Army Updates Oversight of “Sensitive Activities”

In a directive issued last week, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh established a new Army Special Programs Directorate (ASPD) to administer and oversee special access programs and other “sensitive activities” conducted by the Army.

“I expect all Army commands, organizations and personnel to be proactive in affording the ASPD and the other members of my sensitive activities oversight team… unfettered and continuing access to any and all information and operational data they deem necessary to accomplish their oversight missions and functions,” Secretary McHugh wrote in the May 14 Army directive 2012-10.

The new Directorate is the successor organization to the former Technology Management Office, which performed many of the same functions.

The definition of “sensitive activities” in Army Regulation 380-381 includes:  “programs that restrict personnel access [...]; sensitive support to other Federal agencies; clandestine or covert operational or intelligence activities; sensitive research, development, acquisition, or contracting activities; special activities; and other activities excluded from normal staff review and oversight because of restrictions on access to information.”

The Army regulation indicates that special access programs (SAPs), which are a subset of sensitive activities, may be used to restrict access to “a specific technology with potential for weaponization that gives the United States a significant technical lead or tactical advantage over potential adversaries”;  “extremely sensitive activities conducted in support of national foreign policy objectives abroad, which are planned and executed so that the role of the U.S. Government is not apparent or acknowledged publicly”; “methods used to acquire foreign technology or equipment”; among other potential categories.

“SAPs are not programs or activities planned and executed with the intent to influence U.S. political processes, public opinion, policies, or media,” the 2004 Army regulation states.

Secretary McHugh stressed that he retained authority and responsibility for the Army’s special programs.

“I reserve the authority to review and take action on matters relating to our Army’s conduct of, or support of, the most sensitive or unusual activities,” he wrote to Army commanders and senior officials in his directive last week.  “I expect you to exercise your judgment as to those activities that should be forwarded for my approval even when you typically exercise approval authority for sensitive, but otherwise routine activities.”

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