Posts from June, 2007

New Bill Would Mandate Public Access to CRS Reports

A bill introduced in the House of Representatives last month would require that certain reports of the Congressional Research Service be made publicly available online.

The “Congressional Research Accessibility Act” (HR 2545) was introduced on May 24 by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), along with Reps. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and David Price (D-NC). (The bill was flagged by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government.)

The proposed legislation does not offer everything one might hope for. In particular, it would prohibit public access to CRS reports until 30 days after they are first published on the internal congressional web site.

This is good news for commercial vendors of CRS products, who have (unauthorized) near-real time access to CRS publications and could continue to exploit that advantage for financial gain. But the delay would significantly diminish the utility of many such publications for the general public.

For example, on June 5, CRS issued a report on “Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (XDR-TB): Quarantine and Isolation” (pdf), which was then the subject of current news interest.

Under the proposed legislation, this report would not become widely available to the public for more than three weeks from now when, one may hope, it will be old news. (It was obtained independently and published previously by the Center for Democracy and Technology’s OpenCRS.)

Confidential reports and responses to individual member requests would understandably not be released under the new proposal unless the requester chose to release them. But neither would other CRS products that are not confidential if they do not fit the proposed definition of what is to be released.

That might be the case, for example, with this new non-report tabulation of “Overt U.S. Assistance to Pakistan, FY2001-FY2008″ (pdf), June 2007.

The congressional sponsors of the new bill, apparently fearing that CRS’ sharp analytical tools could be blunted by contact with their dull constituents, insist that CRS reports shall be published “in a manner that … does not permit the submission of comments from the public.”

NRO Releases Compendium of Declassified Data

The National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. intelligence agency that builds and operates spy satellites, has released a redacted version of its declassification guide (pdf) for review of historical records that also provides a unique overview of the agency.

Although the primary purpose of the document is to assist official reviewers in the declassification process, it also serves as an authoritative compendium of declassified data regarding the NRO, which was established in 1961 and publicly acknowledged in 1992.

From organizational history to satellite programs to agency products and capabilities, the declassification guide itemizes the various “facts” in each category that are now declassified.

Valuable appendices identify key individual participants in the National Reconnaissance Program and provide a glossary of code words. Excerpting at random:

“The term ‘Area 58′ [may be released] when limited to the context of a very general association with the NRO, intelligence activities, imagery intelligence, or satellite reconnaissance but not revealing any geographic location information.”

“EVEN STEVEN” is “the code word associated with 29 U-2 flights in 1970 that overflew the Suez Canal ceasefire zone between Israel and Egypt.”

“ECI” stands for “Exceptionally Controlled Information,” which is “an NSA administrative COMINT flag.”

The document was declassified and released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from researcher Michael Ravnitzky, who kindly provided a copy to Secrecy News.

See “National Reconnaissance Office Review and Redaction Guide for Automatic Declassification of 25-Year-Old Information,” 2006 edition (165 pages, 6.5 MB PDF file).

NSA Reports Huge Growth in Contractor Base

The industrial base of contractors in industry seeking to do business with the National Security Agency has mushroomed in recent years, according to an NSA acquisition official.

In 2001, only 140 contractors were eligible to compete for NSA contracts. Today, there are six thousand such contractors, said Deborah Walker of the NSA. She spoke at a contractor conference sponsored by the Defense Intelligence Agency last month.

The number of contractor facilities cleared by the NSA has grown from 41 in 2002 to 1265 in 2006, according to a chart that she presented in her talk (pdf).

The result is an increase in competitiveness and improved communication with industry, Ms. Walker indicated. “Partnerships with industry [are] vital to mission success,” she said.

See “Acquisition Resource Center,” presentation by Deborah Walker, National Security Agency, May 2007, Unclassified/FOUO.

Contractors now consume as much as 70% of U.S. intelligence spending, reported Tim Shorrock in Salon last week.

See, relatedly, “Senators Fault IC on Use of Contractors” by Laura Heaton, United Press International, June 6.

Constitutional Limitations on Domestic Surveillance

The constitutionality of the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program was examined from various points of view at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee today.

“The President had ample authority to authorize the Terrorist Surveillance Program under acts of Congress and the Constitution,” said Steven Bradbur of the Justice Department in a prepared statement (pdf).

It’s not so simple, said Louis Fisher of the Law Library of Congress in an extended analysis (pdf). “Federal courts have rejected the theory that the President has ‘inherent’ constitutional authority to engage in warrantless domestic surveillance.”

The President’s program is clearly illegal, argued conservative critic Bruce Fein. “If Congress leaves the Bush administration’s illegal spying programs unrebuked, a precedent will have been established that will lie around like a loaded weapon ready for permanent use throughout the endless conflict with international terrorism,” he said (pdf).

See the prepared testimony from the June 7 hearing on “Constitutional Limitations on Domestic Surveillance”.

The “Problematic” Defense Acquisition Structure

The convoluted procedures by which the U.S. government purchases weapons and other military systems are rendered almost intelligible in a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.

