Tim Starks

Changing of the Guard on Oversight Panels

Congress lost several of its titans of aggressive, bipartisan oversight and investigation at the end of last year: the likes of Carl Levin, Tom Coburn and George Miller. Analysts say this continues a trend that, with the loss of tough questioners such as Henry A. Waxman and John D. Dingell, amounts to a brain drain for an art that has been on the decline since the 1970s.

A Pair of Opposites Kept the Heat On

Between 2008 and 2012, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin and Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn worked collaboratively as the leaders of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, despite Levin’s praise for government’s regulatory role and Coburn, nicknamed “Dr. No,” leaning so far to the right as to be libertarian.

Security Takeaways From the Loretta Lynch Hearings

The transcripts of the Senate Judiciary nomination hearings for Loretta Lynch from Wednesday alone run 63,928 words. Although immigration has been the top issue the attorney general nominee has faced, she also has talked about torture, cybersecurity, surveillance and terrorism suspect detention in military vs. civilian courts.

Here are the highlights, with one of her answers in full:

Feinstein Plans to Push for New Laws Stemming from CIA Torture Report

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., plans to push for fresh legislation stemming from her panel's report into the CIA's post-9/11 detainee interrogation practices, but she'll likely face an uphill climb because even Republicans sympathetic to criticisms of the CIA’s methods say there are no need for new laws.

Where National Security Is (and Mainly, Isn't) in 2014 Elections

When Iraq popped up this week as an issue in the Iowa Senate race between Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst based on her comments about troop levels in recent years, it marked something rare: an occasion where a national security debate surfaced in the 2014 elections for purely national security reasons.

Despite a whole host of places around the globe where security is a rising topic in the news — Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Russia — defense and foreign policy has largely been on the sidelines in congressional races. Even when it has been debated, it has usually been for other reasons, such as how it reflects on President Barack Obama’s performance. But because of that, and more, national security could still play a role in the 2014 elections.

Fight Night: Reid Intervenes to Get Visa for Boxer Diego Chaves

Between managing a busy pre-recess agenda, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., squeezed in some help for a boxer who needed a visa to be able to fight in the United States this weekend.  

Reid, a former boxer and avid fan of the sport, saved the day for Argentinian Diego Chaves, set to face off against Brandon Rios as the chief supporting bout of a split-site HBO card with Rios-Chaves headlining the part of the show at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.  

Defense Industry Funds Flow to Contenders for Key House Chairmanships

In politics, money flows to power. Apparently it flows to the potential for power, too.

Four of the top five candidates for the chairmanships of the House Armed Services and Intelligence panels have raised considerably more money this election cycle than they did at a similar point in 2012. The same four have also raised much more money from the defense industry than before – in some cases, more than doubling their takes.

Five Questions With Mark Dubowitz on Iran Nuclear Negotiations, Sanctions

Mark Dubowitz is executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish think tank, and a widely called-upon expert on sanctions and Iran’s nuclear program. He and Richard Goldberg, a former top aide to Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., recently released a report on what Congress should do in the event Iran comes to an agreement over its nuclear program with a group of countries known as P5+1 — talks that have a deadline of July 20 nearing.

In an interview with Five By Five, Dubowitz talked about the report, a little-discussed aspect of the negotiations that he considers the most important battleground for both sides and the effectiveness of sanctions overall, including those directed at Russia.

Five Questions With Rob Zitz of Leidos, on Cybersecurity

Rob Zitz has worked on national security for 35 years, 32 of them in the intelligence community, and now is a senior vice president at Leidos, the company that split last year with SAIC. It’s a top contractor for the Defense Department with nearly $6 billion in annual revenue.

Zitz spoke with Five By Five in an interview Friday about cybersecurity and the Department of Homeland Security. (Leidos has a number of prime contracts with DHS, some of which are related to cybersecurity, and Zitz is a former DHS official himself.) Here are some highlights:

Should Ex-Spies, Diplomats Be Able to Go Straight to Work for Shady Foreign Governments?

Two members of Congress — Republican Reps. Frank Wolf and Mike Rogers — have tried to make moves this year toward creating a “cooling off” period for former diplomats and intelligence officials before they can take jobs with shady foreign governments. But there’s some mystery in both efforts.

