from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 113
December 1, 2008

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Despite compulsory legislative reforms and multiple executive orders intended to streamline the granting of security clearances for access to classified information, the process remains "cumbersome," according to a new House Intelligence Committee report.

While backlogs and processing time have been reduced since enactment of the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act, overall "progress over the past five years has been disappointing," the report said.

Among other things, the executive branch has failed to establish an integrated database of all security clearance authorizations. As a consequence, "no one knows how many people in the U.S. Government hold security clearances." (It is more than 2.5 million and probably around 3 million people in government, military and industry.)

Government agencies have also failed to fulfill a requirement for security clearance "reciprocity," referring to the acceptance by one agency of a security clearance granted by another agency. This is in spite of an explicit statutory requirement that "all security clearance background investigations and determinations... shall be accepted by all agencies."

The House Committee found that "In practice, security clearance adjudications are not fully accepted reciprocally across the U.S. Government, and anecdotal information shows that even among the elements of the Intelligence Community there are impediments and sometimes lengthy delays in granting clearances to employees detailed from one agency to another."

See "Security Clearance Reform -- Upgrading the Gateway to the National Security Community," House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, House Report 110-916, November 20, 2008.

One U.S. intelligence community employee told Secrecy News that reciprocity had improved in recent years thanks to new databases and other tools that enable rapid confirmation of an individual's clearance status. But the employee said that full clearance of employees who are detailed from another agency often lags while the employee's hardcopy adjudicative file is physically transferred to his or her new place of employment.

More fundamentally, the statutory requirement for reciprocity "contains some ambiguity," the Committee report acknowledged, and could be interpreted in one of at least three different ways. The report said the Committee would seek to clarify the matter in the 111th Congress.

The November 20 Committee report mistakenly said that the new Intelligence Community Directive 704 on security clearance standards "has still not been issued." ICD 704 went into effect on October 1, 2008.

The report also said that intelligence community personnel "hold approximately 10 percent of the total number of security clearances." But this would imply that there are approximately 300,000 cleared intelligence community employees, roughly twice the usual estimate.


Andrei Soldatov, the Russian journalist who runs the independent web site that reports on Russian intelligence and security services, was the subject of a profile last week prepared by the DNI Open Source Center.

"Soldatov has regularly highlighted the increasing influence of the special services in Russian government, reported on the security services' efforts to limit journalistic freedoms, followed spy cases, interviewed defectors, and chronicled personnel appointments and reorganizations of the special services," the OSC profile stated.

"Despite being questioned and charged by the FSB [Russian Federal Security Service] on several occasions, Soldatov has continued to cover hot-button issues such as corruption, security service defectors, and the increasing role of the special services in limiting free speech in Russia."

See "Profile of Prominent Russian Security Services Commentator Andrey Soldatov," Open Source Center Media Aid, November 25, 2008.

The OSC write-up presents numerous interesting details about Soldatov's career, many of which are rather obscure and bound to be unfamiliar to anyone who does not follow the Russian press closely. But since the open source information it relies upon is "collected" rather than "reported" -- where reporting means confirmation of facts and hypotheses, reconciliation of conflicting accounts, and discovery of previously undisclosed information -- it also contains some significant omissions.

The OSC speculates that "Perhaps Soldatov has enjoyed protection because of his father's position and ties to the security services." But Relcom, the Internet Service Provider of which the senior Soldatov was then president, decisively terminated its support of the web site in 2006.

The OSC writes that "To those following the increasingly hostile environment for journalists in Russia, Soldatov's career is a curiosity. In an era where journalists are regularly threatened or even killed for their reporting, Soldatov has [suffered] relatively few consequences."

But on November 12, Soldatov's employer Novaya Gazeta fired him and colleague Irina Borogan "without explanation" (noted by Maria Eismont in Index on Censorship on November 27). The "curiosity" of Soldatov's career is thus diminishing and the project may be in jeopardy.

In happier times, Soldatov was featured in "A Web Site That Came in From the Cold to Unveil Russian Secrets" by Sally McGrane, New York Times, December 14, 2000.


Charles Homans considers "The Last Secrets of the Bush Administration" in the latest Washington Monthly. "An accounting of the Bush years is a less daunting prospect than it seems from the outset," he says. "If the new president and leaders on Capitol Hill act shrewdly, they can pull it off while successfully navigating the political realities and expectations they now face. A few key actions will take us much of the distance between what we know and what we need to know."

A review of the White House website reveals unacknowledged modifications to White House press releases and suggests an unwholesome willingness to distort the public record, the authors of a recent study contend. See "History Reloaded: Changing The Past To Suit The Present" by Thomas Claburn, Information Week, November 26.

"President-elect Barack Obama's top pick to head the CIA blamed his sudden withdrawal from consideration on critics who blamed him for harsh Bush administration policies on interrogations, detentions and secret renditions." See "Potential CIA chief cites critics in ending bid" by Pamela Hess, Associated Press, November 26.

"The next White House Web site should tell us a lot about whether Obama believes what he has said about bringing transparency and accountability to the government," writes Dan Froomkin in the Nieman Watchdog. See "It's time for a Wiki White House," November 25.


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

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