How Americans Can Keep a Closer Eye on Spy Agencies

Democracy's Checks and Balances Are Catching up With the Shadowy World of Intelligence-Gathering

Since its beginnings, the United States has deployed secret services to advance the nation’s interests. Today, 17 major organizations make up America’s so-called Intelligence Community. From 1787 until 1975, the nation’s policymakers viewed their spy agencies as an exception to the normal oversight procedures of government. Thus, the “auxiliary precautions” (checks and balances) successfully advocated by James Madison at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia would not apply to the dark side of government.

As Madison well might have predicted, allowing America’s secret agencies to operate free of the checks …