from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 19
February 17, 2004


Government officials are successfully blocking efforts to reform national security secrecy policies, but the price of their success is mounting public contempt for those policies.

The CIA last week defeated a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to compel the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) to declassify the total intelligence budget for Fiscal Year 2002. A federal court ruled that the aggregate intelligence spending figure is exempt from disclosure. (Secrecy News, 02/10/04).

However, the DCI's victory is raising larger questions about the integrity of the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy's secrecy practices, and even about its ability to perform its core mission: to properly assess threats to the national security.

The government's handling of the budget disclosure matter "is so erratic that it cannot reasonably command public respect," according to a ringing editorial in the Washington Post today.

The Post noted that the CIA had declassified budget totals from 1997 and 1998 but "ludicrously" resisted release of similar information from half a century earlier.

The stubborn opposition to disclosure of the intelligence budget total "only highlights a classification system out of control," the Post concluded.

See "Indefensible Secrecy," Washington Post, February 17 (free registration required):

In a motion filed in D.C. District Court today, the Federation of American Scientists asked Judge Ricardo M. Urbina to reconsider his February 6 ruling and to release the requested budget number for 2002. See:


Special operations forces (SOF) are small military units that employ unconventional methods of warfare. Thousands of U.S. special operations personnel are deployed in dozens of countries around the world including, of course, Afghanistan and Iraq.

But "the unconventional operational methods of SOF create a chink in their armor not faced by the conventional armed forces," according to a recent master's thesis by an Air Force Major: "The nontraditional attire worn by SOF while operating in enemy territory, rather than traditional uniforms, arguably results in forfeiture of prisoner of war (POW) status for SOF under the law of war."

In addressing this legal issue, the author provides a highly readable introduction to the organization and characteristics of U.S. special forces, as well as the relevant laws of war.

See "Nontraditional Uniforms Do Accord Prisoner of War Status For Special Operations Forces" by Maj. Robert James Drone, George Washington University Law School, August 31, 2003 (79 pages, 2.7 MB PDF file) (thanks to RT):

"The special forces' success in Iraq has ... obscured a more ominous consequence of their newfound popularity: that expanding their role in the way [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld intends could be very dangerous for U.S. foreign policy," writes Jennifer Kibbe of the Brookings Institution.

"Thanks to the vagueness of U.S. law governing covert action, using the military for such operations is -- at least under one interpretation of the law -- much easier than using the CIA."

See "The Rise of the Shadow Warriors" by Jennifer D. Kibbe in Foreign Affairs, March/April 2004.


The Senate will meet in closed session in the near future to address the status of U.S. intelligence, the Washington Post reported.

The precise date and scope of the session have yet to be worked out, the Post said ("Senate to Close Intelligence Session" by Helen Dewar and Dana Priest, February 14).

Since 1929, the Senate has held 53 secret sessions, according to a report of the Congressional Research Service. Six sessions in January and February 1999 concerned the impeachment of President Clinton. The next most recent secret session in the Senate in April 1997 addressed the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The origin and past practice of such closed sessions of Congress is summarized in "Secret Sessions of Congress: A Brief Historical Overview" by Mildred Amer, Congressional Research Service, updated August 5, 2003:


The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a statement on February 12 regarding the newly expanded scope of its inquiry into the pre-war use of intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

That inquiry will now include the politically delicate but crucial question of "whether public statements and reports and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. Government officials made between the Gulf War period and the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom were substantiated by intelligence information." See:


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

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