"Gang of Four" intelligence notifications generally are oral briefings of certain particularly sensitive non-covert action intelligence activities, including principally, but not exclusively, intelligence collection programs, that the Intelligence Community typically limits to the chairmen and ranking members of the two congressional intelligence committees, and at times, but not always, to their respective staff directors. Gang of Four notifications are not based in statute but have constituted a practice generally accepted by the leadership of the intelligence committees and that is employed when the Intelligence Community believes a particular intelligence activity to be of such sensitivity that a restricted notification is warranted in order to reduce the risk of disclosure, inadvertent or otherwise. Intelligence activities viewed as being less sensitive typically are briefed to the full membership of each committee. In either case--whether a given briefing about non-covert action intelligence activities is limited to the Gang of Four, or provided to the full membership of the intelligence committees--the current statute conditions the provision of any such information on the need to protect from unauthorized disclosure classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters. Congress has said that its intent in this regard is that in extremely rare circumstances a need to preserve essential secrecy may result in a decision not to impart certain sensitive aspects of operations or collection programs to the intelligence oversight committees in order to protect extremely sensitive intelligence sources and methods. With regard to the phrase "other exceptionally sensitive matters," Congress has said its intent in using this phrase is to refer to other extremely sensitive categories of classified information such as information concerning the operational details of military deployment and extraordinarily sensitive diplomatic contacts, which the intelligence committees do not routinely require to satisfy their responsibilities. This report reviews the history of Gang of Four notification process and compares this procedure with that of the "Gang of Eight" notification procedure. The "Gang of Eight" procedure is statutorily based and provides that that the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the intelligence committee, along with the Speaker and minority leader of the House, and Senate majority and minority leaders--rather than the full membership of the intelligence committees--are to receive prior notice of particularly sensitive covert action programs, if the President determines that limited access to such programs is essential to meet extraordinary circumstances affecting vital U.S. interests.
Source: Congressional Research Service
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