How the Nunes memo harms intelligence oversight

It will be hard for anyone who has read the Nunes memo to regard the committee’s output as nonpartisan now. And by crying wolf about intelligence abuses with no serious evidence, Nunes and his enablers have made it far easier for America’s spy agencies to dismiss any future allegations, however meritorious, as yet another self-serving partisan distraction: at best, baseless conspiracy theorizing; at worst, an effort to obstruct legitimate investigations…

In principle, the intelligence community is obligated to submit to robust oversight by Congress. In practice, it has always enjoyed enormous ability to gum up the process—slow walking the process of making classified material available and lading it with access restrictions when it is finally produced. A sufficiently determined committee can often pry the information it needs loose eventually, but such determination has often been lacking. As Stanford University’s Amy Zegart has documented, the intelligence committees appear much less productive than their counterparts, holding far fewer hearings and considering fewer legislative proposals.

Moreover, the committees are ultimately dependent on the intelligence community itself to direct their attention to areas that demand further scrutiny—whether in the form of official briefers, or whistleblowers who approach members with their concerns. Neither type is likely to repose much confidence in a committee that seems so enthusiastic to make a partisan circus of its grave task.