CRS on Intelligence Access

Via Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo:

By virtue of his constitutional role as commander-and-in-chief and head of the executive branch, the President has access to all national intelligence collected, analyzed and produced by the Intelligence Community. The President’s position also affords him the authority – which, at certain times, has been aggressively asserted (1) – to restrict the flow of intelligence information to Congress and its two intelligence committees, which are charged with providing legislative oversight of the Intelligence Community. (2) As a result, the President, and a small number of presidentially-designated Cabinet-level officials, including the Vice President (3) – in contrast to Members of Congress (4) – have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information, including information regarding intelligence sources and methods. They, unlike Members of Congress, also have the authority to more extensively task the Intelligence Community, and its extensive cadre of analysts, for follow-up information. As a result, the President and his most senior advisors arguably are better positioned to assess the quality of the Community’s intelligence more accurately than is Congress. (5)

In addition to their greater access to intelligence, the President and his senior advisors also are better equipped than is Congress to assess intelligence information by virtue of the primacy of their roles in formulating U.S. foreign policy. Their foreign policy responsibilities often require active, sustained, and often personal interaction, with senior officials of many of the same countries targeted for intelligence collection by the Intelligence Community. Thus the President and his senior advisors are uniquely positioned to glean additional information and impressions – information that, like certain sensitive intelligence information, is generally unavailable to Congress – that can provide them with an important additional perspective with which to judge the quality of intelligence.

Congressional Research Service: Congress as a Consumer of Intelligence Information

Anyone still want to claim that the Congress saw all the same intel that the White House did?

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Daniel J. Wilson

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