from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 21
March 3, 2009

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In its clearest departure to date from the uncompromising secrecy of the previous administration, the Justice Department yesterday released several controversial and discredited opinions produced by the Bush Administration Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) regarding detention of U.S. citizens, the domestic use of military force, and other topics.

Legal conclusions advanced in those opinions "do not reflect the current views of the Office of Legal Counsel and should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose," wrote former OLC head Steven G. Bradbury in a January 15, 2009 memorandum.

But that may be an overstatement. While they are no longer legally authoritative, the newly released OLC opinions retain their status as authoritative records of the Bush Administration, illustrating its willingness to set aside constitutional restrictions and to assert practically unlimited executive power in national security and intelligence matters. Perhaps they are also more broadly indicative of how the U.S. government tends to respond under certain kinds of stress.


Many current debates in intelligence policy are prefigured in a 1975 "Intelligence Community Decision Book for the President" that was prepared for President Gerald R. Ford.

The 243-page document addresses basic questions of executive authority, congressional oversight of intelligence, covert action, domestic surveillance, budget secrecy and more. The briefing book was completed after the eruption of the intelligence scandals of the 1970s, but prior to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, and reflects the uncertainties of the times. The title page of the 243-page document bears the name of then-White House chief of staff Dick Cheney.

A non-binding issue brief included in the document explores the separation of powers. It acknowledges a role for Congress in a way that the Bush Administration Office of Legal Counsel would discount three decades later:

At another point the classified briefing candidly acknowledged that the mechanism for funding the CIA may have been unconstitutional:

In a statement of personal opinion included in the briefing book, former Director of Central Intelligence John McCone (1961-1965) told President Ford in 1975 that "CIA has been tarnished and should be done away with." (at pdf page 238).

The document was declassified in 2000 (except for some historical intelligence budget information that was unnecessarily, and therefore improperly, redacted) but it does not seem to have been widely circulated or read since that time. Thanks to Susan Maret for sharing a copy, originally obtained from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

See "Intelligence Community Decision Book for the President," transmitted to President Ford on December 22, 1975.


The DNI Open Source Center recently published an extended account of Turkey's military presence online.

"The military uses [the website of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces] to inform the public of its counterterrorism activities, to expound its views as the upholder of Ataturk's legacy and the foundations of the Turkish Republic, and to offer what it considers the official viewpoint of the Turkish state on the Armenian issue. Targeting the public as well as army personnel, the site showcases the [Turkish Armed Forces], its military prowess, its activities, and its projects, and offers a comprehensive archive and access to its publications."

See "Turkey -- General Staff Website Serves as Main Media Outlet for Military," Open Source Center Media Aid, February 2, 2009.

The leadership of the Communist Party of China was portrayed in two other OSC publications in 2007 and 2008.


The General Services Administration has refused to divulge a complete list of U.S. government internet domain names, claiming that they would be vulnerable to cyberattack. See "Government Keeping Its .Gov Domain Names Secret" by Thomas Claburn, Information Week, March 2, 2009.

I discussed the latest developments in the prosecution of two former AIPAC employees for receiving and transmitting classified information with Brooke Gladstone on NPR's On the Media. See "The Week in Leaks," February 27, 2009.


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

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