from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 94
September 26, 2007

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After a congressional committee requested a copy of an unclassified internal State Department report on corruption in the Iraqi government, the Department classified the report and declined to provide it. But the document is in the public domain and widely accessible.

"The State Department initially informed Committee staff that the reports were designated 'sensitive but unclassified',' wrote Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the House Oversight Committee, in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"After receiving the Committee's inquiry, however, the State Department retroactively classified the documents and refused to provide them voluntarily to the Committee."

"The Committee subpoenaed the documents last week, but they still have not been provided to the Committee in either classified or unclassified form," Mr. Waxman complained.

The primary document at issue is an assessment of Iraqi corruption that was prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The document was first reported in The Nation magazine last month, and it was published last week on the Federation of American Scientists web site (Secrecy News, 09/19/07).

"Obviously, the State Department's position on this matter is ludicrous," wrote Rep. Waxman.

"If there is widespread corruption within the Maliki government, this is information that both Congress and the public are entitled to know."

But according to State Department officials, "any information about corruption within the Maliki government must be treated as classified because public discussions could undermine U.S. relations with the Maliki government."


In his new book "Enemies of Intelligence," Columbia University political scientist Richard K. Betts warns that ambitious attempts to correct failures in U.S. intelligence may cause more damage than they repair.

"The awful truth is that the best of intelligence systems will have big failures," he writes. Eliminating failure altogether is therefore not a reasonable or achievable goal.

Nor can any one component or function of intelligence be optimized without incurring damage to others. So prudent reformers, he says, will seek incremental changes, not radical ones.

Betts hedges his account with a series of paradoxes that underlie his skepticism about the feasibility of reform.

"Experts usually are better predictors than those who know less about a question, but in unusual situations the nonexpert may do better."

"Bureaucratization is both the great weakness and the great strength of the U.S. intelligence community."

Centralization and decentralization of intelligence each has advantages. "But because it is necessary to exploit both forms does not mean that it is possible to do so."

And while the paramount policy recommendation following September 11 was to improve information sharing, Betts recalls that a decade earlier, after the Aldrich Ames espionage case, overseers urged new restrictions on dissemination of information relating to clandestine operations.

The new book has some significant flaws, beginning with its title and conceptual framework.

The term "Enemies of Intelligence" refers not only to those adversaries who seek to defeat intelligence, but to anything that imposes restraints on intelligence and curtails its efficacy, from laws to physiological limits on human perception and memory. Thus, the U.S. Constitution would be an "enemy of intelligence," an absurd conclusion that nevertheless flows directly from Betts's odd definition, which he admits is not "normal."

Betts distances himself from a strict civil libertarian viewpoint, which is fine, but proceeds to make startling assertions like this: "Without security, few Americans would be grateful for liberty."

This would turn Patrick Henry's revolutionary slogan "give me liberty or give me death!" upside down into a pusillanimous "take my liberties but don't hurt me!" After years of fearmongering by government officials, that may turn out to be an accurate reflection of American character today. But Betts offers no data to justify such a claim.

Betts makes the interesting assertion that not all liberties are equally fundamental. Due process under law, he argues, is more important than personal privacy. "Having one's phone tapped without proper cause is not as damaging as being imprisoned for years without trial."

Consequently, he sides with those who favor increased intelligence surveillance of the private sphere and contends that liberty can best be assured by strictly limiting the use of domestic surveillance data to counterterrorism purposes, with severe penalties for any deviations.

He has no corresponding suggestions for strengthening due process and the rule of law, which he admits have been under assault. (Granting a full pardon for Jose Padilla would be one way to punctuate the end of the Bush era, and to repudiate one of its most egregious abuses.)

Betts is a stimulating writer and his new book provides plenty of food for thought about intelligence policy.

"National security strategy is not like a chess game. For diplomats it is more like poker, and for soldiers and intelligence professionals it is more like Kriegspiel -- a chesslike game in which the players are unable to see their opponent's pieces or their moves."

For more information on "Enemies of Intelligence" by Richard K. Betts, see:


A newly updated bibliography of published Syrian research in nuclear science and technology shows that country's limited but persistent activity in various aspects of the field.

Along with reactor technology, nuclear physics and nuclear safety studies, the open literature also shows traces of Syrian interest in the use of lasers for isotope separation. The new bibliography was compiled by researcher Mark Gorwitz.

See "Syrian Nuclear Science Bibliography: Open Literature Citations," September 2007:


Noteworthy new products of the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following.

"Defense: FY2008 Authorization and Appropriations," updated September 17, 2007:

"Presidential Claims of Executive Privilege: History, Law, Practice and Recent Developments," updated September 17, 2007:

"Arms Sales: Congressional Review Process," updated September 12, 2007:

"Afghanistan: Post-War Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy," updated September 10, 2007:

"Extraterritorial Application of American Criminal Law," updated September 10, 2007:


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

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