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United States[]

The power of the Executive Branch is vested in the President of the United States, who also acts as head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The President is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress and, to that end, appoints the heads of the federal agencies, including the Cabinet. The Vice President is also part of the Executive Branch, ready to assume the Presidency should the need arise.

The Cabinet and independent federal agencies are responsible for the day-to-day enforcement and administration of federal laws. These departments and agencies have missions and responsibilities as widely divergent as those of the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Social Security Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Control of National Intelligence[]

The President is able to control dissemination of intelligence information to Congress because the Intelligence Community is part of the executive branch. The Intelligence Community was created by law and Executive Order to principally serve the government’s executive branch in the execution of its responsibilities.[1] Thus, as the head of the executive branch, the President generally is acknowledged to be "the owner" of national intelligence.

The President’s otherwise exclusive control over national intelligence, however, is tempered by a statutory obligation to keep Congress, through its two congressional intelligence committees, "fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities."[2] Current law also prevents the executive branch from withholding intelligence information from the committees on the grounds that providing such information would constitute the unauthorized disclosure of classified information, or information relating to intelligence sources and methods.[3]

In 2004, Congress further strengthened its access claims to national intelligence when it approved intelligence reform legislation explicitly directing that the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) provide the legislative branch access to national intelligence.[4] Under previous statute, the head of the Intelligence Community was legally required to provide the legislative branch national intelligence, but only "where appropriate."[5] Congress never defined, either in statute, report language, or during debate, what it considered to be "appropriate," essentially ceding to the executive branch the freedom to adopt its own interpretation of congressional intent in this regard. Despite the unqualified directive adopted in 2004, however, its impact on the Intelligence Community, as is so often the case, turns on how aggressively Congress chooses to assert its statutory prerogative.

The executive branch generally does not routinely provide with Congress four general types of intelligence information:

1. the identities of intelligence sources;
2. the “methods” employed by the Intelligence Community in collecting and analyzing intelligence;
3. “raw” intelligence, which can be unevaluated or “lightly” evaluated intelligence,[6] which in the case of human intelligence, sometimes is provided by a single source, but which also could consist of intelligence derived from multiple sources when signals and imagery collection methods are employed; and
4. certain written intelligence products tailored to the specific needs of the President and other high-level executive branch policymakers. Included is the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), a written intelligence product which is briefed daily to the President, and which consists of six to eight relatively short articles or briefs covering a broad array of topics. The PDB emphasizes current intelligence and is viewed as highly sensitive, in part, because it can contain intelligence source and operational information. Its dissemination is thus limited to the President and a small number of presidentially-designated senior Administration policymakers.


  1. L. Britt Snider, "Sharing Secrets With Lawmakers: Congress as a User of Intelligence," Center For The Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, at 17 (Feb. 1997).
  2. National Security Act of 1947, as amended, 50 U.S.C. §501[a][1]). Some observers have asserted that this language was intended to create an obligation to provide information for oversight purposes rather than establishing a legal requirement that the executive branch provide Congress substantive intelligence information. But they have noted that the congressional intelligence committees have viewed this as a "distinction without a difference," and that the committees have asserted a need for access to substantive intelligence in order to conduct oversight. See L. Britt Snider, at 11.
  3. 50 U.S.C. §501(a)(2)(e).
  4. Pub. L. No. 108-458, Sec. 102A.(a)(1)(D), 50 U.S.C. 403-1.
  5. In 1992, Congress enacted legislation spelling out the duties of the then-titled position of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), requiring that the DCI provide Congress substantive intelligence information "where appropriate." See Title VII of the FY 2003 Intelligence Authorization Act.
  6. Unevaluated raw intelligence consists of intelligence that has not been analyzed; lightly evaluated raw intelligence can include, for example, a brief description of the credibility of the source providing the information.