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Issue Number 53
October 1995

Congress Erodes Intelligence Budget Secrecy

Congress has highlighted new details of the structure of the secret intelligence budget following the disclosure that the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) had been hoarding over a billion dollars of unexpended funds. Specifically, Congressional actions have made it possible for anyone to discern where secret funding for the NRO is hidden within the Defense Dept. budget.

Discovery of the NRO's extraordinary accumulation of unspent funds, first reported in the Washington Post (9/24/95, p. A1), led Congressional appropriators to cut "more than $1 billion" from the NRO's budget (New York Times, 9/27/95, p. A21).

After the conference report on 1996 defense appropriations was issued on September 25 (House Report 104-261), it became possible to ask: Where in the defense budget was this "more than $1 billion" taken from? The following budget cuts are conspicuous:

  • The line item called Selected Activities in the category "Other Procurement, Air Force" was funded at $4.9 billion, a reduction of approximately $500 million from the budget request (page 94).

  • The line item called Special Programs in the category "Missile Procurement, Air Force" was funded at $1.2 billion, a cut of approximately $400 million (page 93).

  • New rescissions in previously appropriated 1995 funding of these two categories were made in the amounts of $180 million and $120 million respectively (page 128) for a total of $1.2 billion in funding cuts, which corresponds neatly to the reported reductions in NRO funding.

    In conjunction with other sources (see S&GB 25), the following inferences may be drawn:

  • Selected Activities in Other Procurement, Air Force is the funding line for the CIA's portion of the NRO satellite procurement budget, as well as for the CIA itself.

  • Special Programs in Missile Procurement, Air Force is the funding line for NRO procurement of spy satellites assigned to the Air Force.

  • Other components of the massive NRO budget are hidden in the Navy budget and in the line item Classified Programs in the category "Research, Development, Test and Evaluation, Air Force" which includes the NRO's research and development budget. This line item was funded at $3.3 billion (page 69).

    The ease with which the NRO budget may be detected by even a casual observer makes a mockery of claims that intelligence budget secrecy is a matter of national security. Rather, it has become a convenient means of reducing public accountability.

    Public disclosure of the budget details of individual intelligence agencies now seems increasingly necessary because Congress is so plainly incapable of performing its intelligence oversight function. Rep. Larry Combest, who ironically led the effort a week earlier on the House floor to block public disclosure of the total intelligence budget (Congressional Record, 9/13/95, p. H8833), complained to the Post that NRO officials had "fallen quite short of being open about this."

    Taken at face value, Rep. Combest's complaint suggests either a surprising incapacity to gain access to even the most elementary information about the NRO, or an astonishing lack of curiosity and understanding concerning NRO operations and budgeting.

    It is hard to comprehend the difficulty of the oversight committees in spotting the NRO's reservoir of funds, given that the continued operation of orbiting spy satellites beyond their design lifetimes and the resulting backlog of unlaunched satellites have been publicly noted by intelligence community officials for several years. It is a mystery how the "oversight" committees could have failed to realize that NRO had a substantial surplus of funds that had already been appropriated to support launches that had not yet taken place.

    Fundamentally, the NRO's secret accumulation of a billion dollars is much less disturbing than the fact that Congress was unaware of it for an extended period. If the designated Congressional overseers are unable to reliably keep track of where any given billion is going, then even a rudimentary level of accountability is impossible and the job must be taken over by others.

    Fortunately, the public has access to other sources of information. For example, an article in the Los Angeles Times entitled "US Launches Costly Overhaul of Spy Satellites" (9/28/95, p. A1) provides background on the classified "8X" satellite program and its budget implications.

    A copy of House Report 104-261 may be requested from the House Document Room at (202)225-3456.

    Security Policy Board Shuts Out Public

    Following a request from a member of the public to attend a meeting of the Security Policy Board (SPB), the Department of Justice has prepared a memorandum advising the SPB on how it may continue to evade the open meeting requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

    The SPB is a high-level interagency body that is responsible for formulating a wide array of policies affecting classification, personnel security, polygraph testing, physical and technical security, and other issues.

    Meetings of the SPB are open to non-governmental personnel such as defense contractors and industry lobbyists. But other members of the public are selectively blocked from attending, in apparent violation of the FACA.

    "One individual who claims to represent the public interest has requested to attend the SPB ... meetings," the Justice Department noted as background to its advice on circumventing the open meeting requirements. "In response to his request, the SPB informed the individual that these meetings were not open to the public...."

    In anticipation of a subsequent lawsuit, the internal Justice Department memorandum obtained by S&GB (4/25/95, 15 pages) recommends making several formal distinctions between official SPB members and non-governmental attendees so that the latter do not appear to be providing "advice" to the Board. (Washington Times, 9/19/95, p. A4).

    "This [Justice Department memo] is hotter than classified," said an enthusiastic intelligence community source. "It's attorney client privileged!"

    For the time being, much of the tension generated by the SPB's closed-meeting policy has been resolved through the unauthorized disclosure of heroic quantities of internal documents, including the Justice memo itself.

