from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 111
December 1, 2011

Secrecy News Blog:


Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has issued a new Intelligence Community Directive on "Congressional Notification" that generally encourages "a presumption of notification" to Congress regarding significant intelligence activities.

The November 16 directive, designated ICD 112, elaborates on the intelligence community's responsibility to keep the congressional oversight committees "fully and currently informed" of U.S. intelligence activities, which is required by the National Security Act.

Among the types of activities that would normally warrant congressional notification, the directive says, are:

-- intelligence activities that entail significant risk of exposure, compromise, and loss of human life;

-- actvities undertaken pursuant to specific direction of the President or the National Security Council, other than covert action (which is subject to a separate reporting requirement);

-- a significant unauthorized disclosure of classified intelligence information;

-- a conclusion that an intelligence product is the result of foreign deception or denial activity, or otherwise contains major errors in analysis;

-- intelligence activities that are believed to be in violation of U.S. law; and so forth.

"Not every intelligence activity warrants written notification," the directive says. That determination is "a judgment based on all the facts and circumstances known to the IC element, and on the nature and extent of previous notifications and briefings to Congress on the same matter.... If it is unclear whether a notification is appropriate, IC elements should decide in favor of notification."

The required notifications "shall contain a concise statement of the pertinent facts, an explanation of the significance of the intelligence activity, and the role of all departments and agencies involved in the intelligence activity."


Congress has the constitutional authority to conduct its business in secret and to close its proceedings to the public whenever it deems secrecy necessary. A new report from the Congressional Research Service reviews the justification, history and frequency of secret sessions of Congress.

"Since 1929, the Senate has held 56 secret sessions, generally for reasons of national security or for consideration of impeachment questions. On December 20, 2010, for example, the Senate met in closed session to discuss the New START Treaty with Russia," the CRS report said. "Since 1830, the House has met behind closed doors only four times: in 1979, 1980, 1983, and 2008."

"The proceedings of a secret session are not published unless the relevant chamber votes, during the meeting or at a later time, to release them. Then, those portions released are printed in the Congressional Record." See "Secret Sessions of the House and Senate: Authority, Confidentiality, and Frequency," November 30, 2011:


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

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