from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 51
May 27, 2011

Secrecy News Blog:


The precise number of persons who hold security clearances for access to classified information was supposed to be reported to Congress by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for the first time in February 2011. But that total number, which is believed to be around 2.5 million, remains elusive and it still has not been provided.

At a December 1, 2010 hearing of a House Intelligence Subcommittee, John Fitzpatrick, director of the ODNI Special Security Center, told Rep. Anna Eshoo that the precise number of clearances would be revealed early this year.

"We have a special data collection to provide a definitive answer on that in the February 2011 IRTPA report," he said, referring to a report required under the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. ("How Many People Have Security Clearances?", Secrecy News, December 14, 2010).

But when the February 2011 IRTPA report was publicly released this month, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the promised number was not included.

It seems that compiling an accurate and complete figure for all security clearances is more challenging and time-consuming than had been anticipated. An ODNI spokesman said that the number will still be provided, but it will be transmitted in a different report pursuant to the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2010 (section 367), which specifically required disclosure of the total number of clearances.

"The Intelligence Authorization Act of 2010, which was signed into law in October, includes new Executive Branch accounting requirements for the collection and reporting on the aggregate number of security clearances held, and we continue to keep Congress informed on the status of these reports," the ODNI spokesman told Secrecy News.

A copy of the report on the number of security clearances is said to be in draft form.

The new IRTPA report, meanwhile, states that "the government has continued to show a significant improvement in security clearance processing times." The average processing time for an initial clearance was 79 days in FY 2010, down from 86 days in FY 2009. For the fastest 90% of initial security clearances, processing time was down to an average of 53 days, the report said.


The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has named two new federal district court judges to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to replace two others whose term had expired. The FIS Court is responsible for reviewing government applications for electronic surveillance and physical search under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The new appointments are Judge Jennifer B. Coffman of the Eastern District of Kentucky, and Judge F. Dennis Saylor of the District of Massachusetts.

Both judges were appointed for a seven year term effective May 19, 2011, said Sheldon L. Snook, Esq., the Administrative Assistant to the Chief Judge of the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

They replace outgoing FIS Court members Judge Dee Benson and Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr. whose term on the Court ended May 18.

"At least one of these [FIS Court] judges is available at all times--24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year--for the purpose of reviewing government applications to use FISA authorities and, if those applications are sufficient, approving them by issuing an order," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein this week.

"During calendar year 2010, the Government made 1,579 applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and/or physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes," according to the latest Justice Department report to Congress on implementation of the FISA.

The jurisdiction of the FIS Court has also been modified by statute in recent years. "The FISA Amendments Act, adopted in July 2008, made it so that FISA orders for surveillance in the U.S. of targets reasonably believed to be abroad no longer have to be obtained," observed Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "As a result, a significant amount of surveillance that used to be reflected in the FISA court order numbers isn't reflected in them any more."


The Pentagon Papers that were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg four decades ago have been formally declassified and will be released in their entirety next month -- except for eleven words that are still classified.

The surprising exception to the upcoming release of the Papers was announced by David S. Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, at a meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board on May 26.

The content of the censored words was not described, but the National Declassification Center said on its blog that all eleven of them appeared on a single page. The Center also said that the release next month "will present the American public with the first real look at this historic document," because it will be more complete and accurate than any prior edition of the Papers.

From a security policy point of view, the decision to maintain the classification of eleven words is questionable because it invites attention and speculation, not to mention ridicule, focused precisely on that which is withheld.

In any case, all of the Pentagon Papers except for the mysterious eleven words will be officially released in hard copy and online in digital format on June 13. The decision to censor the eleven words was peculiar, Archivist Ferriero acknowledged. He suggested that the redactions would lend themselves to an entertaining game of "Mad Libs," in which players suggest humorous possibilities for filling in the blanks in a sentence.

The Archivist also reported that the National Declassification Center has now achieved the capacity to process 14 million pages of classified records per month for declassification, and that it is in fact declassifying 91% of the material that it is processing.

The Public Interest Declassification Board convened a public meeting Thursday at the National Archives on options for "transforming classification." The Board will continue to receive public comments on the subject on its blog until mid-June.


The Congressional Research Service has just updated its Congressional Oversight Manual, which details the considerable legal authorities, legislative instruments and investigative tools for conducting oversight that members of Congress and congressional committees have at their disposal. See "Congressional Oversight Manual," May 19, 2011:

Other new or newly updated CRS reports of interest include the following:

"Building the Capacity of Partner States Through Security Force Assistance," May 5, 2011:

"Department of Defense Trends in Overseas Contract Obligations," May 16, 2011:

"Department of Defense Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: Background and Analysis," May 13, 2011:

"The Department of Defense's Use of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background, Analysis, and Options for Congress," May 13, 2011:


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

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