Congress quietly holds classified briefings on Iran as Democrats seek access to intelligence

Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Thursday June 22, 2006

In an effort to stave off what appears to be a Congressional blackout by the Bush administration with regard to Iran intelligence and policy, Senate Democratic leaders introduced the Iran Intelligence Oversight Act on Monday.

The amendment indicates that few in Congress have received access to US intelligence on Iran. Democrats' comments also signal that key lawmakers have yet to be briefed with regard to Administration policy.

It's difficult to determine who has been briefed on any portion of the administration’s Iran policy because of the secretive nature of the Bush administration.

As such, both Republicans and Democrats have taken to holding their own briefings, inviting experts to give their opinion as outsiders looking in. Congressional staffers, intelligence and military officials confirmed to RAW STORY that these ad hoc briefings are part of an effort by Congress to learn what the Executive Branch is doing with its foreign policy. The briefings, however, are treated as classified and no information is available on who has attended or what has been discussed.

According to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Congress has not been briefed on an offer to help Iran develop some nuclear technologies if they abandoned plans to enrich uranium.

"To the best of my knowledge, Congress has not yet been briefed on any of the key details of the deal offered to Iran a few weeks ago," Reid said on the Senate floor this week. "The Iranians have been briefed, the Europeans have been briefed, the Russians have been briefed, the Chinese have been briefed -- but not the U.S. Senate."

Senator Reid's Director of Communications, Jim Manley, wrote in an email to RAW STORY Wednesday that he could not comment on what Senator Reid had been "briefed on or not briefed on." As Minority Leader, Reid is one of the Gang of 8, the eight members of Congress with top-level intelligence clearances.

Reid's bill S.3536, introduced on the Senate floor Monday, assails the Republican-led Congress for what he sees as a lack of oversight and the body’s demotion to a "rubber stamp" for Administration policies. In his floor speech, Reid painted the Legislative branch as impotent and weakened by an over-reaching Executive branch.

"All of us are painfully aware of this Congress's unwillingness to hold this administration accountable for its mistakes and misjudgments," Reid stated. "There has been virtually no oversight on anything."

Specifically, Reid pointed to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s failure to complete the Phase II investigation into pre-war Iraq intelligence and the role of the Defense Department’s secretive Office of Special Plans.

"Nearly three years into its investigation of the White House's politicization of Iraq intelligence, we still don't have a report," the Nevada Democrat remarked.

Iraq intelligence probe continues
In response to inquiries by RAW STORY about Phase II last week, Wendy Morigi –- Communications Director for Senator Rockefeller (D-WV), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee –- said that "the committee continues its work on Phase II and hopes to complete it as soon as possible."

"One of the key sections, however," she said, "which was to review the office of former Undersecretary [of Defense for Policy] Doug Feith, has been postponed by the Chairman until the Pentagon IG completes its own investigation."

Republican leadership at the committee did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this article.

As previously reported by RAW STORY, the White House issued an order to all Department heads shortly after the September 11 attacks restricting intelligence and law enforcement information to only eight members of Congress. The order sent to the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, the FBI, the State Department and Bush's cabinet members severely curtailed intelligence oversight by restricting classified information to the House and Senate leaders of both parties and the chairmen and ranking members of the intelligence committees.

"The only Members of Congress whom you or your expressly designated officers may brief regarding classified or sensitive law enforcement information," he writes, "are the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Intelligence Committees in the House and Senate."

"Senator Reid is going to offer this amendment because, after so many mistakes in Iraq, it is clear that Congress must act to prevent the same mistakes from happening with Iran,” Manley wrote RAW STORY.

Reid’s Iran Intelligence Oversight Act, also co-sponsored by Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) lays out a process for sharing information with Congress.

The act would require an updated national intelligence estimate on Iran, and that an unclassified summary be made available. It would also require the President to report to Congress his objectives and policies regarding Iran, and the Director of National Intelligence to report the vetting and clearing of statements by senior Administration officials that are drawn from intelligence, including misstatements of intelligence made in public statements by senior officials.

"The legislation I am introducing today would put in place the rigorous oversight necessary to hold the administration accountable for its rhetoric and its all too frequent tendency to spin and distort the facts," Reid said Monday.