from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 77
August 30, 2004


The pros and cons of a joint congressional committee to oversee intelligence are weighed in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

"Of all our recommendations," wrote the 9/11 Commission in its final report, "strengthening congressional oversight may be among the most difficult and important." (p. 419)

The Commission found that congressional oversight of intelligence is "dysfunctional" and recommended that oversight be consolidated in some kind of joint committee.

The history of the joint committee concept, its strengths and weaknesses are considered in "A Joint Committee on Intelligence: Proposals and Options from the 9/11 Commission and Others," updated August 25, 2004:

Direct public access to CRS reports like this one is not authorized by Congress. A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News.


Both the Washington Post and the New York Times published editorials on August 28 that included calls for disclosure of the intelligence budget.

It was sort of like the secrecy policy equivalent of when both Time and Newsweek put Bruce Springsteen on their covers during the same week in 1975.

"The Sept. 11 commission recently recommended declassifying intelligence community budget information," noted the Post editorial board. "This would be a good place to start."

See "Too Much Secrecy," Washington Post, August 28:

"For openers, the budget should be made public," concurred the New York Times the same day:

Editorial endorsement of the 9/11 Commission's bipartisan recommendation in favor of intelligence budget disclosure does not guarantee that such disclosure will take place. But the outcome will provide a tangible indicator of the success or failure of secrecy reform in intelligence.

Meanwhile, officials at CIA have been slow to disenthrall themselves and to decide whether even half century-old historical intelligence budget figures can be published without threatening the security of the United States. They have sixteen days left to figure it out. (Their reply on the matter is due September 15 in DC District Court.)


On August 27, President Bush issued four executive orders and two presidential directives on intelligence reform and related topics. The orders generally strengthen the programmatic authority of the Director of Central Intelligence and establish a new National Counterterrorism Center.

The new issuances are described in an August 27 White House fact sheet, which includes links to each of them:

In a background briefing about the new orders, "a senior White House official" answered reporters' questions. The transcript of the August 27 background briefing is here:


Secrecy policy today does not serve the needs of U.S. intelligence well, writes Hoover Institution analyst Bruce Berkowitz in a penetrating article in the Hoover Digest.

"The whole purpose of intelligence is to give us an information advantage over our adversaries. Secrecy protects this advantage by keeping our opponents from knowing what we know. But poorly designed systems for protecting secrecy can give away any advantage we gain when they prevent us from using our intelligence effectively."

Berkowitz observes that there is no well-developed theory that describes how secrecy is supposed to work or that identifies when its costs exceed its benefits.

"Without this kind of understanding of how secrecy works, our policies are really just a conglomeration of rules and traditions, most of which were adopted many years ago and many of which are poorly suited for current conditions."

He proposes several features that would characterize the ideal security system, though he does not identify any particular category of information now kept secret that he says should not be.

Despite the patent failure of official secrecy policies, change has been slow to come.

"One reason these problems have persisted for some time is that too few experts from within the intelligence community have complained," he says.

Berkowitz himself may be in a position to help remedy that. Since writing the article, he has gone on leave from the Hoover Institution and now serves as Director of Forecasting and Evaluation in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Intelligence).

See "Secrecy and National Security" by Bruce Berkowitz, Hoover Digest, Summer 2004:


Somebody somewhere probably wants it, so here it is: Hungary's 1995 law governing its intelligence and security services, translated from Hungarian into German (thanks to the translator, Robert Fuchs):


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

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