from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 44
May 17, 2002


"Is the CIA's refusal to cooperate with Congressional inquiries a threat to effective oversight of the operations of the federal government?"

That provocatively phrased question was the topic of an exceptionally interesting hearing last July before the House Government Reform Committee, the transcript of which was published this week. See:

The hearing stemmed from a jurisdictional dispute between congressional committees over who had authority to oversee certain aspects of intelligence activities. But it ended up casting a rare spotlight on the conduct of intelligence oversight generally.

The diverse failings of U.S. intelligence are also, by implication, failings of congressional oversight. It is Congress, after all, that funds intelligence and approves or modifies its organization and operations. If intelligence was inadequate to deal with September 11, then Congress also has something to answer for.

Given the defects on all sides, an independent investigation might ask, as Wesley Pruden put it in the Washington Times today, "Whose snoring woke who up?"

But while the need for intelligence reform is vaguely acknowledged, the need to improve intelligence oversight has not yet been seriously confronted.


A dramatic new report that nuclear war nearly erupted between Pakistan and India in 1999 is renewing questions about how former government officials make use of information that they gathered when in office.

"American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House," by former National Security Council official Bruce O. Riedel, provides a fascinating account of a July 4, 1999, meeting between President Clinton and Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif that is rich with intelligence data and diplomatic intrigue.

In fact, the study is so rich that it almost certainly contains information that is nominally classified and formally inaccessible to private analysts and others.

One distinguished student of national security affairs expressed astonishment and frustration at the publication of Mr. Riedel's first person account, and suggested that he had broken the rules.

"I say, 'Book him, Danno. Leaking 1'," the scholar said. "I mean, what's the point of all this classification, if people can publish secrets they learned on the job after they leave the job? (Why couldn't he do the respectable thing and leak it anonymously to a reporter?)"

The point, of course, is not to punish people such as Mr. Riedel, whose study is a valuable addition to the literature. Rather, it is to underscore the need to develop and enforce rational information policies that approximate fairness and permit independent review. As things currently stand, the CIA and other agencies oppose public disclosure of completely innocuous information from fifty years ago, nevermind potentially sensitive information from three years ago. Correcting this state of affairs is more difficult than it ought to be.

Mr. Riedel did not respond to an email inquiry as to whether he had sought or received any form of prepublication review. A spokesperson for the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Advanced Study of India, which published the paper, said he had gotten approval from the people that he quoted to cite their remarks. In any case, it should be noted that, unlike certain notorious former officials, Mr. Riedel did not seek financial benefit from his privileged access to government information.

Mr. Riedel's study, published this week, is posted here:

See also "Report: India, Pakistan Were Near Nuclear War in '99" by Alan Sipress and Thomas E. Ricks in the May 15 Washington Post here:

The problem of government officials appropriating government information for their own use was discussed at length in a 1992 report entitled "For Their Eyes Only: How Presidential Appointees Treat Public Documents as Personal Property" by investigative journalist Steve Weinberg. That study, which is dated but still interesting, is available for purchase from the Center for Public Integrity here:


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

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