from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 97
October 3, 2007

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Congressional oversight of intelligence should be augmented by the assistance of specially-cleared investigative teams from the Government Accountability Office, say some congressional leaders, and GAO officials appear eager to assume the task.

"The need for more effective oversight and accountability of our intelligence community has never been greater," said Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) earlier this year. "Yet the ability of Congress to ensure that the intelligence community has sufficient resources and capability of performing its mission has never been more in question."

Sen. Akaka introduced pending legislation (S. 82) that would reaffirm the ability of the GAO to conduct audits and investigations of U.S. intelligence agencies at the request of a congressional committee. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House (H.R. 978). Proponents say the legislation could receive favorable consideration next year. (The 2008 intelligence authorization bill, passed in the Senate today, does not address the matter.)

"I believe that there are many areas in which GAO can support the intelligence committees in their oversight roles," said David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. Among the areas he identified are intelligence acquisition and contract management, human capital management, information technology architectures and systems, and business transformation efforts.

"We have significant knowledge and experience that can be of benefit to the Intelligence Community in connection with a broad range of transformation issues," he stated.

Mr. Walker expressed his support for the Akaka bill and for an enhanced GAO role in intelligence oversight in a previously unpublished March 1, 2007 letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But the idea of greater GAO involvement in intelligence oversight was sharply discouraged by Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell, who argued that the GAO could damage delicate relations between the intelligence agencies and the oversight committees.

"If not moderated, self-initiated action by the GAO or action on behalf of non-oversight Committees could undermine the ability of Intelligence Committee leadership to direct or stay abreast of oversight activities, and could risk upsetting the historic balance struck between the two branches of government in national security matters," DNI McConnell wrote in a March 7 letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The DNI's concerns are groundless or else could be remedied by simple modifications to the Akaka bill, responded Mr. Walker on March 16.

The GAO/DNI correspondence was entered into the record of a March 21, 2007 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee which is soon to be published. Copies were obtained in advance by Secrecy News.

The history of GAO attempts to engage in intelligence oversight dating back to the 1950s was examined in depth by Frederick M. Kaiser in "GAO Versus the CIA: Uphill Battles Against an Overpowering Force," International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 15:330-389, 2002.


Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama "will reverse this [Bush Administration] policy of secrecy," his campaign stated this week, and he addressed the subject in a high-profile address at DePaul University on October 2.

"I'll lead a new era of openness," he said.

"I'll turn the page on a growing empire of classified information, and restore the balance we've lost between the necessarily secret and the necessity of openness in a democratic society by creating a new National Declassification Center."

The Obama campaign said the proposal was based upon a recommendation of the 1997 Moynihan Commission on Secrecy, and that the Center would "serve as a clearinghouse to set rules and regulations for declassification for federal agencies, and to make declassification secure but routine, efficient, and cost-effective."

"We'll protect sources and methods, but we won't use sources and methods as pretexts to hide the truth. Our history doesn't belong to Washington, it belongs to America," Sen. Obama said.

This appears to be the most extensive discussion of secrecy and transparency issues in the presidential campaign to date. The subject was briefly addressed by Senator Clinton in her online campaign literature (Secrecy News, 07/23/07).

As far as could be determined, no Republican candidate has spoken out against current secrecy policy or advocated increased transparency. However, former Senator Fred Thompson issued a report on government secrecy that urged greater openness when he was chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in 1998 (Sen. Rept. 105-258).


The use of U.S. military assets and capabilities in a domestic, civilian context is both politically and legally sensitive. A new Defense Department publication defines military doctrine concerning such "civil support" missions, which might include disaster relief, emergency response or support to law enforcement.

"Introducing federal forces into an otherwise civil response situation requires a clear understanding of authorities and their limits."

The new publication aims to provide such an understanding.

"DOD components do not perform any function of civil government unless authorized," the document states.

See "Civil Support," Joint Publication 3-28, 14 September 2007:


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

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