Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Very well, but how do you pronounce 'Kltpzyxm'?"

"Former U.S. Representative Jane Harman, a Democrat who served on every major House security committee before resigning from Congress in 2011, said getting the right briefer can make a big difference in how much lawmakers learn.

"Sometimes these briefings are a game of 20 questions. If you don't ask exactly the right question, you don't get the answer," said Harman.

Senators are generally provided with more information than members of the House. Staffers said high-tech intelligence issues also are particularly difficult because computer-savvy staffers - on whom busy lawmakers rely - are often barred from classified sessions.
So they'll answer questions... provided you know which questions to ask. And if you're some doddering congressbeing, of the variety who has their staff send an internet through a series of tubes, and you're deprived of your flappers and factotums, the odds of your even knowing what to ask are somewhere between "slim" and "lololololol".

This is congressional overseeing in the same sense that Col. Klink and Sgt. Schulz were guarding a POW camp.


wolfwalker said...

So they'll answer questions... provided you know which questions to ask.

Unfortunately, that has always been and will always be a consequence of people with security clearances being forced to talk to people without. Operational Security is a rigid and unforgiving master. You don't say nothin' to nobody less'n ya have to, and even then you say as little as you can get away with. Nobody wants to be the guy who accidentally said something he shouldn't have and thereby caused Whole Lots of Trouble.

I agree with you that congressfolk should be exceptions to that rule, and I'd also say that every congressthing should have at least one staffer with a TS clearance precisely so they aren't on their own in these closed briefings. It's just that there's another side to the story. Breaking OpSec, even for the best of reasons, is like telling bald jokes around Lex Luthor. Do it at your own risk.

perlhaqr said...

"Look you snivelling little nerd, let me put this simply. Either tell us what in the everloving fuck you're actually doing, in small simple words that even I can understand, or we take away your fucking funding."

In other words, if you're the guy with the oversight, and the people you're overseeing are playing this "make you guess what you need to ask to get a meaningful answer" game, you need to have the cojones to actually do your goddamn job, Senator.

staghounds said...

Their jobs are keeping constituents happy so they get reselected to represent those constituents by keeping those constituents happy.

All that voting and overseeing stuff is relevant only as it applies to the next election.

Scott J said...

When you said "dottering, old Congressman" all I could think of was Hank "capsize Guam" Johnson.

Anonymous said...

I have done some of these for Congress critters and staff and I can tell you they generally have to be dumbed down quite a bit to keep them from glazing over. They were civics and pre-law majors, and they must have receive their gentleman/ladies "B" in science from their Ivy league school.

Their concerns in order are:
How does my party want me to vote?
How will this go over in my state?
Can I raise more money from this?


Boat Guy said...

Gerry's got it except the last question is actually the first.
Having staffers with clearances merely incraeses the liklihood of leaks - which have been bad enough in the OpSec department ( the Bin Laden Op anyone?)and nowhere near good enough in the domestic-spying arena. Remember Pelosi was briefed on waterboarding and other interrogation techniques when she was Speaker, LOVED it at the time and then claimed she'd never heard of it.
Of the 535 there are only about 40 who shouldn't be swinging from light poles on Constitution Ave.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

Perlhaqr beat me to it. I was going to suggest putting witnesses in a small room with nothing but a table, chair, legal pad, and writing implements. At that time they would be told, "Write down everything you know about this subject. And when we're satisfied with the results, we'll let you out to eat, drink, and use the restroom. But make no mistake, you're in this room until we decide we're satisified."

wv: eRcommi confines. Yes, I think all Commies should be confined.

Bubblehead Les. said...

Of course, it would help if the CongressCritters would actually SHOW UP for the Briefings, instead of hunting down the nearest Microphone and Bloviating in front of the Cameras....

Stretch said...

Having worked at REDACTED as well as REDACTED I know full well what EXPLETIVES DELETED most Congress Critters are.
One Senator (D,NY) insisted on a 0600 briefing. Why so early? He had a 0730 appearance on Good Morning America where he promptly spilled all the TS info he'd just received.
When the NRO buildings in Northern VA was exposed by the Washington Pravda both the House and Senate Intelligence (stop laughing!) Committees *demanded* to know why they hadn't been kept informed. DCI Tenet proceeded to read attendance rolls from briefings regarding the NRO building project. At many (most?) there were NO members and only a staffer or two.
"Oversight" is one of those tricky English words that has two opposing definitions. Our elected representatives can't seem to figure which they are suppose to be doing.

Matt said...

The best part about super-duper high level briefings to all high supreme beings is the fact that the breifer will often have little or no real knowledge of the topic being briefed. You get a talking show-pony, or whatever high ranking staffer or officer that decides face time will be good for their carreer. If it is a topic that could go bad and get ugly, then you might get the "disposable" briefer that might actually know what they are talking about.

Geodkyt said...

Prepped a few briefings in my time. Rarely is the guy with enough prestige to be considered a "prime time" briefer by the Congresscritters anyone who actually works on the program in question. So he is working off crib notes from the actual technical guys himself.

If you send the actual technical guys, you end up with people like me in the briefing room. The guy who finally dumbed down a flag level technical brief on topside antenna placement by saying, "Look, if we squeeze this Twinkie any harder, the creamy goodness will shoot out both ends."

(What? You can't put HF antennas less than 10m apart up and down the entire length of the hull? Color me surprised. [/sarc])

WV: "House anageek" -- "Tonight's enterntainment is _House_ on the TV anageek on the couch."

Matthew said...

Nice reference on the 75th anniversary Tam, and kudos to wolfwalker for carrying the theme.

Anonymous said...

In Oz 70+% of lawmakers have law degrees and have only studied science at a very low level in in high school. Anything scientific goes right over their heads and they get bored with it so don't bother attending committee meetings (although they happily accept the extra $20,000/year they are paid.

Being lawyers they think differently to mere mortals; they see everything as having a definite yes/no answer.

I once taught a lawyer from our largest territory in a basic health for administrators uni course and gave him an assignment of 5,000 words on asbestos and disease. Did I mention he was health minister?

After completing the assignment he was honest enough to come up and tell me that he now realised the asbestos removal program he had championed and successfully completed was totally unnecessary. The program cost over their$1,000 for every man, woman and child living in the territory.

I once visited a state health minister's home and noted that he had extensive library containing mostly books on politics. Not a single book on healthcare could be seen evdnafter 8 years as health minister.

Some times I think only the mentally ill have a grip on reality.

Mike (sadly) in Oz.

markm said...

Mike: That health minister is a perfect example of Pournell's Iron Law of Bureaucracy.