The report introduces the defense acquisition structure, summarizes several recent analyses of that structure, and points towards some unfinished business.

“The unparalleled complexity of DOD’s defense acquisition structure lends itself to the continued emergence of many problematic issues,” the CRS report said.

“Simply put,” the House Armed Services Committee said last year, “the Department of Defense (DoD) acquisition process is broken… The rising costs and lengthening schedules of major defense acquisition programs lead to more expensive platforms fielded in fewer numbers.”

A copy of the new CRS report was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “Defense Acquisition: Overview, Issues, and Options for Congress,” June 4, 2007.

ODNI Document Suggests a Larger Intelligence Budget

Updated below

Classified budget numbers concealed in an unclassified PowerPoint document suggest that total U.S. intelligence spending is significantly larger than generally assumed, perhaps around $60 billion annually.

The briefing document (ppt), prepared by Terri Everett of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), was first obtained by Tim Shorrock of Salon, who wrote a probing account of the growing prominence of contractors in U.S. intelligence agencies, who now consume 70% of the total intelligence community budget. See “The corporate takeover of U.S. intelligence,” Salon, June 1, 2007.

Annual intelligence contract awards were illustrated in a bar chart in Ms. Everett’s briefing document, without dollar figures attached. But by using the edit function in Power Point, it is possible to discern the classified figures that were used to prepare the bar chart.

R.J. Hillhouse, an author and former intelligence officer who writes on intelligence and outsourcing, explained how to retrieve the concealed data in her blog The Spy Who Billed Me. See “Office of Nation’s Top Spy Inadvertently Reveals Key to Classified National Intel Budget,” June 3.

The data appear to indicate that $42 billion was awarded to contractors in FY 2005. If so, and if that represented 70% of the total budget, as stated in the preceding Power Point slide, it would follow that the total is $60 billion, rather than the $45 or $48 billion usually cited.

Intelligence officials were not available to comment on the disclosure, and a certain amount of deliberate obfuscation surrounds the subject such that it is hard to draw a firm numerical conclusion regarding overall spending. The new budget figures on contractor awards do not distinguish, for example, between “national” and military or tactical intelligence, nor is it clear whether they account for supplemental appropriations.

The Everett briefing document, which had been publicly available on the Defense Intelligence Agency web site, was withdrawn yesterday. But a copy has been posted here (see slide 11).

Update: I mistakenly referred to author R.J. Hillhouse as a former intelligence officer; she’s not. But she has provided continuing exploration of this topic on her blog The Spy Who Billed Me. Other interesting follow-up stories that have appeared are “Intel budget numbers revealed on public PowerPoint slide show” by Daniel Friedman, Federal Times, June 7; and “Intel Budget May be Buried in Powerpoint” by Laura Heaton, United Press International, June 6.

ODNI Freedom of Information Act Policy

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has issued a proposed regulation for public comment on implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.

“The proposed regulations address all aspects of FOIA processing, including how and where to submit FOIA requests, fees for record services, procedures for handling business information, requests for expedited processing and the right to appeal denials of information,” according to the notice published in the June 4 Federal Register.

The ODNI FOIA case log (pdf), listing the subjects of all FOIA requests submitted to the ODNI through April 2007, is available here (courtesy of James Klotz and Michael Ravnitzky).

Naturally, the fact that an item was requested does not necessarily mean that it will be released.

Letters on Scooter Libby Released by Court

Letters sent to Judge Reggie B. Walton regarding the sentencing of vice presidential aide Lewis I. “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of obstruction of justice, were released by the court (large pdf) today. Several of them touched on matters of secrecy and national security policy.

“If there is anyone who fully understands our ‘system’ for protecting classified information, I have yet to meet him,” wrote John R. Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations, implying that infractions of classification rules are to be expected.

Former CIA officer Fritz Ermarth recalled that Mr. Libby had assisted him “in a matter, although less grave, somewhat similar to that which put him on trial. It concerned official secrecy and classification, its definition and interpretation, varying recollections of who behaved how with respect to it, and aspects of abuse by authorities.”

“Mr. Libby has done more to enable the United States to address the challenges of bioterrorism than any other single person,” ventured Seth Carus of National Defense University.

“Scooter worried that liberties restricted during times of danger do not always get restored when the danger passes,” wrote Doug Feith, the controversial former Pentagon official. “A major part of the terrorist threat, he and I agreed, was the danger that a series of 9/11-type attacks could fundamentally alter — perhaps permanently — the state of civil liberties in America.”

Somewhat ironically, Mr. Libby once undertook “to persuade a newspaper not to publish information that would have endangered the life of a covert CIA agent working overseas,” wrote former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz. “Late into the evening, long after most others had left the matter to be dealt with the next day, Mr. Libby worked to collect the information that was needed to persuade the editor not to run the story.”

Most of the letters favor clemency for Mr. Libby. Many of them are poignant and heartfelt. Quite a few others are pompous and self-aggrandizing. An angry minority demand the maximum possible sentence.

The full set of letters in alphabetical order by author may be found here (373 pages in an 18 MB PDF file).

Mr. Libby was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined $250,000.