from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 64
July 13, 2005


The nature of the foreign intelligence threat to the United States is characterized in a recent "Intelligence Threat Handbook" prepared for the government's Interagency OPSEC Support Staff.

Along with perfunctory discussions of economic espionage and computer security issues, the Handbook provides concise and intermittently interesting accounts of the foreign intelligence services of Russia, China, Cuba and North Korea, and their collection practices.

Thus, "China has seven intelligence services, but only three conduct the PRC's covert intelligence operations against the United States." (p. 19).

The Chinese Ministry of State Security "operates under different intelligence concepts than the West, although some of its techniques are completely familiar." (p. 21).

"Chinese HUMINT operations primarily rely on collecting a small amount of information from a large number of people." (p. 24).

The Handbook, which is based entirely on published sources (including the FAS web site), is unclassified, but is marked "For Official Use Only."

It was first reported in May 2005 by Anthony Capaccio of Bloomberg News. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See "Intelligence Threat Handbook," Interagency OPSEC Support Staff, no date (2005?):


An official history of Internal Revenue Service investigations, also marked "For Official Use Only" and withdrawn from public access in 1996, has been published online by

See "75 Years of IRS Criminal Investigation History, 1919-1994," now available here:


The vast range of records designated by the National Reconnaissance Office as "operational files" that are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act is spelled out in a 2003 NRO memorandum for the Director of Central Intelligence.

According to the NRO, all manner of policy, planning, budgetary and legal records may be considered "operational." In fact, it is hard to think of a record that would not potentially be "operational" under the terms of the NRO memo.

"I understand that the DCI approved this, but it clearly goes beyond the statutory definition for the NRO's files," observed Meredith Fuchs, general counsel of the National Security Archive.

That statutory definition (at 50 U.S.C. 403-5e) is limited to files "that document the means by which foreign intelligence or counterintelligence is collected through scientific and technical systems."

See "Designation of Operational Files of the National Reconnaissance Office," 10 February 2003:

An internal NRO email message in 2003 discussed the implementation of the newly enacted operational files exemption: "I am very hopeful that this designation will greatly reduce the resources required to respond to FOIA requests," an NRO official wrote. See:

The application of the "operational files" exemption to unclassified NRO budget documents is the subject of a new FAS FOIA lawsuit (SN, 06/30/05).


Official anxiety over declassification of historical records is reflected in a 1975 National Security Council memorandum for Henry Kissinger which laments the skillful Soviet use of declassified U.S. documents.

"The Soviets keep close tabs on documents declassified by this government, even those which are non-sensitive and as much as 30 years old, and make use of these documents in propaganda attacking U.S. policies," wrote NSC official Denis Clift, who cited several examples.

The two page memorandum ("administratively confidential") was located at the Gerald R. Ford Library by Mark Kramer of Harvard, who kindly provided a copy.

See "Soviet Use of Declassified Documents," National Security Council, October 8, 1975:


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

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