from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 58
May 18, 2006

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The government's acquisition of telephone records of tens of millions of Americans, as reported last week in USA Today, raises a host of thorny legal issues. In a new report, the Congressional Research Service performed a preliminary assessment of those issues.

"The factual information available in the public domain with respect to any such alleged program is limited and in some instances inconsistent," the CRS authors caution, "and the application, if at all, of any possibly relevant statutory provisions to any such program is likely to be a very fact specific inquiry."

Having said that, the CRS explains that there are several statutes that may be pertinent and that could conceivably entail civil or criminal penalties for telephone companies that provide information to the government without statutory authorization.

"This [CRS] report ...summarize[s] statutory authorities regarding access by the Government, for either foreign intelligence or law enforcement purposes, to information related to telephone calling patterns or practices. Where pertinent, we will also discuss statutory prohibitions against accessing or disclosing such information, along with relevant exceptions to those prohibitions."

The Congressional Research Service does not make its products directly available to the public. But a copy of the latest report was obtained by Secrecy News.

See "Government Access to Phone Calling Activity and Related Records: Legal Authorities," May 17, 2006:


The widespread use of "Sensitive But Unclassified" (SBU) control markings is a major impediment to information sharing inside and outside of the federal government, according to testimony last week from Thomas E. McNamara, the program manager for the Information Sharing Environment, who reports to the Director of National Intelligence.

"More than 60 different marking types are used across the Federal Government to identify SBU, including various designations within a single department," he observed.

And even "[when] different agencies ... use the same marking to denote information that is to be handled as SBU, a chosen category of information is often defined differently from agency to agency, and agencies may impose different handling requirements. Some of these marking and handling procedures are not only inconsistent, but are contradictory."

See his prepared testimony from a May 10 hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence here:

"There is, quite frankly, much [SBU] that has no legal basis and doesn't deserve a legal basis," he told the Subcommittee. "We should be getting that stuff out."

See "Congress urged to help make more 'sensitive' information public" by Chris Strohm, Congress Daily, May 11:

An interagency working group completed an inventory of SBU procedures in March, and is due to develop recommendations for standardizing such procedures by next month.


As well established as the practice of intelligence analysis may be, researchers continue to ask elementary questions about what analysis is, how it is done, and how it can be done better.

"Intelligence analysis involves a complex process of assessing the reliability of information from a wide variety of sources and combining seemingly unrelated events. This problem is challenging because it involves aspects of data mining, data correlation and human judgment," one recent study performed for the Office of Naval Research observed.

The study focused on development of computer tools to support the analytical method known as Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH), previously explored by Folker (pdf), among others.

See "Assisting People to Become Independent Learners in the Analysis of Intelligence" by Peter L. Pirolli, Palo Alto Research Center, Inc., Final Report to the Office of Naval Research, February 2006:


A "Historical Dictionary of Israeli Intelligence," published this month, is the third in a new series of reference works on major intelligence services, following volumes on British and U.S. intelligence.

"Mossad," the name of the Israeli foreign intelligence service, is probably the best known Hebrew word after "shalom," the preface suggests.

The new Dictionary, written by Israeli professor Ephraim Kahana, provides background, updated organizational charts, and other information on the Mossad and several other Israeli intelligence and security agencies.

The 424-page Dictionary provides an introduction to Israeli intelligence, along with entries on significant persons, operations and key historical episodes. All of the obvious topics are covered, from the capture of fugitive Nazi Adolf Eichmann to the Jonathan Pollard case, as are other relatively obscure subjects, such as the defense security organization Malmab, and its querulous director Yehiel Horev.

The individual subject entries are mostly brief, and do not include sources or references. But the book includes a fine bibliography (at least for those who lack Hebrew) featuring hardcopy and online resources on Israeli intelligence.

See "Historical Dictionary of Israeli Intelligence" by Ephraim Kahana, Scarecrow Press, Inc., Lanham, MD, May 2006.


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

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