from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
May 2, 2001


Covert action involving clandestine U.S. government support of Italian democratic parties during the 1960s was documented for the first time in the latest volume of the State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, released on April 21.

The covert action program was predicated on the idea that with sufficient financial support, "the democratic parties' appeal in the next national election should increase and that of the Communist Party should decrease," according to a 1965 National Security Council document.

The newly disclosed documents on the covert action in Italy are available here:

The complete FRUS volume in which the documents appeared (FRUS, 1964-1968, vol. XII, Western Europe) is posted here:

The covert action in Italy is one of a rather small number of U.S. covert actions that have now been officially acknowledged. But these are only a fraction of the number that were actually carried out during the cold war. There were no fewer than 163 covert actions approved during the Kennedy administration alone, according to the State Department, and 142 covert actions during the Johnson administration through February 1967.

See the "Note on U.S. Covert Action Programs" prepared by the FRUS editors here:

Characteristically, the CIA resisted declassification of the records on covert action in Italy. Approval of their release had to be sought from the so-called High-Level Panel, composed of representatives from State, CIA and NSC. This was the first issue ever brought before the High-Level Panel (in 1998) and it authorized disclosure of the newly published records. In a regrettable concession to CIA budget secrecy policy, however, the dollar figures associated with the Italy operation were excised.

In a sign that dissatisfaction with CIA disclosure policy is spreading beyond the community of historians and advocates, the CIA's reluctance to declassify old records was blasted in an opinion column that appeared last week in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"Pardon the American people for caring, but foreign affairs isn't some abstract thing that impacts only uptight men in expensive suits who work inside the Beltway," wrote Star-Telegram editorial writer J.R. Labbe.

"[DCI George J.] Tenet and his minions in the spook world appear to be arguing that this material should remain secret forever. `Forever.' That's a long time and is unjustifiable under the Constitution, a document that they themselves swore to protect," Labbe wrote.

There is of course no specific constitutional requirement to declassify historical records. But the CIA is in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution when it withholds historical budget information since there is a specific constitutional requirement to publish an account of all expenditures "from time to time." The CIA's casual defiance of this provision diminishes the power of the Constitution and is genuinely subversive of American democracy.

See "CIA must stop sitting on historical briefings " by J.R. Labbe in the April 26 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


The U.S. intelligence community is belatedly recognizing that it has failed to fully exploit the availability of open source intelligence and that remedial steps to correct this problem should be "a top priority for investment."

"Today, open source material of relevance to [intelligence] analysts working in a dispersed threat environment is dauntingly voluminous, and the Intelligence Community is not keeping up with it," according to the "Strategic Investment Plan for Intelligence Community Analysis" produced by the National Intelligence Production Board (NIPB) and published this week by the CIA.

"Open source" here refers generally to intelligence-related information that is not classified or otherwise subject to official access controls. As a result it may be collected without resort to espionage.

"The NIPB has made the development of an Intelligence Community strategy for open source a top priority for investment and concerted action over the next few years," the Plan states. The Community "also needs to exploit the Internet and other open media more effectively and efficiently."

This represents something of an about-face for U.S. intelligence, which in recent years has considered open sources to be somebody else's problem.

When George Tenet was asked at his confirmation hearing in 1997 about the role of open source intelligence, he indicated that it was not a priority. "We are an espionage organization," he said dismissively. Even at that time, critics said he was confusing means (espionage) with ends (intelligence).

"I don't want to be in the position where we lead people to believe that we are going to be the open source repository for the entire government, or pay to develop that kind of a capability," Mr. Tenet told Congress. "I don't think it's our mission."

Given DCI Tenet's negative outlook, it is no surprise that "the Intelligence Community investment in open source... has declined radically in recent years," according to the new Strategic Plan, even as the utility of open source intelligence was growing by leaps and bounds.

Under the new Plan, it appears that intelligence agencies will now endeavor to make up for lost time, beginning this year with development of "a Community-wide strategy for exploiting open source material."

The Strategic Investment Plan for Intelligence Community Analysis is available on the CIA web site or here (a 3 MB PDF file):


The secretive Court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 was busier than ever last year, approving an all time high of 1012 government applications for electronic surveillance or physical search of suspected foreign intelligence agents in the United States.

The Justice Department disclosed the contents of its calendar year 2000 annual report to Congress today in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The report was filed on April 27.

The FISA Court has been controversial because, with one exception, it has never rejected a government application for surveillance, raising questions about the quality of the Court's review. Justice Department officials say that the high approval rate simply reflects their rigorous preparation of the application prior to submission to the Court. They say that defective applications, like that in the Wen Ho Lee case, are turned back before they ever reach the Court.

A separate problem arises due to the fact that, unlike ordinary criminal cases involving law enforcement wiretaps, no defendant in a FISA-based prosecution has ever been able to view the application for surveillance and to meaningfully challenge its legality. In the absence of adversarial review, courts depend exclusively on the prosecution's version of events.

The government submitted a record 1005 requests for surveillance or physical search in calendar year 2000. Of those, 1003 were approved before the end of the year. (The remaining two were approved in January 2001.) Nine requests submitted in 1999 were also approved in 2000, for a grand total of 1012 approved in 2000. (The previous high was 880 authorizations granted in 1999.) One request was modified but none was denied.

The latest FISA report to Congress is not yet available online. But several previous annual reports are posted here:


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