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Due to a series of tweets by Boots Riley, I've been reading about COINTELPRO, "a series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the United States FBI aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations" from 1956-1971.

According to Wikipedia, COINTELPRO was only exposed when a group broke into an FBI field office and "took several dossiers, and exposed the program by passing this material to news agencies."

What checks & balances exist in the United States for covert operations like this by government agencies?

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Oversight is conducted primarily by the Gang of 8.

The Gang of Eight is a colloquial term for a set of eight leaders within the United States Congress who are briefed on classified intelligence matters by the executive branch. Specifically, the Gang of Eight includes the leaders of each of the two parties from both the Senate and House of Representatives, and the chairs and ranking minority members of both the Senate Committee and House Committee for intelligence as set forth by 50 U.S.C. § 3093(c)(2).

Under normal conditions, the President of the United States is required by Title 50 U.S.C. § 3091(a)(1) to "ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity as required by [the] title." However, under "extraordinary circumstances", when the President thinks "it is essential to limit access" to information about a covert action, 50 U.S.C. § 3093(c)(2) allows the President to limit reporting to the Gang of Eight.

However, there are a host of legislative (hearings, authorization) and executive branch (Inspector Generals, etc.) processes or organizational authorities that are detailed here

The judiciary also has a role through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees and decisions warrant applications to spy on foreign agents operating within the US.

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Here is one such check:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnibus_Crime_Control_and_Safe_Streets_Act_of_1968

this governs wiretap orders among other things.

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