from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 39
May 9, 2003


The Senate approved an amendment to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that would further augment government authority by permitting clandestine search and surveillance of individuals suspected of engaging in international terrorism even if it cannot be shown that they have ties to a foreign government or a foreign terrorist organization. The amendment would not apply to "U.S. persons," such as U.S. citizens.

Senator Dianne Feinstein argued that the measure had insufficient safeguards and invited abuse, and she offered an alternative proposal.

"I am not saying that [the Government] will overreach," Sen. Feinstein said. "But because it is a secret process, the laws we pass have to prevent that overreach." Her preventive alternative, however, was rejected.

Senator Patrick Leahy likewise objected. "Far from addressing a true problem, all that [the amendment] would do is encourage the use of the secret, unchecked FISA process for an entire class of cases that are more appropriately handled as criminal matters."

The Senate passed the FISA amendment by a vote of 90-4. See the full text of the May 8 floor debate here:

The amendment emerged from an ongoing internal dispute in the Senate over the implementation of the Patriot Act and the adequacy of congressional oversight. Senators Leahy, Grassley and Specter have led the critics, while Senator Orrin Hatch has advocated the Administration line. The views of both sides are sharply expressed in an April 29 Senate Judiciary Committee report on the new FISA amendment, which may be found here:

Other resources on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act may be found here:

In exchange for approval of the new FISA amendment, proponents of the Patriot Act led by Senator Hatch withdrew (for now) their demand that the Act's 2005 expiration date be canceled. See "Senate Deal Kills Effort to Extend Antiterror Act," by Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, May 9:


In congressional testimony this week, the Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) presented a disarmingly modest and rational account of his agency's research on data mining, including the notorious Total Information Awareness program.

An indiscriminate approach to data mining will not work, said Dr. Tony Tether. "Our research goal to create better counterterrorism tools will not be realized by surveilling huge piles of data representing a collection of broad or ill-defined activities in the hope of discovering previously unknown, unspecified patterns."

He stressed moreover that DARPA seeks to achieve "full compliance" with "American values related to privacy." See his May 6 statement here:

Dr. Tether's testimony was first reported by Adam Clymer in "Pentagon Surveillance Plan is Described as Less Invasive," New York Times, May 7:


The proposed Freedom of Information Act exemption for "operational files" of the National Security Agency was included in the Senate Armed Services Committee markup of the 2004 Defense Authorization Act that was completed on May 9. But that is not necessarily the end of the matter, Senate staffers said.

"There are rumblings" of possible remedial action on the Senate floor to eliminate the provision, or modify it significantly, one staffer said.


The People's Mujahedin of Iran (Mujahedeen-e Khalq), a militant organization violently opposed to the Iranian government, challenged its designation by the U.S. State Department as a "foreign terrorist organization." The Mujahedin told a U.S. court that the designation should be found unconstitutional since it was based in part on classified evidence that the group had had no opportunity to rebut.

The D.C. District Court of Appeals didn't buy it. "While colorable, this argument will not carry the day," the appeals court ruled on May 9. (According to Black's Law Dictionary, "colorable" here means "appearing to be true, valid, or right.")

See a copy of the appeals court ruling here:

See also "Support waning for controversial Iran rebel group" by Frank Davies, Miami Herald, April 10:


The Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces will hold its second annual Workshop on "Making Intelligence Accountable" in Oslo, Norway on September 19-20. For more information, see:


The public interest group Public Citizen has launched a new web site,, devoted to Bush Administration secrecy.

"Here, Public Citizen chronicles and documents the administration's obsession with secrecy, as well as the steps we, and others, are taking to fight it."

The site focuses on executive privilege, including the dispute over access to presidential records, as well as freedom of information act policy and changes to national security classification policy. It provides links to source documents, along with interpretive analysis from Public Citizen. The site displays exemplary production values.

Remarkably, however, quite a few aspects of Bush Administration secrecy policy are left out. And so far, at least, the site scarcely acknowledges the numerous parallel and complementary efforts already undertaken by others. See:

FAS resources on Bush Administration secrecy policy may be found here:


How can an entire society go crazy? That is the question pondered by the late Sebastian Haffner, an ordinary German who was astonished and ashamed at the changes that overtook his country in the 1930s.

His 1939 memoir, unpublished until 2000, describes the incremental and then unstoppable rise of Nazism from the perspective of a skeptical humanist who found himself unwillingly swept away.

The English translation, published last year, is entitled "Defying Hitler," but that is misleading. (The original title was "Geschichte eines Deutschen," The Story of a German.) In fact, the absence of real defiance, the actual inability to mobilize even minimal resistance to the tide of militant nationalism described by the author is part of what makes this such a striking and suggestive work. Readers may draw their own analogies.

See this representative review of "Defying Hitler" by Charles Taylor from, September 3, 2002 (thanks to YL for the suggestion):


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

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