Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and John Cornyn (Tex.) accused Sen. John Kerry (D.-Mass.) of shirking his responsibilities by missing 38 of the 49 public meetings the Senate Intelligence Committee held between 1993 and 2000, when he served on the committee.
Because they are not public information, Cornyn called on Kerry July 29 to release his attendance records for the closed-door, classified meetings as well.
But Kerry’s absence from so many open hearings, combined with the common criticism–reinforced by the 9/11 commission report–that the quality of congressional oversight over intelligence has been poor, points to the broader question of just which committee members did routinely attend the highly classified closed-door meetings of the committee.
Members of nearly all other Senate committees routinely skip open meetings, or make only token appearances so that their presence is recorded.
A Senate Intelligence Committee spokesman told HUMAN EVENTS that attendance records for the closed-door meetings and hearings are “not public information. . . It would probably take a decision by the committee to actually release the attendance records.”
The spokesman added that this could happen if both Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R.-Kan.) and Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.Va.) agree to release them, since this would avoid turning the issue into a political fight. Neither senator’s office responded to inquiries from HUMAN EVENTS.
So, as it currently stands, it is unknown which members did, or did not, routinely attend the panel’s important closed hearings in the years leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2003 war in Iraq.
Although numerous commentators have criticized the CIA and the last two presidential administrations for intelligence failures, little has been made of the failure of congressional oversight.
For example, a 500-plus-page report released July 7 by the Senate Intelligence Committee shockingly notes something that members should have known before voting to invade Iraq. “The intelligence community did not have a single [human intelligence] source collecting against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs in Iraq after 1998,” it states.
If members did attend intelligence hearings and meetings faithfully, and asked appropriate questions they would have known this fact. If they frequently skipped classified meetings, hearings and briefings, that raises another issue altogether.
The 9/11 Commission’s report hints that members of the congressional intelligence committees could take their jobs more seriously. The report suggests that the committees–or, alternatively, a newly formed joint intelligence committee–“should be smaller–perhaps seven or nine members in each house–so that each member feels a greater sense of responsibility, and accountability, for the quality of the committee’s work.”
“Congressional oversight for intelligence–and counterterrorism–is now dysfunctional,” says the report. It also warns that the success of its other recommendations depend upon improved congressional oversight. “The other reforms we have suggested–for a National Counterterrorism Center and a national intelligence director–will not work if congressional oversight does not change too.” President Bush has already endorsed these other two recommendations.