from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 88
September 10, 2002


The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing September 10 on oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the 1978 law governing electronic surveillance and physical search of persons suspected of engaging in foreign intelligence or international terrorism within the United States.

The hearing followed the release last month of an extraordinary secret court ruling that rejected the government's interpretation of the law's provisions, as modified by the USA Patriot Act. A Justice Department appeal of that ruling was heard behind closed doors on September 9 by a secret appeals court, which had never had occasion to meet before.

"Over the last two decades the FISA process has occurred largely in secret," said Sen. Patrick Leahy at the hearing. "Clearly, specific investigations must be kept secret, but even the basic facts about the FISA process have been resistant to sunlight.... Even the most general information on FISA surveillance, including how often FISA surveillance targets American citizens, or how often FISA surveillance is used in a criminal cases, is unknown to the public."

In support of the oversight function, Senator Leahy said that he, Senator Specter and Senator Grassley had written to the FISA appeals court to request an unclassified copy of the September 9 oral argument before the court as well as its pending ruling.

The September 10 Judiciary Committee hearing offered thoughtful testimony about the original intent of the FISA, its recent modifications, and possible reforms. The witnesses' prepared statements are posted here:

A complete set of FISA Annual Reports since 1979, noting the volume of surveillance and search activity, is posted here:


President Bush announced the appointment of William Brody as the newest member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the White House body that advises on intelligence policy and performance. Brody is President of Johns Hopkins University.

See the September 5 White House announcement here:

Following some embarrassing publicity, PFIAB has stopped making the spurious claim that the names of its members are confidential and are only available on a need-to-know basis. (See "PFIAB Plays Secrecy Games," Secrecy News, August 15).

The executive director of PFIAB, Mr. Randy Deitering, said this claim was "bad information" and apologized to David Corn of The Nation for it. See the Update (at the bottom of the page) to Corn's earlier story:


"Breakdown: How America's Intelligence Failures Led to September 11" is Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz's latest book project.

According to the publisher's promotional material, "Gertz explains how the September 11 terrorist attacks were the result of a massive breakdown in the U.S. intelligence gathering system that places high-tech gimmickry and back-stabbing bureaucrats above field work and human intelligence."

"The intelligence bureaucracy is broken and urgently in need of repair," Gertz writes.

From a secrecy policy point of view, "Breakdown" is distinguished by Gertz's trademark inclusion of some 40 pages of partially redacted classified documents that he obtained without authorization.

For further information on "Breakdown" by Bill Gertz, see:

Secrecy News welcomes review copies of new books on intelligence and national security policy, and good books on any subject.


The cumulative growth of official secrecy over the past year is discussed by Jeffrey Benner in the October issue of Reason. He notes, however, that "The Bush administration's sustained assault on transparency in government dates from the second month of Bush's term." See his article "Closing the Books: Open government after 9/11" here:

Notra Trulock, the former Energy Department official who came to public awareness as one of the principal accusers of former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, now says he identifies with Lee as a fellow victim of the FBI. "[Steven] Hatfill is hardly the first to receive 'justice FBI style'," writes Mr. Trulock. "[Richard] Jewell, Wen Ho Lee and I all got similar treatment." See his September 5 commentary here:

A series of letters from the attorney of Steven Hatfill, the anthrax investigation "person of interest," documenting his unsuccessful efforts to get his side of the story published in the New York Times are made available in "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mr. Steven J. Hatfill" on The Weekly Standard web site here:


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

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