Democracy depends on the primacy of the rule of law. Those who exercise power on behalf of the state must be accountable to citizens through the laws they allow their representatives to pass and, in the United States, through the Constitution that sets the rules everyone, both citizens and government, must live by. History has shown us time and again that when security organizations answer directly to an individual, rather than to the government and its Constitution, democracy is endangered. That is why one of Protect Democracy’s key concerns is making sure that our law enforcement and national security agencies maintain their independence from the President and remain accountable to the Constitution and oversight by the Legislative and Judicial Branches of our government.
That is why we are so concerned by recent reports in BuzzFeed, The Intercept, and CNN that the White House and the CIA have received proposals regarding private intelligence networks that would supplement or supplant work currently done by Intelligence Community professionals under processes established by Congress.
We have asked the Inspectors General of the CIA and the National Intelligence Community to investigate these troubling reports. We have also sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the CIA, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Justice’s National Security Division regarding these proposals.
Citizens and the Intelligence Committees of our Congress should also be asking questions about these proposals:
- Are the media reports true? Have officials in our CIA and White House met with private individuals and considered proposals to form private intelligence-gathering agencies that would have, as one of their objectives, carrying out a political agenda on behalf of the President? What kinds of powers would these agencies have? Where would they operate? What kinds of government information would these agencies be permitted to access?
- The power of the purse enables Congress to check the power of the Executive Branch. To that end, how would this private security network be funded? If federal funds have been used, where have they been appropriated and for what purpose? Is the Executive Branch complying with the Anti-Deficiencies Act?
- Congress typically decides what security agencies we will have and what their powers will be. Does the National Security Act of 1947 or any other federal law allow the White House or the CIA director to establish a private intelligence-gathering agency?
- Professional federal intelligence officers swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. Would this proposed private security network be subject to the Constitution and laws that govern the professional intelligence community? Or would it operate outside of the legal framework that ensures the intelligence community’s accountability to the public?
- Functioning democracies depend on accurate, reliable, and objective facts and data for the government to do its work and for citizens to hold government accountable. Would information gathered by this private security network be subject to review and validation by intelligence-community professionals before being presented to national security decisionmakers?
The answer to these questions could not be more crucial, as the work of our intelligence community is not only central to the security of our people, but is often the basis on which our leaders decide questions of war and peace. In a democracy, citizens must have the ultimate control over those decisions, which we cannot maintain if our security agencies do not answer to us.