from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 112
November 11, 2002


The attack last week in Yemen by a CIA unmanned aerial vehicle that killed six al-Qaeda suspects including an American citizen has mostly been welcomed as a success in the war against terrorism. But it also leaves a host of unanswered questions in its wake.

Under what conditions will the United States initiate lethal operations away from a recognized battlefield? Under whose authority? Does CIA Director George Tenet now literally have a license to kill? Can an American lose all vestiges of his constitutional protections, and then lose his life, on the CIA's say-so?

"I can assure you that no constitutional questions are raised here," said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Fox News. "The President has given broad authority to US officials in a variety of circumstances to do what they need to do to protect the country" and he is "well within the balance of accepted practice and the letter of his constitutional authority."

"I'm not going to talk about Yemen at all," said Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke last week.

The attack "may not have violated the U.S. ban on assassinations, but the Bush administration's new rules on America's right to self-defense in the uncertain battlefield of the war on terrorism need to be sharply defined, according to former intelligence officials and experts," wrote Pam Hess of UPI.

See "Yemen Strike Not Assassination" by Pamela Hess, United Press International, November 8:


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working to create a "visionary" new computer monitoring system known as "Total Information Awareness" that would search for terrorists by probing through networked databases of private "transactional" information.

"We must be able to detect, classify, identify and track terrorists so that we may understand their plans and act to prevent them from being executed," said John Poindexter, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Information Awareness Office.

"Total Information Awareness -- a prototype system -- is our answer," he said in an August 2 speech describing the initiative.

"If terrorist organizations are going to plan and execute attacks against the United States, their people must engage in transactions and they will leave signatures in this information space," Adm. Poindexter said.

Of course, anyone who does anything must also "engage in transactions" and "leave signatures," raising immediate questions about the implications of Total Information Awareness for data security and personal privacy, among other issues.

See Adm. Poindexter's August 2 speech here:

The new initiative was further described in "Pentagon Plans a Computer System That Would Peek at Personal Data of Americans" by John Markoff in the New York Times, November 9:


While computer security needs to be an everyday concern for anyone who transmits or maintains valuable data online, "cyberterrorism" is a word that has no right to exist.

"There is no such thing as cyberterrorism," writes Joshua Green. There is "no instance of anyone ever having been killed by a terrorist (or anyone else) using a computer."

Green's article "The Myth of Cyberterrorism" in the November 2002 Washington Monthly marks the growing skepticism about the prospects of an "electronic Pearl Harbor" and echoes a critique that has been voiced notably by George Smith of The Crypt Newsletter for years. See:

A somewhat more credulous view of the subject was offered by the Congressional Research Service in "Critical Infrastructure: Control Systems and the Terrorist Threat," updated on October 1:


Central Intelligence Agency spokesman Bill Harlow lashed out at author David Wise last week after Wise wrote a New York Times op-ed that accused the CIA of attempting to censor his book.

Mr. Wise described CIA's efforts to discourage him from disclosing the name of a CIA counterintelligence officer who had been falsely suspected of espionage. Mr. Wise said that the pressure he faced to withhold the name exemplifies how the Agency uses secrecy to avoid embarrassment and to conceal its failures. The officer's name was nevertheless published in Wise's recent book about the Robert Hanssen espionage case.

"It seems clear that the C.I.A. attempted to censor the book merely to avoid embarrassing publicity," Mr. Wise wrote. See his November 7 op-ed, "Spies as Censors," here:

That is "complete and utter nonsense," said the CIA's Harlow. "Mr. Wise misleads the readers of the New York Times by suggesting that the CIA was trying to avoid embarrassing publicity. On the contrary, the officer involved, through his lawyer, even offered to be interviewed for the book. His only condition was that his true name be withheld." See the CIA statement and related correspondence from DCI George Tenet to Mr. Wise's publisher here:

What seems clear in this case is that the CIA is right, and Mr. Wise is wrong.

There is no reason to believe, and Mr. Wise did not even try to establish, that disclosing the name of the falsely accused CIA officer could be, or was, a source of "embarrassment" to the CIA.

The only embarrassment that may have resulted from Mr. Wise's disclosure is to the officer himself, who is not a public figure and who by all accounts has done nothing wrong.

CIA information policy is profoundly dysfunctional, and routinely involves the abuse of classification authority. But measures to maintain the anonymity of clandestine service personnel are not part of this problem.


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

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