from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
November 30, 2001


The death of CIA officer Johnny Micheal Spann in Afghanistan was acknowledged with dignity and eloquence on November 28 by Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet.

In an extraordinary departure from past practice, however, the CIA issued a press release about Spann's death:

Why did the Agency take this unusual step?

CIA spokesman Bill Harlow told Reuters that "Some circumstances will permit you to identify people who have given their lives for their country and for the Agency and when we can do so, we do."

But this is not a satisfactory explanation or an accurate description of CIA disclosure policy.

There is a stubborn, irrational resistance to disclosure of such information, author Ted Gup found in his recent study The Book of Honor: Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA. The Book of Honor refers to the record of those CIA officers who were killed in the line of duty (of which there are now 79), nearly half of whom are still not identified by name but only by an engraved star.

"Douglas S. Mackiernan was killed on the Tibetan border in 1950," wrote Gup last year. "His star remains nameless. So, too, does that of Hugh Francis Redmond, who died in 1970 after nineteen years in a Chinese prison. In both instances the Chinese knew they were CIA spies. Only the American public did not."

This practice is not only an injustice to the memory of those who died, it is also bad policy because it erodes the already shaky credibility of CIA classification actions.

It is possible to do better.

Thus, in the course of his investigation Ted Gup learned the identity of "a young woman [CIA officer] who died a violent and selfless death in 1996" but did not reveal her name because "The Agency made a compelling case that to identify her would put others at risk."

Information about The Book of Honor by Ted Gup may be found here:

A volatile former CIA counterterrorism officer named Larry Johnson yesterday accused the CIA of engaging in a "public relations battle" at the expense of Mr. Spann's family who, he suggested, are now "at risk" as a result. Mr. Johnson spoke on the PBS News Hour:

According to a CIA spokesman, Johnny Micheal Spann's middle name is properly spelled "Micheal" and not, as New York Times editors and others have emended it, "Michael."


The House of Representatives described with unwonted specificity the amount of money allocated to the U.S. intelligence community for emergency counterterrorism activities in the Defense Appropriations bill that passed the House on November 28.

The House established a new Counter-Terrorism and Operational Response Transfer Fund in Title IX of the defense spending bill in which it directed that "$451,000,000 shall be made available to the Director of Central Intelligence."

This is unusual since, as a rule, dollar amounts for intelligence are not disclosed.

(The limited exceptions include spending for CIA retirement accounts and for the Community Management Staff, which are disclosed annually, as are funds for a variety of small tactical intelligence programs in the defense budget. In 1994, the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee accidentally published more detail. See Secrecy & Government Bulletin, Issue No. 41, November 1994; and "$28 Billion Spying Budget Is Made Public by Mistake" by Tim Weiner, New York Times, November 5, 1994.)

The House allocated the new intelligence money, with additional funds for the Defense Department, for the following purposes:

With notable passivity, the House directed the Pentagon and the DCI to report back in 90 days on how they would spend the new money. See excerpts from the bill here:

The White House opposed this Title IX provision of the defense bill, arguing that the money should go into existing accounts rather than into a new funding construct. "The immediate effect of this legislation would be to fragment programs and disrupt ... ongoing activities," the Administration argued. See:

"Since 1995, the congressional intelligence committees have become less effective in providing public oversight and in advancing needed reforms," writes Steven Aftergood in a letter to the editor of the New York Times:


Prepared testimony from the important November 28 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on "Preserving Our Freedoms While Defending Against Terrorism" may be found here:

In a healthy sign of resistance to unwarranted secrecy, historians and public interest groups, represented by Public Citizen, filed a lawsuit November 28 seeking to overturn the recent executive order issued by President Bush that limits access to the records of former presidents. See:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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