Pelosi: Most lawmakers unaware of spying.

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As House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi is briefed on many of the nation’s most closely held secrets.

But at a morning meeting with reporters Wednesday, Speaker Pelosi talked about the challenges faced by rank and file members of congressional committees supervising intelligence activities.  The issue is front and center given the raging debate over newly disclosed details about interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration Justice Department.

Missing a lot

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"When I was an ordinary member of the intelligence committee, I thought I was being briefed,” Pelosi said at the Monitor-sponsored gathering in her ornate conference room on the second floor of the Capitol. “Until I became the ranking member, I didn’t really know there was so much more that was going on that members of the intelligence committee really did not have a clue about because it was confined to only the chair and ranking member in the House and in the Senate. And you could not share any of that information.”

Even when a member of Congress is fully briefed, “you can’t talk about it to anybody and sometimes not even your lead staff person because that person is not allowed in the room. And worse than that, you cannot share it with other members. So I think the process would be much more wholesome the more members of the intelligence committee have access,” to a full range of information, the Speaker said.

Opening up a bit

There has been some progress, she said. “Now they have opened it up a little bit but not to my satisfaction in terms of decisions that have to be made by this committee without the full strength of information as to what is actually going on.”

The Speaker’s criticism was echoed by Vicki Divoll, general counsel of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2002 and a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) lawyer. She was kept in the dark about the controversial interrogation techniques which recently have been revealed. Ms. Divoll told the New York Times that due to restricted congressional briefings, “The very programs that are among the most risky and controversial, and that therefore should get the greatest congressional oversight, in fact get the least.”

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