from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 26
March 17, 2009

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Between 1978 and 2004, the annual intelligence authorization bill was the principal vehicle for the congressional intelligence committees to assert their influence and control over U.S. intelligence agencies, by modifying agency statutory authorities and imposing reporting requirements.

So the failure of Congress to pass an intelligence authorization bill since December 2004 is a significant handicap to the oversight committees and inevitably constitutes a diminution of their own authority and influence.

But even so, the intelligence committees have remained at the center of momentous intelligence policy debates, sometimes intervening in Administration policy and sometimes acquiescing in it.

A new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee summarizes the Committee's activities in the last Congress, in which it addressed a host of major and minor issues from the amendment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to the proposed expansion of the authorities of the Public Interest Declassification Board.

The 50-page report contains much that is familiar, along with some new details on staff study projects, "the poor status of IC financial management," the Committee's own difficulty in obtaining information from the Administration, and other topics.

See "Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate, Covering the Period January 4, 2007 to January 2, 2009," published March 2, 2009.

One qualitative change in intelligence oversight that is not mentioned in the new report is that the Committee no longer publishes intelligence agency answers to Questions for the Record that are submitted following the Committee's annual intelligence threat hearing.

In the past, richly substantive agency answers to Committee questions would appear in the published hearing volume late in the year. But now the intelligence agencies no longer provide, and the Committee no longer demands, unclassified answers to such questions. The last time they were published was in the 2003 hearing volume on "Current and Projected Threats to the National Security of the United States."

The significance of the continuing failure to pass an intelligence authorization bill was assessed in "Intelligence Authorization Legislation: Status and Challenges," Congressional Research Service, February 24, 2009.


Secrecy News previously criticized the White House web site for failing, among other things, to provide a current roster of members of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board. ("White House Web Site Off to a Slow Start," Secrecy News, March 9.)

But it turns out that there are no current members, since the entire membership of the Board resigned at the end of the previous Administration.

A White House official told Ben Lando of Iraq Oil Report that the previous members resigned by mutual agreement during the presidential transition and that the Board is now vacant.

"It will not be a matter of months" until new PIAB members are appointed but "maybe a matter of weeks," Iraq Oil Report quoted the official. See "Texas oilman Ray Hunt is no longer serving as a presidential adviser on intelligence issues," Iraq Oil Report, March 17 (at bottom of page).


The People's Republic of China has significantly increased its foreign aid to Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia from less than $1 billion in 2002 to an estimated $25 billion in 2007, according to recent academic research.

The motivations, intentions and impact of this activity are examined in a new report from the Congressional Research Service that has not been made readily available to the public.

See "China's Foreign Aid Activities in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia," February 25, 2009.


A 2008 Defense Department study of future national security trends seems to have escaped many of the conventional filters that normally limit the candor of such public documents.

As previously noted, the Joint Operational Environment 2008 (JOE 2008) study set off alarms in South Korea because of its discussion of North Korean nuclear weapons and it aggravated Mexican officials with its consideration of potential political instability in that country. ("DoD Future Trend Study Provokes Foreign Reaction," Secrecy News, March 5.)

But JOE 2008 also departed from the norm in U.S. Government documents by identifying Israel as a nuclear weapons state.

"In effect, there is a growing arc of nuclear powers running from Israel in the west through an emerging Iran to Pakistan, India, and on to China, North Korea, and Russia in the east," JOE 2008 stated in a discussion of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (at page 37).

The unusual reference to Israel's nuclear status was noticed by Amir Oren in Ha'aretz, who explained that "Israel's nuclear program is rarely, if ever, explicitly mentioned in public, unclassified U.S. official documents." See "U.S. Army document describes Israel as 'a nuclear power'," Ha'aretz, March 8.


The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is a "front company" that seeks "to expose national security information," according to a new briefing on classification policy prepared by a U.S. Marine Corps official.

See "Derivative Classification Requirements 2009," U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific.

The 13 page briefing, which pedantically explains the proper marking of derivatively classified records, suddenly veers off at page 10 into a factually mistaken claim that "all classified material is being challenged with a view to declassification."

Out of nowhere, the anonymous briefer asserts that "The Federation of American Scientists is a good example of a front company trying to expose National Security Information under the pretense [probably should be: pretext] of 'World Peace'."

"'No secrets in government' is their mantra," the briefing states.

That's close, but the correct mantra is "No stupidity in government."


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

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