Horn assails CIA for withholding systems security data

Horn assails CIA for withholding systems security data

By Dawn S. Onley

GCN Staff


JULY 18—A House subcommittee, fuming at the CIA's refusal to participate in a recent computer systems security questionnaire, today began discussions on whether that refusal jeopardizes effective supervision of the agency.

Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) said the CIA should not be exempt from providing the legislature critical information on security plans and policies for its classified systems. He said every other agency'including other members of the intelligence community'has reported that information to the Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations.

'The agency is assaulting Congress's constitutional responsibility to oversee executive branch activities,' Horn said. 'The CIA believes it is apparently above that basic principle in our Constitution. We do not agree.'

CIA director George Tenet did not attend the hearing, but sent a letter explaining his reasons for the noncompliance. Among them was a recent change in House rules that he said gives the House and Senate Permanent Select Committees on Intelligence exclusive oversight of the CIA's sources and methods. The only other body with oversight authority is the agency's inspector general, he said.

Tenet also said the CIA participates in hundreds of House committee briefings each year, as long as they don't involve divulging sources and methods of how the agency does business.

The questionnaire on classified computer system threats sought to do just that, Tenet's letter contended.

'Although we did not answer directly the information systems security questionnaire you sent me, we did advise you that computer security has been and is a top intelligence community priority,' Tenet wrote. He added that 'the IC continues to develop innovative security policies, controls and tools' and is 'pursuing four initiatives 'to maximize intelligence sharing while protecting IC infrastructure, sources and methods, and data integrity.'

Former CIA director R. James Woolsey; Henry L. Hinton Jr., managing director for Defense Capabilities and Management for the General Accounting Office, and Lee Hamilton, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center, were among the witnesses in today's hearing.

Both Hamilton and Woolsey agreed the subcommittee should work on improving the existing system, but added that oversight on intelligence agencies has been a tough task for decades.

'I think the system that we have certainly needs improvement, but be careful not to throw it out unless you have something better,' Hamilton cautioned.

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