******

House Vote to Preserve A-10 Warthogs Leaves Air Force Holding Multimillion-Dollar Tab

A bipartisan group of 300 House members last week defied the wishes of both the Obama administration and Appropriations Committee leaders by voting to keep the Air Force’s venerable fleet of A-10 Warthog close-air support planes.

The Scary Iraq News, and U.S. Options

Iraq is reeling, with a terrorist group seizing the second biggest city, Mosul, and Kurds seizing another, Kirkuk. Yet no one agrees who’s to blame, or what can be done about it.

In Iraq

Osama Bin Laden Mission Skeptic to Head Spy Agency

A lesser-known Pentagon-housed spy agency that garnered some of the spotlight for its role in killing Osama bin Laden is about to be led by a man whose vocal dissent reportedly almost scuttled the operation entirely.

Fate of Iran Sanctions Bill Rests Largely With Reid

When Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday outlined the Senate agenda for the upcoming work period, he left out a bill that 59 members of his body are co-sponsoring: Iran sanctions legislation.

More than any single lawmaker, the Nevada Democrat has kept the sanctions bill at bay. By not scheduling it for the floor, he has averted a vote that very well might send the measure over to the House, where it would be assured of then being sent to the president’s desk.

Cybersecurity Bills Stymied by NSA Controversy

Passions are so high over the National Security Agency’s record collection programs that congressional turmoil over that issue has done collateral damage to another subject this year: cybersecurity legislation.

President Barack Obama’s executive order on cybersecurity early this year took last year’s most difficult cybersecurity topic in Congress — private sector security standards for industry owners of the most important computer networks — off the table, clearing the way for action on other kinds of legislation aimed at defending the nation’s digital infrastructure.

Coming Up: Congressional Showdown on NSA Wiretapping

The fight over the future of the National Security Agency’s phone record and Internet data collection programs had its first skirmish in the House in July, with a vote that nearly defunded the phone record initiative. And Congress has been building toward a prolonged — and potentially nasty — battle this fall and winter.

New shots could be fired as soon as next week. After some false starts, the Senate Intelligence panel is tentatively scheduled for a closed-door intracommittee showdown over draft legislation sponsored by panel leaders. Also next week, senior members of the House and Senate Judiciary panels are likely to roll out their own joint proposal, one committee aide said.

Action on Cybersecurity Likely Delayed Until 2014
Some lawmakers want to see president’s initiative first

Congress almost certainly won’t pass any kind of major cybersecurity legislation in 2013, according to industry officials, lobbyists and others who track the issue.

Protecting the nation’s cyber infrastructure has been a top priority for the White House and many lawmakers, but the legislative effort has been done in by fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks, a crowded congressional agenda, differing views over the role of the Department of Homeland Security and affiliated organizations, and a wait-and-see approach to an executive branch cybersecurity initiative that won’t be wrapped up until next year.

Congressional Inaction on Surveillance Prompted Leaks, Says Snowden

Edward Snowden, the man who publicly exposed several controversial National Security Agency programs, said Monday that he was inspired to leak the secrets because of spy agency leaders’ “lies” to Congress, and because congressional leaders did nothing about it.

Snowden’s remarks came during an online question and answer session on the Guardian newspaper’s website. He criticized both the national spymaster and the group of eight lawmakers who have access to information about the nation’s most classified spy operations.

Intelligence Oversight Split on Access Between Haves, Have-Nots

Lawmakers’ wildly conflicting accounts of how much they knew about newly leaked surveillance programs has cast a new glare on the difficulties of congressional oversight of intelligence and the stratified rules about which members and staffers can be briefed on what.

Lawmakers on the Intelligence committees and their experienced staffers have almost unlimited access to the most sensitive programs, although there are limits even then to how much scrutiny they can apply to spy operations.

House Approach to Cyber-Threat Bill Offers Clues to Fate in Senate

Backers of a controversial cyber-threat information-sharing bill overcame a White House veto threat and vocal criticism from privacy and civil liberties groups to push it through the House last month by a resounding margin.

Now, as the Senate begins to assemble its own bill, there are some signs in the House process of how it might go in the higher chamber — but there are also indicators of additional obstacles it will face.