Posts from June, 2006

“Congressional Oversight of Intelligence is Broken”

Congressional oversight of intelligence is “dysfunctional,” according to a new report from the liberal Center for American Progress.

Some of the most urgent and fundamental policy issues facing the nation are matters of intelligence policy: What are the proper boundaries of domestic intelligence surveillance? What is the legal framework for interrogation of enemy detainees? Why haven’t the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission been effectively implemented?

But at a moment when intelligence policy is relatively high on the public agenda, the intelligence oversight committees in Congress seem to have little to contribute.

Even on specific intelligence questions such as the conduct of warrantless domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, the public can gain more insight from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has held several public hearings on the subject, than from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has held none.

The new Center for American Progress report provides a useful survey of the history of intelligence oversight and its current failings, along with a prescription for improvement.

“Correcting the problems that plague congressional oversight of intelligence will not require dramatic changes in the existing oversight structure. Congress has all the tools it needs to conduct its oversight responsibilities effectively….it is simply not using them. It must.”

See “No Mere Oversight: Congressional Oversight of Intelligence is Broken,” June 13, 2006.

Some of the limitations of intelligence oversight are implicit in the structure of the process.

For an earlier (1992) self-critical account by a staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, see “Congressional Oversight of Intelligence: One Perspective” by Mary K. Sturtevant, American Intelligence Journal, Summer 1992.

A recent study (pdf) of Romania’s intelligence apparatus finds that “legislative control of intelligence in Romania can be estimated on a low-medium-high scale as ‘medium to high’.”

Furthermore, in Romania “the budgets of the intelligence agencies are transparent,” which is more than can be said about U.S. intelligence.

See “The Intelligence Phenomenon in a New Democratic Milieu: Romania — A Case Study” by Valentin Fernand Filip, Naval Postgraduate School, March 2006.

In Other News

The National Security Archive filed suit against the Central Intelligence Agency after the CIA began imposing costs to process Freedom of Information Act requests that it said were not “newsworthy” and therefore not entitled to a fee waiver. By interposing its own editorial judgment in the FOIA process, the CIA in effect is “trying to close off use of the FOIA by journalists,” said Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs. See “CIA Claims the Right to Decide What is News,” June 14.

The ACLU filed suit against the Pentagon seeking disclosure of information about the TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) database, which has been used improperly to store information on domestic political activities. See “ACLU tries to force Pentagon to turn over records on peace groups” by Drew Brown, Knight Ridder Newspapers, June 14.

In almost every lawsuit against the government in which an agency invokes the “state secrets” privilege, the courts end up dismissing the entire case. “But that’s not the way it has to be,” wrote constitutional scholar Louis Fisher of the Law Library of Congress in a new op-ed. “Judges have a constitutional duty to function as neutral referees to allow each side to present its case fairly.” See “Give judges a peek at secrets” by Louis Fisher, Los Angeles Times, June 14.

“The Pentagon has stopped releasing its assessment of the number of Iraqi army units deemed capable of battling insurgents without U.S. military help,” in what appears to be a clear instance of politically-motivated secrecy. “The decision to stop making the information public came after reports showed a steady decline in the number of qualified Iraqi units.” See “U.S. mum on strength of Iraqi troops” by Eric Rosenberg, Hearst Newspapers, June 12.

Air Force Space Command on Satellite Operations

The organization and management of U.S. Air Force space activities from pre-launch to post-operational disposal are described in a new AF Space Command Instruction (pdf) on “satellite operations.”

“The objective of satellite disposal is to reduce the potential for spacecraft collisions and frequency interference, to mitigate the creation of additional space debris and to open orbital slots to newer SVs [satellite vehicles].”

“Therefore, de-orbiting or removing a non-mission capable satellite from its operational orbit and placing it into an established disposal region is of paramount importance.”

See “Satellite Operations,” U.S. Air Force Space Command Instruction 10-1204, 1 June 2006.

Some More CRS Reports

Some random reports of the Congressional Research Service that are not otherwise readily available in the public domain include the following:

“Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Issues and Legislative Options” (pdf), May 22, 2006.

“Australia: Background and U.S. Relations”
(pdf), April 20, 2006.

“China’s Impact on the U.S. Automotive Industry” (pdf), April 4, 2006.

“The Congressional Charter of the American National Red Cross: Overview, History, and Analysis” (pdf), March 15, 2006.

Agencies Pursue Standardized Policy for “Sensitive” Info

An interagency report on proposals to streamline controls on so-called “sensitive but unclassified” (SBU) information is due to be presented to the White House this month.

