Last week, The Washington Post unveiled a long investigative series on “Top Secret America”—the sprawling, often dysfunctional surveillance-industrial complex that has ballooned into a $75 billion cash cow for private contractors since the 9/11 attacks. It was a disturbing portrait of chaos and inefficiency in the sector tasked with protecting Americans from terror—the kind of journalism one would expect to spur demands for more vigorous oversight.
Yet even as the first installment in the Post series was rolling off the presses, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence announced that it had rejected an almost embarrassingly modest reform aimed at improving intel oversight. Under the threat of a veto by President Obama, the committee stripped from its version of the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act a provision that would have clarified the authority of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review U.S. intelligence agencies. If Congress and the Obama administration cannot manage even this small step—which should be a no-brainer, given GAO’s proven record of both expertise and discretion—there is little hope of fixing the portrait of dysfunction painted by the Post.