TPM: Senate Intel Committee Blocks Former Staffer From Talking To Press About Oversight Process
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has taken the unusual step of actively blocking a former committee aide from talking to TPM about congressional oversight of the intelligence community. At issue isn’t classified sources and methods of intelligence gathering but general information about how the committee functions — and how it should function. The committee’s refusal to allow former general counsel Vicki Divoll to disclose unclassified information to a reporter was the first and only time it has sought to block her from making public comments, based on her experience as one of its most senior aides, since she left Capitol Hill in 2003.
The committee’s decision comes amid fallout from leaks of classified National Security Agency documents by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden. In light of the Snowden revelations about the country’s secret surveillance programs, TPM was reporting a story based on interviews with members of Congress and current and former aides about the successes and pitfalls of intelligence oversight on Capitol Hill. The goal was to answer some basic questions for readers: How does a classified process differ from public oversight? What challenges do the combination of government secrecy, classified briefings, and strict committee protocols present to legislators trying to control the nation’s sprawling intelligence apparatus?
Divoll served as a senior aide on the committee from 2000-2003, including two years as its general counsel. Before that, from 1995-2000 she was assistant general counsel for the Central Intelligence Agency, where she also served as deputy legal adviser to the agency’s Counterterrorism Center. After leaving the Senate, Divoll was a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics and an adjunct professor at the Naval Academy. She has been regularly cited by reporters in news stories, penned op-eds on counterterrorism and civil liberties, and appeared on television.
The ground rules for the interview were that it would be conducted off the record, but only temporarily, to give Divoll an opportunity to review the accuracy of the quotes she provided, and that those would be placed back on the record.
While Divoll remains legally barred from disclosing classified information, she is also still subject to a non-disclosure agreement with the Senate Intelligence Committee that bars her from discussing committee-sensitive business. Out of an abundance of caution, Divoll also conferred with the committee on Friday about her interview with TPM. She anticipated that the committee would approve the interview, noting that in her post-government career, both the committee and the CIA had never done more than request minor tweaks when she brought them pieces of her writing for pre-publication review.
This, she believed, would be a similar process.
But for the first time in her career, the committee took the extraordinary step, on a bipartisan basis, of declaring the interview’s entire contents a violation of her non-disclosure agreement and effectively forbade her from putting any of it on the record.
“The committee has reviewed your submission … and objected to any publication of the information contained therein,” she was told.
Perhaps the real reason why the did this is to show that the Senate is complicit in this whole mess, perhaps? It certianly wouldn’t be surprising, but still, you have to ask yourself-by actively doing the blocking, one has to ask-‘What are you hiding?”, remembering the old saw: ‘It isn’t the crime, but the cover-up’.