from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 99
November 10, 2003


The operation of the Senate Intelligence Committee practically came to a halt last week as Senators bickered over the leak of an uncirculated staff memo that Republicans said violated the nonpartisan norms of the Committee.

The memo, leaked to Fox News, outlined how Democrats could use Committee procedures to advance their critique of the Bush Administration's handling of intelligence on Iraq.

The uncirculated staff memo had "poisoned the well" of bipartisanship, said Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS).

On Friday, Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) set forth several conditions for a return to normal Committee operation: the memo's author must identify himself, repudiate the contents of the memo, and apologize to Sen. Roberts. See:

Democrats were mostly unmoved. "The purpose of the memo apparently was to lay out options," Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) told Fox News yesterday. "And I don't disavow the options, including the words 'independent investigation'."

Objectively, Republicans seemed to have little to complain about. Under the modest, non-confrontational leadership of Vice Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the minority members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are about as deferential to the executive branch as any President could wish.

Committee Democrats have concurred in allocating huge increases in intelligence spending. They have acquiesced in the closed-door approach to oversight favored by Chairman Roberts, though it left the public at a loss. Senator Rockefeller even defied many of his Democratic colleagues (and some Republicans) and declined to press the White House for declassification of the censored 28 pages of the Congressional Joint Inquiry into September 11.

But if, as appears to be the case, intelligence on Iraq was distorted by Bush Administration officials in a self-serving manner (e.g. by declaring that Iraq had "reconstituted" its nuclear program when there was no evidence of this), then the intelligence oversight function is indeed likely to fracture along partisan lines in response. [correction added 11/12/03: the allegation that Iraq was "reconstituting" its nuclear weapons program was contained in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.]

Meanwhile, Committee Democrats are on notice that the confidentiality of their internal deliberations cannot be assured, and that any future criticism of the Bush Administration will be dismissed as "disgusting partisanship."


The National Security Agency was granted the exemption it had requested from the Freedom of Information Act for so-called "operational files" that reflect the technical means by which the Agency collects intelligence. Files designated as "operational" will not need to be searched and reviewed in response to FOIA requests.

But the new exemption, contained in the conference version of the 2004 Defense Authorization Act, follows the amended Senate version, which is more narrowly crafted than the NSA had initially proposed (Secrecy News, 5/22/03). As urged by openness advocates, the exemption is limited to records produced in two particular Agency directorates, and cannot be applied to archived historical records.

Other provisions of note in the new Defense Authorization Act include a measure that will expand the Defense Department's polygraph testing program (while simultaneously eliminating public reporting requirements), and a measure to increase transparency of Iraqi reconstruction contracts.

See these excerpts from the House-Senate conference report on the 2004 Defense Authorization Act here:


A U.S. military web page on Pakistan's role in the "war on terrorism" that the government removed from the web has been posted on a non-governmental web site.

Information on Pakistan published on the U.S. Central Command web site was removed several months ago for unknown reasons. See the link to an empty page on Pakistan on this site:

But, as now routinely occurs, the deleted information has been provided elsewhere. In this case, the deleted Pakistan page was posted by the independent Information Clearinghouse:

President Bush had it right. Future historians, he said last week, "will point to the role of technology in frustrating censorship and central control -- and marvel at the power of instant communications to spread the truth, the news, and courage across borders." See:


The Bush Administration has "used unprecedented secrecy and deception in order to avoid accountability to the Congress, the Courts, the press and the people," said Al Gore in an unabashedly "partisan" speech that may nevertheless ring true to many Americans.

See his November 9 remarks on "Freedom and Security" and the USA Patriot Act here:


Growing awareness of government secrecy as a problem and a challenge has even reached the precincts of Esquire Magazine, which included a profile of yours truly (blush) in its December 2003 issue on "America's best and brightest."


The extraction of an Iraqi MiG aircraft buried in the Iraqi desert is documented in a July 2003 presentation prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

A copy of the 1 MB PowerPoint DIA file, whimsically entitled "Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Lost Iraqi MiG," is posted here:


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

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