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House intelligence chair says lack of surveillance briefings may have broken law

[JURIST] US Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) [official website], chairman of the House Intelligence Committee [official website], said that the Bush administration may have violated the law by failing to brief the committee on intelligence activities, in a May 18 letter [PDF text] to President Bush that was first disclosed in the New York Times Saturday. In his letter to President Bush, Hoekstra wrote:

Finally, Mr. President, but perhaps most importantly, I want to reemphasize that the Administration has the legal responsibility to "fully and currently" inform the House and Senate Intelligence Committees of its intelligence and intelligence-related activities. Although the law give you and the committees flexibility on how we accomplish that (I have been fully supportive of your concerns in this respect), it is clear that we, the Congress, are to be provided all information about such activities. I have learned of some alleged Intelligence Community activities about which our committee has not been briefed. In the next few days I will be formally requesting information on these activities. If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the Administration, a violation of law, and just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the Members of this committee who have so ardently supported efforts to collect information on our enemies. I strongly encourage you to direct all elements of the Intelligence Community to fulfill their legal responsibility to keep the Intelligence Committees fully briefed on their activities. The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play 'Twenty Questions' to get the information that it deserves under our Constitution.
Though Hoekstra has not elaborated on the specific intelligence activities mentioned in the letter, officials have said that he was not referring to the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] or the CIA finance tracking program [JURIST report].

In an interview on Fox News Sunday [podcast], Hoekstra said that he wanted to "reinforce" the importance of requirements that Congress be briefed on intelligence activities. He also said that he wants to "set the standard" so that this and future administrations do not attempt to keep intelligence activities secret from the legislature. Hoekstra reportedly learned of the still publicly undisclosed program through an informant in the intelligence community and later confronted the Bush administration about the intelligence program. AP has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.

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