from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 17
February 11, 2004


It is often noted that espionage is an ancient enterprise with roots at least as old as the Bible.

But what is rarely if ever recalled is that intelligence oversight and accountability are also part of the Biblical record, and that the Deity imposed a severe penalty upon those who distorted intelligence and inflated threats.

A Washington Times op-ed writer today attempted to defend the CIA by citing the first half of the Biblical precedent.

"Some Americans find in the CIA a convenient scapegoat, failing to recognize that throughout history espionage has been used to protect peoples from their enemies. Ancient Israel had spies: 'Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan [to see] whether the cities they dwell in are camps or strongholds.' (Numbers 13:17-19)," wrote Ernest W. Lefever of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in the Washington Times, Feb. 11, p. A18.

What Dr. Lefever failed to mention is that the spies sent by Moses came back with a hyped National Intelligence Estimate, with unhappy results.

"The land, through which we have gone, to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants... and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them." (Numbers 13: 32-33). Only Joshua and Caleb dissented from this majority view.

Because they wittingly or unwittingly exaggerated the capabilities of the Canaanites, God sentenced the spies to death, displaying no judicial deference to the intelligence agencies.

"The men who brought an unfavorable report about the land died by a plague before the Lord," we are told.

"But Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh alone remained alive, of those men who went to spy out the land." (Numbers 14: 36-37).


There are quite a few reports of the Congressional Research Service that present authoritative surveys of an issue coupled with insightful, expert analysis; others are perfunctory compilations of material readily available in the public domain.

But all of them are subject to the arbitrary secrecy policy championed by Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), chairman of the House Committee on House Administration, and embraced by the CRS leadership, which prohibits direct public access to CRS reports.

To defy that secrecy policy, and to make those reports directly available to the public, is therefore a virtuous act even when the reports themselves are of uneven quality.

A selection of recent CRS reports on Homeland Security and related topics is here:

"Homeland Security: The Presidential Coordination Office," updated February 4, 2004:

"Homeland Security: Department Organization and Management --Implementation Phase," updated February 4, 2004:

"Pipeline Security: An Overview of Federal Activities and Current Policy Issues," updated February 5, 2004:

"Ricin: Technical Background and Potential Role in Terrorism," updated February 4, 2004:

"Border Security and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles," January 2, 2004:

"Maritime Security: Overview of Issues," updated December 5, 2003:

"Port and Maritime Security: Background and Issues for Congress," updated December 5, 2003:

"Air Cargo Security," updated September 11, 2003:

"Comparisons of U.S. and Foreign Military Spending: Data from Selected Public Sources," January 28, 2004:


Unlike the Congressional Research Service, the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress does make some of its reports directly available to the public.

The following two reports were prepared by FRD for the DCI Crime and Narcotics Center (thanks to GP, for pointing these out):

"Nations Hospitable to Organized Crime and Terrorism," October 2003:

"Terrorist and Organized Crime Groups in the Tri-Border Area of South America," July 2003 (a report which has been the subject of recent news stories):


The JASON defense advisory group is another worthy entity that operates happily outside of public awareness. Two more previously unpublished JASON reports, somewhat dated but of possible interest to specialists, are now available here:

"Neutrino Detection Primer," JSR-84-105, March 1988 (2 MB). This report is intended to provide for non-expert readers a survey of natural and man-made neutrino sources and a critical review of various methods which have been proposed for their detection:

"JASON Global Grid Study," JRS-92-100, July 1992 (5 MB). This is an assessment of the emerging global communications grid, as of the early 1990s:


The increasing pace of the investigation into the leak of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity is raising expectations that the probe might actually lead to some conclusive result.

But news reports indicated that some Administration officials were refusing to sign forms waiving any confidentiality they might have been granted by journalists.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) wrote to the President yesterday, contending that such officials were not complying with his explicit direction to comply fully with the leak investigation. See their February 10 letter here:


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

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