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Posted at 6:45 PM ET, 01/ 3/2011

Will Michele Bachmann go rogue on intel panel?

By Jeff Stein

“Well, this ought to work out well,” a longtime Capitol Hill observer e-mailed me last month, chortling over news that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) had been named to the House intelligence committee.

Indeed, liberal pundits have been cackling over the appointment since the tea party icon announced it on her Facebook page in mid-December, not long after she had made news with her specious charge that “the president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day."

A poll taken by Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning truth squad of the St. Petersburg Times, named it the second “biggest lie of the year.”

Some people think we can expect even more fireworks from Bachmann now that she's on the intelligence committee.

By October, cracked The Dallas Morning News’s Carl Leubsdorf, the House will censure the loquacious Minnesotan “for leaking Intelligence Committee documents to Fox News commentator Sarah Palin.”

Bachmann, who declined to be interviewed, said last month that it “was a leading desire of mine to serve on this panel because of the key role it plays in keeping our nation safe.”

But her penchant for seeking the spotlight with outrageous charges, observers say, is inimical to membership on the secretive panel, whose meetings are almost entirely behind closed doors and highly classified.

In the past, says David M. Barrett, author of the authoritative “The CIA and Congress,” committee chairmen “discreetly excluded” members they didn't trust from “occasional key interactions with CIA leaders.”

“But I doubt that that is as feasible in the modern era when members of congressional committees consider themselves to have rights and (in contrast to the old informal CIA subcommittees), committees presumably have procedures that must be followed by chairs and ranking minority members,” he said.

A senior CIA official who spent a lot of time with the congressional oversight panels before retiring a few years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, however, predicted Bachmann would quickly become bored.

“Most of the members take very little interest since the work is not in the public eye so there is no TV time, there is no money for their constituents and very little opportunity for pork,” he observed, speaking on condition of anonymity because he consults with U.S. national security agencies.

But Barrett noted that some committee members find it intolerable not to go public over things they feel strongly about.

“The best new members do a lot of homework, attend committee meetings, are unafraid to ask questions, but keep quiet in their public remarks,” he said. “I wouldn't bet on a new member of the intelligence committee who so clearly enjoys the spotlight taking the appropriate low-profile approach to committee service.”

In his book, Barrett, a political science professor at Villanova, cites the case of Rep. Charles Kersten, an early 1950s Wisconsin Republican who was not a member of any oversight committee but attached a public amendment to a foreign aid bill authorizing $100 million for clandestine liberation movements in communist countries. The CIA did not consider the gesture helpful.

In a more recent example, in 1995 then-Rep. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.), a member of the intelligence committee, went public with allegations that a Guatemalan colonel on the CIA payroll was involved in the killing of the husband of an American citizen.

Torricelli was not censured, but the incident prompted the House to pass a rule requiring members or staffers with access to classified information to sign a secrecy oath.

R. James Woolsey, Jr., President Clinton’s CIA director from 1993 to 1995, recalled that his main problem after the collapse of the Soviet Union was not leaks so much as persuading critics such as the late Sen. Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) “that we needed an agency at all.”

“I'm sure Pat wouldn't have utilized self-help in his growing opposition to secrecy,” Woolsey said. “His style would have been to write a witty op-ed on the policy issue, not to leak himself.”

"I think Congresswoman Bachmann," he added, "is likely to be a diligent student of and supporter of the [CIA]."

In any case, said another retired CIA official who also worked closely with the oversight committees, Bachmann should find little to worry about when she hears what U.S. intelligence agencies are really doing.

“She should be happy,” said the former official, speaking on terms of anonymity in exchange for discussing the issue freely. “I mean, the CIA is so overwhelmingly engaged in [covert action] now as opposed to the past.”

By Jeff Stein  | January 3, 2011; 6:45 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Intelligence, Politics  | Tags:  David Barrett, Michele Bachmann, R. James Woolsey, The CIA and Congress  
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another sad moment in amerikan history.

this simpleton should not be allowed access to sharp objects and the stooges in the house lack the spine to oppose her.

Posted by: xxxxxx1 | January 3, 2011 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Naive citizens who have swallowed the mainstream media's assessment of Michele Bachman do so at their own peril. As one who has observed her up-close-and-personal, I can attest that she possesses a formidable intellect and a patriotic passion for the USA.

Posted by: HalfNorsk1 | January 5, 2011 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Bachmann tends to speak before she thinks. This should be fun if she doesn't go all Bob Novak and actually endanger people or operations.

Posted by: cassandra9 | January 6, 2011 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Biased much? I thought I was reading the Huffington Post or Daily Kos for a moment...

Posted by: JohnGalt13 | January 10, 2011 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Biased much? I thought I was reading the Huffington Post or Daily Kos for a moment...

Posted by: JohnGalt13 | January 10, 2011 9:00 PM | Report abuse

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