Congress Resurgent?

by Thomas E. Brewton

Will we have a reprise of the post Nixon-era Congressional invasion of the President's Constitutional powers that led, among other things, to eviscerating the CIA?

Congress is reassessing the President's Constitutional powers, as it did in the aftermath of President Johnson's Vietnam war and President Nixon's Watergate scandal.

The new Democratic Congressional majority are challenging the Constitutional powers of the President on the whole sweep of national security measures. They are particularly infuriated by President Bush's intention to deploy 17,000 or more new troops in Iraq, their ire augmented by the President's short-term ability to do so whether they approve or not.

Presidential wartime powers are succinctly delineated by the Constitution's Article II, Section 2: The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States…..

Counterbalancing this seemingly absolute Presidential authority is the Constitutional provision that all taxes and appropriations, including those for military purposes, are the prerogative of Congress.

In principle there is nothing wrong with Congress sparring with the President. The question is whether it is for domestic political advantage at the expense of our national security.

As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 48 (1788):

It is agreed on all sides, that the powers properly belonging to one of the departments ought not to be directly and completely administered by either of the other departments. It is equally evident, that none of them ought to possess, directly or indirectly, an overruling influence over the others, in the administration of their respective powers. It will not be denied, that power is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it. After discriminating, therefore, in theory, the several classes of power, as they may in their nature be legislative, executive, or judiciary, the next and most difficult task is to provide some practical security for each, against the invasion of the others.

Today's liberal-socialist-progressive agenda is an echo of the post-Vietnam turmoil.

In a New York Times op-ed article dated June 9, 2002, Loch K. Johnson laid out the liberal version: Until 1975, the nation's remedy for the tension between intelligence gathering and democracy was to trust the spymasters and hope for the best……This attitude underwent a dramatic turnabout in late 1974, when The New York Times reported on accusations of C.I.A. spying at home and questionable covert actions in Chile. Congress might have waved aside the revelations about Chile as another cold war episode. But spying on American citizens — on voters — was another matter altogether.

In January 1975 President Gerald Ford created the Commission on C.I.A. Activities Within the United States, to be chaired by [very liberal] Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Later that month the Senate established a select committee….. headed by Frank Church.

Congress was then also controlled by the Democrats. Senator Church's committee targeted the CIA's actions to combat the rise of communist regimes in Chile and Nicaragua. Following the instincts of 1930s liberals who supported Stalin in the face of his atrocities, liberal Democrats were more sympathetic toward socialist Latin American dictators than to our triumph in the Cold War.

In another parallel to their insistence today that our foreign policy be conducted through the UN, liberals in the 1970s and 80s opposed any military challenge by the United States to Soviet power.

The Church Committee's legislative restrictions on national security operations led to the destruction of the CIA's field agent capabilities under President Carter, reducing the agency to a group of desk-bound analysts writing papers based on third-hand reports and satellite photos from thousands of feet in the air. In hindsight it is no surprise that a neutered CIA gave the President inaccurate assessments of Saddam's WMD and failed to detect the gigantic oil-for-humanitarian-aid scam run by Saddam and the UN. And, without reliable CIA field agents, we were blind-sided by the Baathist and Iranian terrorist insurgency in Iraq.

In the vein of the Church Committee's pro-UN, anti-CIA bias, more destruction of intelligence capability came under President Clinton. Jean Pearce, in a article dated May 25, 2004, wrote:

As the 9/11 Commission tries to uncover what kept intelligence agencies from preventing September 11, it has overlooked two vital factors: Jamie Gorelick and Bill Clinton. Gorelick, who has browbeaten the current administration, helped erect the walls between the FBI, CIA and local investigators that made 9/11 inevitable. However, she was merely expanding the policy Bill Clinton established with Presidential Decision Directive 24.

…….First, the directive effectively neutered the CIA by creating a National Counterintelligence Center (NCI) to oversee the Agency. NCI was staffed by an FBI agent appointed by the Clinton administration. It also brought multiple international investigations underway at the time under direct administrative control.

……..The result was a massive bureaucratic roadblock for the CIA – which at the time had a vast lead on the FBI in foreign intelligence – and for the FBI itself, which was also forced to report to the NCOB. This hampered cooperation between the two entities.

……..A year after PDD 24, with the new bureaucratic structure loaded with administration appointees, Gorelick drafted the 1995 memo Attorney General John Ashcroft mentioned while testifying before the 9/11 Commission. The Gorelick memo, and other supporting memos released in recent weeks, not only created walls within the intelligence agencies that prevented information sharing among their own agents, but effectively walled these agencies off from each other and from outside contact with the U.S. prosecutors instrumental in helping them gather the evidence needed to make the case for criminal charges.

In another interesting parallel to liberals' obsession today with destroying George W. Bush, Pearce notes the domestic political motivation for Jamie Gorelick's road-blocking intelligence activities:

All this occurred at a time when both agencies were working separate ends of investigations that would eventually implicate China in technology transfers and the Democratic Party in a Chinese campaign cash grab.

With the liberal past as prologue, we have reason to fear that the task of Islamic jihad is about to become easier.

Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

His weblog is THE VIEW FROM 1776 [] ]

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