divide between Congress and the executive branch on the affairs of spies, relayed by Goss at an event last week to commemorate the CIA's declassification of papers from the first four directors of central intelligence, illustrates a broader tension between lawmakers and intelligence agencies as a whole.

Yet while Congressional intelligence panels need help from the executive branch to be effective at evaluating spy operations, the executive branch needs Congress to help it with its cloak-and-dagger ambitions.

This dynamic has played out since the CIA's creation.

For example, one of the reasons Lt. Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg was selected to lead what was then the Central Intelligence Group in 1946 was because his uncle was a powerful Republican Senator and "could help smooth the way for legislation that would put central intelligence on a sound legal footing," Tracy Rich, a CIA historian, wrote in an introduction to the newly released declassified documents. Congress did so in 1947 with passage of the National Security Act.

Some of the declassified papers show behind-the-scenes maneuvering to win over Congress on topics from draft legislative proposals to congressional testimony.

Gen. Michael V. Hayden said that, as a CIA director trying to relate to Congress, he had to deal with two sets of "tectonic plates," but that the most difficult to contend with were the ones that dealt with separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

"One set of plates was labeled 'Republican' and 'Democrat,' and particularly in the 110th Congress, from '07 to '08, with a weakened Republican president and Democrats in control of both houses and everyone having an eye on the election, those two tectonic plates were really banging," said Hayden, now a principal with the Chertoff Group, a security consultancy. "The other two plates, the ones that really affect you, are labeled 'Article I' and 'Article II,'" he said, referring to the constitutional sections governing legislative and executive authority.

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