from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 103
November 20, 2003


The new House-Senate conference report on the intelligence authorization act for FY 2004 provides for a significant expansion of the government's counterterrorism surveillance authority.

"This provision allows the U.S. Government to have, through use of 'National Security Letters,' greater access to a larger universe of information that goes beyond traditional financial records, but is nonetheless crucial in tracking terrorist finances or espionage activities," the report said (section 374).

Several Senators, including Republican Larry Craig of Idaho, had urged that this provision be deferred pending further review and public hearings, as reported in the New York Times today. Their request was ignored.

Among numerous other notable features, the conference report would "Reaffirm the functional definition of covert action."

Although the meaning of this section is obscure, it seems to imply certain reporting requirements for activities that resemble traditional CIA "covert action" regardless of which agency undertakes them. Thus, this section concludes, "The Conferees expect all departments and agencies of the U.S. Government to continue to comply fully with the [National Security] Act and its legislative history."

The conference report interprets the recent termination of the Total Information Awareness program as a prohibition on "deployment and implementation," but not as a restriction on research and development of "advanced processing, analysis, and collaboration tools."

But the conferees also call for an unclassified report on the civil liberties implications of such new technologies: "The Conferees are convinced... that an analysis of the policies and procedures necessary to safeguard individual liberties and privacy should occur concurrently with the development of these analytic tools, not as an afterthought."

The text of the conference report on the 2004 intelligence authorization act is posted here:


The glaring inadequacy of U.S. intelligence on Iraq, at least as presented to Congress and the public, is a gnawing problem that will not go away.

"In the course of a 5-month investigation, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on a bipartisan basis has identified serious shortcomings in the prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorism," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, on November 18.

"We found that sketchy and often circumstantial evidence produced estimates that likely were substantially wrong. At a minimum, the intelligence community overstated the strength of the underlying data supporting its conclusions," she said.

"Unfortunately, the intelligence community has yet to acknowledge any flaws in prewar intelligence."

Another member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL), disagreed. "This idea that we are not getting right information or it is not perfect or it is not what we want or it is not being used the right way, in my opinion, is nonsense," he said.

Author Thomas Powers argues crisply that there was indeed something profoundly wrong with the way U.S. intelligence on Iraq was presented and used, and that the whole episode "will stand for decades to come as an object lesson in secrecy and its hazards."

"The administration's justification for war was not merely flawed or imperfect -- it was wrong in almost every detail, and completely wrong at the heart," he writes.

See "The Vanishing Case for War" by Thomas Powers, New York Review of Books, December 4, 2003:


The trial of accused scientist Thomas Butler on charges of mishandling infectious materials and numerous other offenses is approaching midway, as the prosecution rests and the defense begins.

In the latest expression of concern from his scientific colleagues, the President of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) wrote to Attorney General Ashcroft to urge a favorable resolution of the case.

"Many of Dr. Butler's colleagues in the infectious diseases community have long admired his excellent research on behalf of the many less fortunate people suffering from infectious diseases around the globe," wrote Dr. Joseph R. Dalovisio, IDSA president.

"Given his past outstanding contributions as well as the public facts surrounding his case, we are very concerned that Dr. Butler is being treated unfairly."

"No one was physically harmed by his mistakes, nor to the best of our knowledge is there any allegation of intent to harm. Absent any actual harm or harmful intent, any culpability that may fall upon Dr. Butler's shoulders would not seem to warrant the punishment he has already received, let alone the fear of further time spent in prison."

See the November 13 IDSA letter to AG Ashcroft here:

Further background on the Butler case remains available here:


Recent congressional actions will open the door for the Richard M. Nixon Museum in Yorba Linda, California to take possession of Nixon records that have long been housed at the National Archives. This could be a disaster, historians warn.

"The Nixon Museum has not proven worthy of our trust," wrote historian Stanley Kutler, who first aired the issue in a November 8 Boston Globe op-ed, reprinted here:

Others concurred.

"The biggest problem for government archivists, past, present and future, lies in the tactics used by Nixon's advocates to pressure the National Archives," wrote Maarja Krusten, a former archivist of the Nixon tapes at the National Archives.

"Instead of focusing on public access standards in fencing with the government, the Nixon lawyers and spokesmen repeatedly have attacked the professional staff of the National Archives," she wrote.


The UK Public Record Office has opened a new collection of Security Service (MI5) files on Communist and Nazi agents and sympathizers in the UK during World War II.

The collection is described along with a sampling of documents here:

Soviet intelligence veterans held a press conference in Moscow on November 18 to discuss a new book on intelligence intrigues surrounding the 1943 Teheran conference, where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin gathered. See:

A guide to historical CIA records at the National Archives is available here:


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

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