    "Openness is one of our guiding principles," said SPB staff director Peter Saderholm on September 27. "I think everyone... would agree with that."

    SPB Mulls Computer Security

    One of the knottier problems being addressed by the Security Policy Board (SPB) is the issue of information systems security, and particularly the question of formulating security policy for unclassified government computer systems.

    The SPB's intervention into unclassified computer security policy has drawn protests in the past from the Commerce Department and others, since it appears to violate the guidelines established by the Computer Security Act of 1987 (see S&GB 47).

    So far, the Board has done little more than talk about the subject. "The SPB will persist in continuing the dialogue that has commenced," according to leaked minutes of the August 25 meeting of the Board's Policy Integration Committee (20 pages).

    "Mr. Wilson [Chuck Wilson, OSD-Policy] questioned the hesitancy in attempting to do something in this area," the minutes indicate. "He cited the Moynihan Commission and a recent report to DOE from the National Academy of Sciences stressing the need for increased attention to the protection of unclassified but sensitive information."

    Significantly, the Moynihan Commission-- which was chartered to reduce government secrecy-- is here understood as advocating an increase in the scope of government control of information.

    "Mr. White [Gene White, Air Force], in response to Mr. Wilson, referenced public and Congressional concern over increasing DoD's and the Intelligence Community's role in prescribing standards for the protection of unclassified information."

    T-Shirts Against Secrecy

    Could excessive government secrecy be the new engine of economic growth? No. But efforts by citizens to challenge what they regard as improper secrecy are generating an impressive array of new goods and services.

    The latest entry is a T-shirt which features an algorithm that is used to encrypt electronic communications printed on the front. This algorithm, known as RSA and used in the popular Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption program, is considered by the government to be a "munition" and subject to export controls. According to an advertisement on the Internet (at http:// colossus.net/wepinsto/wshome.html):

    "Now you can wear a T-shirt that has been classified as a munition by the US Government. That's right! The US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) makes exporting cryptographic materials illegal...."

    "If you wear the munitions T-shirt where a non-US/Canadian citizen can see it, even if it is inside the US, you have just exported cryptographic material (which is already freely available outside the US) and have become a criminal in the eyes of the US Government. Now you too can become an international arms dealer for the price of a T-shirt.... If you get arrested for wearing the munitions T-shirt, we'll refund your purchase price."

    "Wearing the T-shirt is an act of civil disobedience in the finest tradition of freedom-loving individuals," according to the sales pitch.

    Whether it is an act of civil disobedience or a juvenile prank depends on one's point of view. But what is most noteworthy here is the willful defiance of official information security policies that are perceived to be irrational. After years of abuse, government claims concerning "national security" command less and less respect. For a growing number of people, anything goes-- including deliberately confrontational efforts like this one.

    Another new anti-secrecy clothing item is the Groom Lake T- shirt, featuring a handsome but unofficial logo for the unacknowledged military facility near Groom Lake, Nevada. Display of the logo in appropriate circumstances has been known to elicit substantive reactions from current and former Groom Lake workers, not to mention intense X-phile types. For a free catalog describing this and related items, contact the Area 51 Research Center, PO Box 448, Rachel, NV 89001 or (http://www.ufomind.com/area51/).

    Nuclear Weapons Information on CD-ROM

    Anyone with a personal computer can now have access to a detailed 2,500 page history of U.S. nuclear weapons development based on the prodigious research of independent historian Chuck Hansen. The 8 volume set of CD-ROMs, offered for sale under the title Swords of Armageddon, is derived from Hansen's enormous collection of government documents that have been declassified by various agencies at various times.

    Considering its detailed descriptions of nuclear weapons development and testing, S&GB asked, is there anyone Hansen would not sell this collection to?

    "We will sell to anyone to whom NTIS, the National Archives, the Government Printing Office, etc., sells, in short, just about anyone," Mr. Hansen replied. "I would add that there is not, in my opinion, even 1% of the technical information that a reasonably technically-advanced Third World country would need to build even a WWII vintage nuclear weapon. I have written a history, not a book of blueprints." Furthermore, "Any decent intelligence agency-- and I specifically exclude the CIA from this category-- could do a much better job."

    A brochure describing Swords of Armageddon may be requested at (800)393-7137.

    Loose Ends

  • Defense Secretary William Perry wrote to the President on September 5 requesting a six month extension of the deadline for identifying records for exemption from declassification under executive order 12958, which takes effect October 16.

  • The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) will apparently be fully funded in the coming year, despite House efforts to eliminate the organization. It will, however, be transferred to the National Archives, its third parent agency in three years. ISOO staff members have been spotted performing covert acts of kindness, such as donating left-over pastries from a National Industrial Security Program meeting to Martha's Table, a local soup kitchen.
    Secrecy & Government Bulletin is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a 50 year old public interest organization of natural and social scientists concerned with issues of science and society. The FAS Project on Government Secrecy is supported by grants from the HKH Foundation and the CS Fund.

    For further information send email to Steven Aftergood at saftergood@igc.apc.org. This publication may be freely reproduced.

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