from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 91
September 12, 2007

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Critics of the new Protect America Act who wonder if it will be used to conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans have misunderstood the legislation, according to a Department of Justice official, but he also admitted the law may be susceptible to such a misunderstanding.

"Contrary to some reports, the new legislation does nothing to change FISA's prohibition against targeting a person in the United States for surveillance without a court order," said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein at a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee last week.

At the same time, he indicated that ambiguities in the language of the law may lend themselves to just such an interpretation.

"To the extent that the statute could be construed to allow acquisitions of domestic communications, we would be willing to consider alternative language," Mr. Wainstein said in his prepared statement (at page 10).

A copy of Mr. Wainstein's September 6 statement is here:

The text of his oral remarks is here:

The ambiguities in the Protect America Act are far more extensive than what has yet been officially acknowledged, according to Morton H. Halperin of the Open Society Institute. (The Open Society Institute helps fund Secrecy News.)

"Congress enacted legislation the meaning of which is simply not deducible from the words in the text," he told the House Judiciary Committee last week.

Will the new law "lead to the interception of phone calls and emails that the intelligence community should not be reading"?

"I have no idea if that is the case or not but neither does anyone else in the public and most of the Congress," said Mr. Halperin. "That very uncertainty is simply unacceptable and a threat to both our liberty and our security."


"Legacy of Ashes," the best-selling new history of the Central Intelligence Agency by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tim Weiner, has been almost universally praised by prestigious book reviewers as a ground-breaking, comprehensive, reliable and insightful account of the CIA from its inception to the present. It was favorably cited in Secrecy News too.

In a detailed and sharply-worded critique, author Jeffrey T. Richelson dissents.

The book "makes ill-supported claims, issues grandiose judgments, and gives only cursory attention to important episodes," says Richelson, who himself has produced several volumes of intelligence history.

"The kudos lavished on Weiner's book... are just as disturbing as the volume's shortcomings," writes Richelson, and "the uniform praise ... leaves one with a sinking feeling."

"An intelligent debate about the strengths and shortcomings of the CIA, as well as its future, requires an unbiased understanding of its performance -- something missing both from Legacy of Ashes and its reviews."

See "Sins of Omission and Commission" by Jeffrey T. Richelson, published in the Washington DeCoded blog:


Notable new reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following.

"India-U.S. Economic and Trade Relations," August 31, 2007:

"U.S.-China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress," updated August 20, 2007:

"United States Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom," updated August 17, 2007:

"Federal Prison Industries," updated July 13, 2007:

"Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan: Effects and Countermeasures," updated August 28, 2007:


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

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