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Rep. Welch Wants Public Disclosure Of Intelligence Budgets

Congressman Peter Welch is sponsoring legislation that would require the federal government to disclose how much money it spends on surveillance and intelligence operations.

For the past seven years, Welch has served on the House Oversight subcommittee on National Security, and as a member of that committee, he’s seen the budgets of each of the 16 agencies that are responsible for intelligence activities.

"There is too much secrecy in government" - Rep. Peter Welch

But he said he’s in a bind. That information is classified and it’s against the law for him to share it with other colleagues or with the public. That’s why he wants this information to be made public.

“There’s too much secrecy in government. You need some especially on sources and methods,” said Welch. “But it becomes an excuse to not have the answer legitimate, hard questions. So I think more transparency is where we need to go.”

When the NSA wants to gather information from private sources, it needs to get permission from a special federal court.

Welch said this court is often too quick to side with the government, and he wants a public advocate to be appointed to review the government’s case.

Joining Welch at a Statehouse news conference was William Sullivan, a retired senior official at the NSA. He agrees with this plan.

“Because you have somebody standing up for you, listening to what it is that is being proposed to get permission from the court to do and does that affect U.S. citizens in any way and can that be objected to,” said Sullivan. “I think it’s a sound idea.”

While Welch and Sullivan agree on the creation of a public advocate, they disagree about the NSA program that monitors the phone calls and emails of millions of American citizens.

Sullivan said the NSA isn’t snooping on Americans but reviews a specific communication only if the call or email is linked to a foreign source.

“If the U.S. person involved in that has no implication in anything they have to sanitize that information and they have to get rid of it,” said Sullivan. “NSA does not spy on Americans.”

But Welch says the NSA surveillance program is unconstitutional.

“That meta data gathering where all Americans have their logs of their phone calls and emails in a government data base is totally inappropriate, and I don’t think that should be allowed,” Welch said.

Welch is also asking the Obama Administration to release the specific budgets of all 16 intelligence agencies when the President outlines his spending plan for 2015 next month.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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