WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Thursday restored an independent intelligence advisory agency's authority to tell the attorney general if it thinks that a U.S. intelligence agency may have broken the law, a move intended to improve oversight of those agencies.
That power was stripped away by former President George W. Bush more than a year ago. Bush's executive order limited the Intelligence Oversight Board to exposing potential violations of law to only the national intelligence director, the president and the agency involved.
Obama amended that Bush-era decision Thursday with his own executive order, ruling that the attorney general would also have to be notified of any possible intelligence-related violations.
Obama's amendment applies to the President's Intelligence Advisory Board, a larger intelligence advisory panel which has been coordinating with the White House on the adequacy of U.S. intelligence for more than 50 years. The IOB is a subcommittee of that larger panel.
In 1976, in the wake of widespread abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies, the five-member IOB was created and given full investigative powers and the authority to report potentially illegal activities to the attorney general.
Suzanne Spaulding, a former assistant CIA general counsel and national security expert now in private practice, applauded Obama's move.
"The president, the intelligence community, and the American people will be better served by an advisory board that has the authority to get the information it determines it needs. Greater independence gives the board greater credibility, which is particularly important for oversight in an area so shrouded in secrecy," she told The Associated Press.
The larger 16-member board is comprised mostly of business and political leaders. Obama appointed co-chairs for the board Wednesday, tapping Republican former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel and Democratic former Sen. David Boren, of Oklahoma.
In a rare public report in 1996, the board chastised the CIA for not informing the State Department that its foreign operatives in Guatemala were involved in kidnapping, murders and other human rights abuses.