Washington, DC – Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will be voting on the annual Intelligence Authorization Act, which controls the rules and oversight that govern the nation’s security agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency.

This year, Republican members of the Intelligence Committee have tried to restrict the authority of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), an independent agency that was established by Congress and is tasked with ensuring that civil liberties and privacy are considered and respected when the administration takes action to protect the nation from terrorism. Congressman Jim Himes (CT-4), a member of the committee, has offered a bipartisan amendment that would allow PCLOB to have access to information on covert operations that may be related to protecting the US from terrorism. 

“PCLOB exists to make sure that the government always respects the civil liberties of Americans,” said Himes. “However, the bill as it’s now written says that PCLOB can’t review any covert actions for civil liberty violations. I think that’s when oversight is needed most.”

Covert actions are those undertaken without public acknowledgement.  The 2013 death of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was targeted and killed in a drone strike, raised important questions about specific targeting and terms of engagement. The process and execution of the decision to treat an American citizen as an enemy combatant and to take his life is a huge exercise of power by the government, and should be treated very seriously, even if the underlying actions are covert.

“There are enormously important decisions being made every day,” continued Himes. “And when the decision is made to take the life of an American citizen in the name of our national security, we should have multiple layers of scrutiny. The PCLOB is entitled to view classified information and has always handled it carefully. It seems like it would be a natural fit for it to provide further review and oversight in these circumstances.”

The amendment is cosponsored by Democrat Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and Republican David Schweikert (AZ-06).