In 1885, Woodrow Wilson wrote in his treatise “Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics” that “the informing function of Congress should be preferred even to its legislative function.”
I voted to release the Nunes memo because, like Wilson, I believe that the duty to inform the American public is one of my biggest responsibilities as an elected representative in our democratic republic. This is in accordance with the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, which directed House and Senate committees to “exercise continuous watchfulness” over executive-branch programs. Furthermore, according to rules of the House, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on which I serve, may disclose publicly any information in its possession after a determination by the committee that the public interest would be served by such disclosure.
I spent close to a decade as an undercover officer in the CIA and have spent most of my adult life collecting intelligence and protecting sources and methods. It is my job to know the difference between information and intelligence. As a result, I’ve been asked by some how I could vote to make classified information public. My response is simple: Not all classified information has national security implications. If it does, it should be withheld. But as David Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, once said, “Just because you see it in a top-secret document, just because someone had said it to the FBI, doesn’t mean it’s all accurate.”
Classified information includes much more than the actual “secrets” acquired. It includes how they were acquired and the process by which related analyses were made. Professionals refer to the stages of the intelligence cycle as collection, processing, analyzing and sharing information. In most cases, the implications and significance of raw pieces of information found in classified materials are reviewed and vetted to keep sensationalized and unsubstantiated accounts from being deemed credible. This process should also identify circular reporting, which is when a piece of information appears to come from multiple sources but in fact comes from only one source, even though it is offered through different channels. In matters addressed by the Nunes memo, I am not confident that proper vetting occurred, and I believe that the American people should have the ability to decide for themselves.
As the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, the FBI is expected to maintain the highest levels of professionalism and excellence. I have had the honor of working side by side with true American patriots in the FBI who have made tremendous sacrifices for our country. There is little doubt we have been free of another attack on the scale of the one that occurred Sept. 11, 2001, because of the men and women in our intelligence services, armed forces, diplomatic corps and federal law enforcement agencies — especially the FBI.
However, if the FBI requests a warrant from a federal court to conduct surveillance on an American citizen, it has a duty to every citizen not to use information that the then-FBI director himself considered “salacious and unverified,” or information drawn from circular reporting and rumors.
My vote to release the memo was not about discrediting the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. It was not about debasing the hard-working men and women serving in the FBI. Rather, I supported the release because I do not agree that an American citizen’s civil liberties should be violated on the basis of unverified information masquerading as intelligence.
The Intelligence Committee also voted this week on whether to release the minority response. This secondary memo included many references that would affect existing intelligence activity. I voted against releasing the minority response until revisions are made to ensure that it would not jeopardize national security.
Let me be clear, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation must continue to ensure that our democracy was not compromised by Russian interference.
However, regardless of Mueller’s investigation, all Americans should understand the implications of the actions taken by the leaders of our federal law enforcement agencies and their impact on our citizenry. I understand the FBI and Justice Department’s unprecedented public denunciation of the potential publication of the memo, because they don’t want to see a precedent set by which Congress firmly exercises its informing function.
But it is the right of our citizens to demand that they are kept informed by the men and women they send to Washington, especially during troubling and contentious times. My vote to release this memo did exactly that.
Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.