Gang of Eight is a nickname used to refer to a group of eight members of the United States (US) Congress. It includes four members from the Senate and four members from the House of Representatives. According to the National Security Act of 1947, these eight individuals are the minimum number of people who must be notified of all intelligence activities undertaken by the US president and the executive branch of government. Alerting the Gang of Eight serves as an alternative to briefing the entire Congressional Intelligence Committee, while still meeting all national security laws.
Prior to 1947, the US president had great power in terms of initiating intelligence programs, or spying on people both domestically and abroad. To prevent abuses of power and preserve privacy rights, Congress passed the National Security Act of 1947. Under this Act, the president must inform the Congressional Intelligence Committees of all intelligence or spying operations. The Act makes an exception for extreme circumstances however, and allows the president to inform only eight specific members of Congress rather than the entire committee. In situations where secrecy is of the utmost importance, the president may elect to brief only the Gang of Eight, who are not permitted to share this information with anyone else.
The members of the Gang of Eight may change with each election, but this group is always made up of the individuals who fill the same eight positions. They include the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the committee leaders and ranking members of the Intelligence Committees of both of the House and Senate. This ensures that the group is made up of members of both major political parties, as well as members from both chambers of the legislative branch.
By informing the Gang of Eight of intelligence activities, the president is able to meet legal reporting requirements while still enjoying a great deal of power over spying and information gathering. With fewer people informed about covert operations, the president is able to conduct intelligence activities more effectively, with reduced risk of leaks or interference. Informing only a small group also helps to streamline operations and allow certain processes to occur more efficiently.
The National Security Act does not define exactly what situations are considered extreme enough to merit informing only the Gang of Eight. This has led to great debate over abuse of power and privacy concerns. The debate over this subject has increased dramatically in the US since 11 September 2001, when terrorists struck several major targets in the US and many lives were lost. News reports of the use of torture during interrogation and other questionable techniques have led many to argue that greater oversight is needed, and that informing the Gang of Eight is not enough.