Last Thursday afternoon, the Senate was briefed in a closed hearing by the NSA, CIA, FBI, and assorted spying agencies. Only 47 of the 100 Senators showed up. They flew home instead. It was Father’s Day weekend.
The Senate is not all that concerned. It puts up the money for these agencies. The CIA and NSA have hidden budgets that common Senators and Congressmen are not allowed to see. The President always invokes national security as the reason for this secrecy.
The Wikipedia article on the NSA reveals that this has always been true.
The creation of NSA was authorized in a letter written by President Harry S. Truman in June 1952. The agency was formally established through a revision of National Security Council Intelligence Directive (NSCID) 9 on October 24, 1952, and officially came into existence on November 4, 1952. President Truman’s letter was itself classified and remained unknown to the public for more than a generation. A brief but vague reference to the NSA first appeared in the United States Government Organization Manual from 1957, which described it as “a separately organized agency within the Department of Defense under the direction, authority, and control of the Secretary of Defense […] for the performance of highly specialized technical functions in support of the intelligence activities of the United States.”
The article never mentions its annual budget. That’s because no one officially knows what it is. The Senate knows all this, and has never attempted to exercise control or jurisdiction. Neither has the House of Representatives.
The voters know nothing of all this. Only Edward Snowden has finally blown a little of the cover off the agency. But when its chief honcho came to Capitol Hill last week to blow smoke, only 47 Senators attended.
It makes for good politics to attend meetings that pretend to share information, but over half of the Senate knew where their time was better spent, politically speaking.
To paraphrase an old slogan of Soviet workers: “They pretend to tell us the truth, and we pretend to believe them.” Sometime, the pretense is just not worth half the Senate’s time.