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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Classified intelligence bills often are unread

Nearly all members of the House of Representatives opted out of a chance to read this year's classified intelligence bill, and then voted on secret provisions they knew almost nothing about.

The bill, which passed by 327 to 96 in April, authorized the Bush administration's plans for fighting the war on terrorism. Many members say they faced an untenable choice: Either consent to a review process so secretive that they could never mention anything about it in House debates, under the threat of prosecution, or vote on classified provisions they knew nothing about.

Most chose to know nothing.

Only about a dozen House members scheduled time this year to read the classified sections of the intelligence bill, according to a House Intelligence Committee spokesman. The estimate dovetailed with a Globe survey sent to all members of the House, in which the vast majority of the respondents -- including eight out of 10 in the Massachusetts delegation -- said they typically don't read the classified parts of intelligence bills.

``It's a trap," said Representative Russ Carnahan, Democrat of Missouri, referring to the rule that members must refrain from discussing items in the bill. ``Either way, you're flying blind."

The failure to read the bill, however, calls into question the vows of many House members to provide greater oversight of intelligence in the wake of pre-9/11 failures, mistakes about Iraq's weapons capability, and revelations about spying on Americans.

Classified intelligence bills often are unread
Susan Milligan, The Boston Globe, August 6, 2006

Kudos to Susan Milligan for a great report. And there is a lot more at stake here than some House members' vows. What is at stake is the democratic process itself. How can this be called representative democracy when our democratically elected (well, at least we hope so, Diebold equipment notwithstanding) Representatives fail to even read what they vote on?

As I have said earlier the classification system currently in place is deeply flawed. I don't think there ought to be any classification restrictions imposed on the members of Congress. Obviously some matters ought to be only discussed behind the closed doors but nothing that the Representatives vote on should be secret to them.

And by voting on bills whose content they do not know the Representatives have effectively abbrogated their responsibilities. And at this point we need to either disband the Congress and stop wasting taxpayer dollars on paying those who deliberately sabotage their work - or we need to see a Congress that absolutely demands that its authority be respected.

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