Efforts to promote information sharing among government agencies and others involved in homeland security have been stymied by the growing use of over sixty different types of access controls on unclassified information, such as For Official Use Only, Law Enforcement Sensitive, Limited Official Use, and many more. Such controls are often poorly defined and mutually incompatible.

Last December 16, the White House initiated an ongoing review that began with preparation of an inventory of all of the various SBU access controls used in the federal government, which was completed in March. The next step was to formulate recommendations for standardizing SBU policies related to terrorism, homeland security and law enforcement, which are now due.

See Guideline 3, “Standardize Procedures for Sensitive But Unclassified Information,” in the December 16 White House memo.

As of last week, a report to the President on those recommendations was awaiting the signatures of the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security.

The pending report sets forth principles upon which SBU policy should be based, but stops short of the crucial task of defining exactly how those principles ought to be implemented, government officials said.

One of those principles is that each type of control on unclassified information should have a uniform, public and government-wide definition so that it is employed the same way by all agencies. That is not the case today.

The proposed principles include provisions for oversight of how SBU controls are used, officials told Secrecy News.

They also include a proposed moratorium on the creation of new SBU categories.

The new report to the President has not been released. But a 2005 report prepared for the Department of Homeland Security provides one detailed perspective on the complexity of the information sharing problem and some options for addressing it.

See “Information Sharing and Collaboration Business Plan,” Institute for Defense Analyses, June 2005 (205 pages, 1.5 MB PDF).

Army Memo on Oversight of Sensitive Activities

Some agencies treat oversight of their programs as a burden or a threat to be avoided or evaded. But that is a shortsighted view.

The paradox of oversight is that when properly performed it actually serves the interests of the overseen program by building confidence in its legitimacy and integrity.

Perhaps with that in mind, U.S. Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey recently issued a memo (pdf) to senior Army leaders stressing the importance of effective oversight, especially when it comes to classified “sensitive” activities.

“I expect my oversight team to have an informed understanding of the Army’s conduct of, or support to, sensitive activities,” Secretary Harvey wrote.

“Sensitive activities may include intelligence activities and military operations, organizational relationships or processes, and technological capabilities or vulnerabilities.”

See “Oversight of Sensitive Activities,” May 18, 2006.

NSA Declassification Plan

“The National Security Agency is committed to declassifying national security information as instructed in Executive Order 12958, as amended,” the NSA declared in a 2005 declassification plan (pdf).

“The Agency will use all available resources to successfully accomplish the provisions of the E.O. within the required time.”

See “NSA Declassification Plan for Executive Order 12958, as Amended,” January 13, 2005 (obtained by Michael Ravnitzky).

“The fact that the U.S. Army and Navy mounted a [World War II] effort called Project BOURBON against certain Soviet cryptosystems can be released,” according to a newly disclosed 2001 NSA notice on declassification policy.

“Most details beyond this statement, as well as the cooperation with the British in this effort, remain classified.”

See selected NSA declassification guidance (pdf), released June 2006.

Other agency declassification plans, including newly posted plans of the Army and Navy, may be found here.

Preparedness for a Dirty Bomb Attack in New York

“Is New York City adequately prepared for a ‘dirty bomb’ attack?” asked John Sudnik, a deputy chief at the New York Fire Department in a recent master’s thesis (pdf) on the prospects of a terrorist incident involving a radiological weapon.

In response to this question, the author provided an assessment of the threat, the consequences of an attack, and the possibilities of mitigating such consequences.

See “‘Dirty Bomb’ Attack: Assessing New York City’s Level of Preparedness from a First Responder’s Perspective” by John Sudnik, Naval Postgraduate School, March 2006.

Why Does the Washington Post Publish Classified Info?

“Why does The Washington Post willingly publish ‘classified’ information affecting national security?” wrote former Post editor Robert G. Kaiser in a Sunday Outlook piece.

“Should Post journalists and others who reveal the government’s secrets be subject to criminal prosecution for doing so? These questions, raised with new urgency of late, deserve careful answers.”

He proposed some thoughtful answers in “Public Secrets,” Washington Post, June 11.

Former DDCI Studeman Named to Public Interest Declass Board

U.S. Navy Admiral (ret.) William O. Studeman was appointed this week by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) to serve on the Public Interest Declassification Board.

Adm. Studeman is a former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence and a former Director of the National Security Agency. As a member of the Board, he is now supposed to represent the public interest in declassification of government records.

Adm. Studeman is currently vice president and deputy general manager for intelligence and information superiority at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems.

He is the eighth member of the nine-person Board named to date. The Board is chaired by former CIA Inspector General L. Britt Snider.

The Public Interest Declassification Board advises the President on declassification policies and priorities. The Board will hold a public meeting on June 23 at the National Archives.