The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has taken the unusual step of actively blocking a former committee aide from talking to TPM about congressional oversight of the intelligence community. At issue isn't classified sources and methods of intelligence gathering but general information about how the committee functions — and how it should function. The committee's refusal to allow former general counsel Vicki Divoll to disclose unclassified information to a reporter was the first and only time it has sought to block her from making public comments, based on her experience as one of its most senior aides, since she left Capitol Hill in 2003.
The committee's decision comes amid fallout from leaks of classified National Security Agency documents by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden. In light of the Snowden revelations about the country's secret surveillance programs, TPM was reporting a story based on interviews with members of Congress and current and former aides about the successes and pitfalls of intelligence oversight on Capitol Hill. The goal was to answer some basic questions for readers: How does a classified process differ from public oversight? What challenges do the combination of government secrecy, classified briefings, and strict committee protocols present to legislators trying to control the nation's sprawling intelligence apparatus?
Divoll served as a senior aide on the committee from 2000-2003, including two years as its general counsel. Before that, from 1995-2000 she was assistant general counsel for the Central Intelligence Agency, where she also served as deputy legal adviser to the agency's Counterterrorism Center. After leaving the Senate, Divoll was a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics and an adjunct professor at the Naval Academy. She has been regularly cited by reporters in news stories, penned op-eds on counterterrorism and civil liberties, and appeared on television.