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wrote Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and Vice Chairman Christopher S. "Kit" Bond in a letter to President Obama on Thursday.
"Having to fight over access to counterterrorism information is not productive and ultimately makes us less secure. The lack of information has "caused serious friction in the relationship of the committee, on both sides of the aisle, and the executive branch."
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, the senators say U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly refused to provide relevant information on the probe into suspect Faisal Shahzad that would allow the committee to conduct oversight activities without hampering the ongoing investigation. Senate intelligence staffers were told that the Department of Justice had instructed the agencies not to convey information on the Times Square plot without its approval
But a spokesman for the Department of Justice said FBI, Homeland Security Department and counterterrorism officials have conducted several briefings on the incident with various congressional committees, including a May 11 briefing with the Senate Intelligence Committee. Spokesman Dean Boyd said that briefing "was highly classified and no other Senate committee has received a briefing like" that one.
Mr. Boyd also said the Justice Department has not told intelligence officials not to cooperate with lawmakers. "The Justice Department did not order anyone in the intelligence community to withhold information from the Senate Intelligence Committee in connection with the attempted bombing," Mr. Boyd said. "In fact, when the Justice Department was notified by certain intelligence agencies that they were planning to make calls to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the Justice Department encouraged those agencies to do so." Congressional oversight of intelligence matters has long been a thorny issue in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, often playing out as tug-of-war between the administration and lawmakers who are tasked with holding it accountable.
Dissatisfaction with the administration on oversight matters goes beyond the intelligence panels. Last month, Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Susan Collins, the top members of the Senate panel on homeland security, issued the administration its first congressional subpoenas over the shootings at Fort Hood. The senators accused the FBI and the Pentagon of ignoring repeated requests for information on the November shooting, in which an Army psychologist allegedly killed 13 people.
In the case of the failed New York City bombing attempt, in which a Pakistani native tried to detonate an SUV in Times Square, the senators said the Obama administration has refused to provide the committee with FBI reports that are widely circulated within the intelligence community. The senators said the "great majority" of their information came through public press conferences and media accounts that sometimes continued inaccurate information.