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Issue Number 41

November 1994

Congress Mistakenly Publishes Intelligence Budget

After voting last summer to keep all intelligence budget data classified, Congress has again published new details on intelligence spending by mistake. In an unintentional public service, the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee disclosed the size of the 1995 budget request for the CIA, for the Defense Department's portion of the National Foreign Intelligence Program (NFIP), and for tactical intelligence programs.

No official proposal to disclose the intelligence budget at this level of detail has ever been seriously considered. The most ambitious proposal has been merely to acknowledge the total size of the intelligence budget, a move that Congress rejected in July under pressure from the White House and the CIA (S&GB 38).

The new disclosures (pdf) are contained in Department of Defense Appropriations for 1995, part 3, recently published by the House Appropriations Committee. They include the following revelations:

Similar but less complete data for FY 1994 were also published by Congress earlier this year (S&GB 35).

The Congressional policy of declaring the intelligence budget classified but then publishing it anyway-- "let's not classify and say we did"-- is obviously due to clerical error, not some latent democratic impulse. The implementation of the government's convoluted secrecy rules is a mind-numbing task, and when it comes to concealing the size of the intelligence budget the censor cannot even tell himself that national security depends on getting it right. Mistakes are bound to occur on a regular basis.

But this kind of accidental disclosure is also the natural resolution of the various political tensions that are in effect here. Congress has repeatedly affirmed the need to declassify the intelligence budget total, but only in non-binding resolutions. Faced with a binding proposal to require declassification, Congress voted it down. The clear implication is that while declassification is the right thing to do, Congress is unwilling or institutionally unable to take responsibility for making it happen.

"Accidental" disclosure has the great advantage that it does not require anyone to exercise leadership or to take responsibility. As a result, it has now become the preferred policy, particularly since classification reform is not working. If current trends are taken to the limit, everything may eventually be classified-- but nothing will be secret.

Could Secret Government Experiments Occur Today?

The Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, chartered by the White House to assess the conduct of radiation experimentation from 1944 to 1974, released its interim report on October 21. Preliminary findings included the disclosure that the scope of the radiation experiments was much greater than previously believed.

Despite generally good responses from most government agencies, the Committee reported profound difficulty in assembling a complete record of the experiments, noting that the needed documents were widely scattered and often classified. In some cases, such as the 1949 Green Run intentional release of radioactivity, the government is refusing to declassify relevant information. And some important record collections, like those of the Atomic Energy Commission's Intelligence Division and the CIA's MKULTRA behavior modification program, have been preemptively destroyed.

But while the Committee's admirable efforts to illuminate the scope of these past experiments are important and necessary, the Committee itself has posed an even more important question: Could government experiments involving abuses similar to those in the past be conducted today?

Though it is improbable that government agencies would target individuals for secret experiments in today's leak-prone, litigious environment, it is fair to ask if there are oversight mechanisms in place to protect the public against secret government activities that could have collateral public health impacts.

Thus the Committee asks, "How would the historical releases [of radioactivity] be conducted today? Would environmental impact statements be required? Would there be public notice? Could all or portions of the review process be kept secret?" (p.18)

This is an electrifying line of inquiry that goes straight to the core of the problem of government secrecy. If pursued diligently, it would help to expose the practical boundaries of government accountability.

To determine whether hazardous experiments could be secretly conducted today, the Advisory Committee might ask the following sorts of questions:

The Advisory Committee aims to complete its work next April with the issuance of a final report.

Skunk Works Chief Blasts Secrecy Policy

The F-117A Stealth Fighter is often invoked as an example of a highly classified program that "worked." So it is doubly remarkable that the former head of Lockheed Skunk Works, which conceived and built the Stealth Fighter, views the government's secrecy and security policies as wasteful and often unfounded.

"A classified program increases a manufacturer's costs up to 25 percent," writes Ben R. Rich in his fascinating new book Skunk Works (p. 333). "We need to safeguard technologies and weapons systems, but we don't need to hide behind secrecy as a means to cover up mistakes or to block oversight by outside agencies."

"Once a program is classified secret it takes an act of God to declassify it. We should limit its [i.e. classification's] use and be tough about periodic declassification reviews. What was secret in 1964 often is probably not even worth knowing about in 1994," says Rich.

"I would strongly advocate reviews every two years of existing black programs either to declassify them or eliminate them entirely. We could save millions in the process."

"Secrecy classifications are not inconsequential but are a burden to all and horrendously expensive and time-consuming. If necessarily in the national interest, these expenses and inconveniences are worthwhile. But we ought to make damned sure that the secrecy stamp is absolutely appropriate before sealing up an operation inside the security cocoon. Sunset laws on security are an important first step toward real dollar saving," writes Rich (page 334).

Invention Secrecy Criteria Disclosed

Also in Skunk Works, Ben Rich recalls the first patent that he earned as a young engineer.

It was "for designing a Nichrome wire to wrap around and electrically heat the urine-elimination tube used on Navy patrol planes. Crewmen complained that on freezing winter days their penises were sticking painfully to the metal funnel. My design solved their problem and I'm sure made me their unknown hero."

However, Rich notes, "Both my design and patent were classified Secret." (pp. 106-7)

The practice of classifying certain new inventions was institutionalized in the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951. This vintage cold war legislation is distinguished by the fact that, like the Atomic Energy Act, it allows government to restrict the speech of private citizens in ways that appear to conflict with the First Amendment. Specifically, the government can prohibit an inventor who applies for a patent from marketing or even disclosing his or her invention.

More than forty years later, the Invention Secrecy Act is alive and well. In recent years, hundreds of new secrecy orders have been imposed on private citizens each year, along with many more that were assigned to government contractors. As of mid- 1993, a total of 6,033 secrecy orders were in effect. (Ten years earlier, the number was 3,900.)

Last month the U.S. Army declassified the Patent Security Category Review List which defines the technology development areas that may be restricted under the Invention Secrecy Act. The document had previously been classified Confidential and had never been publicly released. It was declassified in response to a FOIA request from Michael Ravnitzky, a private citizen in Minnesota.

About 3% of all patent applications that are filed typically fall into one of the areas identified in the Category Review List, and these are forwarded to the military services for review. Some form of secrecy order, ranging from limited export control to outright classification, is imposed on about five to ten percent of the applications that are reviewed by the military.

Ravnitzky said that he sought release of the classified Review List "so that inventors can be aware of which technologies could be subject to a patent secrecy order."

A copy of the Category Review List is available from S&GB for $2 to cover copying and postage.

In Print

As part of Hazel O'Leary's declared policy of "zero tolerance for reprisals against whistleblowers," DOE has released for comment a description of five initiatives to protect whistleblowers, including measures to ensure that security clearance procedures are not abused to punish whistleblowers. Available from S&GB.

Presidential Decision Directive 29, signed by the President on September 16, establishes the Security Policy Board, an interagency body that is supposed to coordinate security policies for protecting information, facilities, and people. The directive is remarkable mainly for its lack of specific policy content. A copy of a fact sheet containing the text of PDD 29 is available from S&GB.

Secrecy and Government Bulletin is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists, 307 Massachusetts Avenue N.E., Washington, DC 20002. For more information call (202)675-1012 or send email to saftergood@fas.org

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