Congress Oversees the United States Intelligence Community, Second Edition


  • Author(s): Smist, Frank J., Jr.
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 1994-10-10
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $36.00 | Buy Now

Foreseeing conflict between the legislative and executive branches over the proper functions of government, the Founders of the United States built into the U. S. Constitution the checks and balances that Edwin S. Corwin called “an invitation to struggle.” Smist argues that congressional intelligence-oversight committees—such as Senator Church’s 1975-76 committee—can, by taking up this struggle, not only handle sensitive information responsibly but help shape rational foreign policy. When Congress is shut out of the intelligence process–as in President Carter’s abortive Iran rescue mission and Reagan’s Iran-Contra affair–the results can be catastrophic.

Smist’s detailed analysis of congressional oversight of U.S. intelligence from Pearl Harbor through Iran-Contra is based largely on his interviews with participants, including senators, representatives, and executive-branch officials. The analysis is informed by Smist’s dialectical model of “institutional” (conservative, supportive) versus “investigative” (radical, questioning) oversight, which allows him to uncover the frequently obscured historical value of previous Senate and House investigative committees. For example, the Pike committee, 1975-76, even though its final report was suppressed by the House, was able to elicit then Secretary of State Kissinger’s admission of presidential control over covert actions, thus shattering the doctrine of “plausible deniability.”

Because these committees continue to wrestle with the principles underlying government, their unfolding drama is meaningful for the student of constitutional history. This book provides new conceptual tools for the study of intelligence oversight and gives the direct testimony of key participants, making it important not only as political science but as history.

The Author: Frank J. Smist, Jr., is Director of Global Studies at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Missouri.