Intelligence Showdown, Part II: Where are Loud Liberals When You Need Them?

Now that we’ve had the fuss about FISA, how about a little fuss about Bush’s threat to veto a bill to improve Congressional oversight of secret operations?

Last week, Barack Obama got an earful from liberals when he voted for the FISA bill, which granted limited immunity to telecom companies who allegedly (read: probably) engaged in the president’s warrantless wiretapping program. I understand the arguments. But I also suspect most of those who howled in protest never actually read the bill. If they had, they would have seen, as Obama himself did, that the FISA legislation also included substantial improvements over W’s Wild West wiretapping era. It strengthened Congressional oversight, streamlined procedures to make the whole process more workable (and circumventing it less likely), increased the role of the courts rather than leaving some decisions to the Attorney General, and enhanced independent oversight by inspectors general.

Today, the Bush administration threatened to veto another intelligence bill, one that has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Why? Partly because it improves Congressional oversight by demanding that ALL intel committee members, not just the chair and ranking member, get briefed on all secret operations. Vetoing a bill that helps Congress do its job on vital matters of national security — now that’s something to howl about.

Author: Amy Zegart

Amy Zegart is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. She is also a faculty affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and a professor of political economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (by courtesy). Her research examines national security agencies, American foreign policy, and anything scary. Academic publications include two award-winning books: Spying Blind, which examines intelligence adaptation failures before 9/11, and Flawed by Design, which chronicles the evolution of America’s national security architecture. She is currently working on a book about intelligence in the post-9/11 world. Zegart writes an intelligence column at, and her pieces have also appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. Previously, she taught at UCLA and worked at McKinsey & Company. A former Fulbright Scholar, she received an A.B. in East Asian Studies from Harvard and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford. A native Kentuckian, she loves to watch good college football and bad reality TV.