Rogers, in a Saturday interview, rejected the complaints from critics, saying that he and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, have worked together to increase scrutiny of intelligence program budgets. The committee, he said, poses tough questions to agency officials and engages in spirited, behind-the-scenes debates over the bulk data program.
“You may not like the program, but we were doing plenty of oversight to make sure it was legal and constitutional,” he said.
Rogers said “very few members” take advantage of his invitations to receive quarterly staff briefings on counterterrorism operations, and others skipped briefings on the NSA bulk surveillance.
“If you have individual members who say they don’t have time to be on the intelligence committee, then I say get off the intelligence committee,” he said.
Ruppersberger said all members benefit from an expert staff and a push in recent years for greater bipartisanship on the panel. The issues are complex and time-consuming, he said, “but we have to learn them. We have to hold these agencies accountable, but we also have to give them the resources they need to protect our country.”
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who expressed anger that Congress was kept in the dark about interrogation and surveillance tactics under the George W. Bush administration, now feels that Congress has what it needs. He credits Feinstein and the Senate panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, for inviting every senator into the committee offices to examine classified materials.
“The intelligence oversight committees have kicked the tires on these programs very hard, with hearings and legislation and oversight, and the programs have overwhelming bipartisan support on these committees,” a Rockefeller spokeswoman said.
Congress’s 2011 reauthorization vote approved, at Obama’s urging, a four-year extension to the Patriot Act provisions, until June 2015. The reauthorization passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities, despite objections from civil liberties groups and a handful of lawmakers, including some who were fully aware of the telephone data collection and issued carefully worded yet vague warnings in public debate.