from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 71
June 19, 2006

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One way to supplement and improve intelligence oversight would be to employ the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an investigative arm of Congress, to perform routine audits of key intelligence functions.

Yet this potentially valuable oversight tool lies dormant due to opposition from the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

The GAO will not even attempt to conduct oversight of intelligence unless it is specifically tasked to do so by the Congressional intelligence committees, a GAO official said last week.

"For us to undertake such work would require the sponsorship of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence or the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence."

"While we have the authority to do such work, we lack the cooperation we need to get our job done in that area. As a result, unless and until we receive such cooperation, and given GAO's limited recourse, we will continue our long-standing policy of not doing work that relates directly to intelligence matters unless requested to do so by one of the select intelligence committees."

The statement appeared in a June 14 letter report to Congress on security clearance policy (footnote 1). See:

This places responsibility on the intelligence committees to fully utilize the tools at their disposal, including the GAO.

"Every committee member up for re-election in 2006 and 2008 ... should be required to commit publicly to applying the full weight of the GAO, with added resources, to intelligence matters," urged Robert Steele of Open Source Solutions.

In 2001 testimony, a GAO official outlined his agency's authority to conduct intelligence oversight and described the history of GAO access to intelligence information.

"We have not actively audited the CIA since the early 1960s, when we discontinued such work because the CIA was not providing us with sufficient access to information to perform our mission," said Harry L. Hinton, Jr.

See "Observations on GAO Access to Information on CIA Programs and Activities," July 18, 2001:

And see, relatedly, "CIA News, Inc." from the Project on Government Oversight.


Gen. Michael Hayden, who is now the new CIA director, presented himself as a committed proponent of intelligence oversight in an April 2005 hearing on his nomination to become Deputy Director of National Intelligence.

But the record of that hearing, which has just been published, takes on a different aspect in light of the NSA warrantless surveillance program which was disclosed by the New York Times in December 2005 and kept secret from most members of the congressional intelligence committees.

"In a variety of sessions I have tried to be completely open and have treated the Committee as a stakeholder in our operational successes," Gen. Hayden told the Senate Intelligence Committee in spring 2005.

He explained his understanding of the indispensable role of oversight.

"To be successful, the American intelligence community has to be very powerful and largely secret. And yet we live in a political culture that distrusts two things most of all: power and secrecy."

"The path through what would otherwise be an unsolvable dilemma is the Congressional oversight structure where the people's elected representatives have full access to our activities -- thus ensuring necessary secrecy while creating the public confidence that ultimately allows us to create and exercise the powers that we need," Gen. Hayden said then.

It follows logically that a failure to provide elected representatives with "full access to our activities" would engender a loss of public confidence.

See "Nomination of Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden to be Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence," hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, April 14, 2005:


In a December 14, 2005 Executive Order, President Bush directed government agencies to review their Freedom of Information Act programs, evaluate their performance, and develop plans to reduce backlogs and improve efficiency.

Those plans were due on June 14 and some of them, not all, have now been published by the Department of Justice Office of Information and Privacy here:


The Department of Justice Inspector General released a newly declassified version of its 2004 audit of the FBI's handling of intelligence information related to the September 11 attacks, including a newly disclosed chapter on the case of Zacarias Moussaoui.

In a previously released version of the report, the entire chapter 4 on Moussaoui had been withheld by court order because of Moussaoui's ongoing trial. With the conclusion of that trial last month, the suppressed chapter was approved for release (large pdf).

See "A Review of the FBI's Handling of Intelligence Information Related to the September 11 Attacks," as released June 16, 2006:


Al Qaeda terrorists contemplated an attack on New York subways in 2003 using an "easily constructed" device called a "mubtakkar" to release cyanide gas, according to a story in Time Magazine this week:

But there are reasons to question the reliability and significance of the story, suggested chemist George Smith of

For one thing, "why, if the mubtakkar of death is so easy to make has it not been seen since, or employed in Iraq, or used anywhere there have been other terror attacks?"

See Smith's skeptical account on his new blog Dick Destiny:

and with an update here:

An overview of chemical warfare agents and analytical methods for their identification was prepared this year by Defence Research and Development Canada.

See "Analysis of Chemical Warfare Agents: General Overview, LC-MS Review, In-House LC-ESI-MS Methods and Open Literature Bibliography," Defence Research and Development Canada, March 2006:


"The alteration of official DoD imagery by persons acting for or on behalf of the Department of Defense is prohibited," advises a new Pentagon Instruction.

See "Alteration of Official DoD Imagery," DoD Instruction 5040.05, June 6, 2006:

"The days of total air superiority by friendly forces are over. Our potential enemies now may have as many or more aircraft than we do," according to a new Army correspondence course on defending against attacks from the air.

"Our potential enemies will gain air superiority over sectors of the battlefield for certain periods.... Successful small arms defense against air attack is an essential element of survival on the battlefield."

See "Small Arms Defense Against Air Attack," US Army Air Defense Artillery School, May 2006:

Some recent Congressional Research Service items include:

"Peacekeeping and Related Stability Operations: Issues of U.S. Military Involvement," updated May 18, 2006:

"Periods of War" (on the official beginning and ending dates of war) May 1, 2006:

And for no extra charge: "Net Neutrality: Background and Issues," May 16, 2006:


I will be away for much of the next ten days.


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

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