A top lawmaker on the House intelligence committee said Sunday the Obama administration is withholding information about the botched Times Square bombing from Congress, continuing a pattern in which Capitol Hill isn't getting the information it needs to conduct oversight.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the panel's ranking Republican, said he agrees with the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate intelligence committee, who last week sent a letter to the White House accusing the administration of putting national security in jeopardy by failing to keep lawmakers apprised of the probe into suspect Faisal Shahzad.
"Having to fight over access to counterterrorism information is not productive and ultimately makes us less secure," wrote Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein and Vice Chairman Christopher S. Bond in a letter to President Obama on Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
The California Democrat and Missouri Republican said the lack of information has "caused serious friction in the relationship of the committee, on both sides of the aisle, and the executive branch."
Mr. Hoekstra said the lack of information prevents Congress from evaluating whether the government is adequately prepared to thwart future attacks.
"One of these days there will be an attack, it will be successful, and then people will want to know what was done and why weren't things done to stop it, and it will all be on the heads of this administration because they ran it and they didn't involve Congress in the process," he said. "On the most recent terrorist attacks they've given us no opportunity, no invitation to work with them, to enhance or modify our intelligence tools … and that we did everything we could to try to get them to work and be more open about it."
In the letter, the senators say U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly refused to provide relevant information on the Times Square case that would allow the committee to conduct oversight without hampering the ongoing investigation. Senate intelligence staffers were told that the Department of Justice had instructed the agencies not to convey information on the Times Square plot without its approval, they said.
The White House wouldn't comment on the charges, but a spokesman for the Justice Department said the department reached out to Congress "shortly after" the May 1 incident, providing information by phone and e-mail beginning on May 3.
Spokesman Dean Boyd said officials from the FBI, Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center provided a classified briefing to members of the House intelligence panel on May 6 and briefed their Senate counterparts on May 11. He also said the Justice Department did not tell intelligence officials not to cooperate with lawmakers.
"The Justice Department did not order anyone in the intelligence community to withhold information from the Senate intelligence committee in connection with the attempted bombing," Mr. Boyd said. "In fact, when the Justice Department was notified by certain intelligence agencies that they were planning to make calls to the House and Senate intelligence committees, the Justice Department encouraged those agencies to do so."
A spokeswoman for Rep. Silvestre Reyes, head of the House intelligence panel, said the Texas Democrat — the only one of his counterparts not to sign — was generally "pleased at the detailed level and the timeliness of the briefing, given we were briefed less than 72 hours after Shahzad's arrest."
Spokeswoman Courtney Littig said Mr. Reyes proposed some "minor edits" but did not sign on to the letter after the senators would not make them.
Congressional oversight of intelligence matters has long been a thorny issue in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In the case of the failed Times Square bombing attempt, in which a Pakistani native is accused of trying to detonate a sport utility vehicle, the senators said the Obama administration has refused to provide the panel with FBI reports widely circulated in the intelligence community. The senators said the "great majority" of their information came through sometimes-mistaken public press conferences and media accounts.
Mr. Boyd said Justice is "aware that in cases like this there is often a tension between the need to keep the appropriate Hill committees informed and the need to protect the integrity of the investigation and prosecution."
But, Mr. Hoekstra countered: "It's a joke when the administration says 'well, Justice, they're fully cooperating and they're telling everybody else to cooperate' but then they put handcuffs on them about what they can tell and actually share with us."
Dissatisfaction with the administration on oversight matters goes beyond the intelligence panels. Last month, Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, the top members of the Senate panel on homeland security, issued the administration its first congressional subpoenas over the Fort Hood shootings in Texas. Mr. Hoekstra argued that that case has documents — such as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's e-mails — that the administration could share with lawmakers without jeopardizing the investigation.
"They've got enough information to convict Hasan and probably send him to jail for the rest of his life; he killed 13 Americans in front of what, 100 people," Mr. Hoekstra said.
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