from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2012, Issue No. 25
March 19, 2012

Secrecy News Blog:


The Government Accountability Office has overcome longstanding opposition to its role in intelligence oversight, and has been conducting several projects involving oversight of intelligence agencies. A classified GAO review of FBI counterterrorism programs has been completed, and a GAO investigation of the role of contractors in intelligence is in progress.

Last year, acting at congressional direction, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued an Intelligence Community Directive that authorized and required U.S. intelligence agencies to cooperate with GAO investigators, with certain restrictions. ("Intelligence Agencies Are Told to Cooperate with GAO," Secrecy News, May 16, 2011).

That DNI directive appears to have broken the logjam of agency resistance, and at least some parts of the intelligence community that previously rebuffed GAO inquiries have become completely cooperative, congressional officials said.

Thus, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had refused for years to submit to GAO oversight of its counterterrorism programs. The Bureau contended that GAO had no authority to review the programs because they were funded through the intelligence budget. Moreover, the FBI told Sen. Charles Grassley that the Office of Legal Counsel had ratified that position and supported its refusal to cooperate with GAO.

But that is now in the past. The GAO recently completed a classified assessment of FBI counterterrorism programs with full cooperation from the FBI. A public version of the report is expected to be released sometime in the spring.

Another current GAO project explores "Civilian Agencies' Reliance on Contractors." An unclassified statement of work for the project that was obtained by Secrecy News explains:

The GAO project therefore aims to answer the following questions:

GAO's newly enhanced participation in the oversight process is the outcome of years of advocacy and debate involving a variety of interested parties. Testimony on the subject from the Federation of American Scientists in 2008 is here:

The arduous process by which an accommodation was finally reached is detailed in a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service. See "Congressional Oversight of Intelligence: Current Structure and Alternatives," March 14, 2012 (esp. pp. 25-30):

By itself, GAO's involvement in intelligence oversight is unlikely to resolve many controversies in intelligence policy. It may not resolve any of them. But what it can do is to expand the current capacity of intelligence oversight, bringing new resources to bear and increasing the likelihood that intelligence activities are carried out consistent with law and good policy.


Scientist Stewart Nozette has pleaded guilty to attempted espionage and will be sentenced this week to an anticipated 13 year prison term. But he never committed espionage in fact and he would never have considered the possibility if he had not been "manipulated and exploited" by FBI agents, his attorneys wrote in a lengthy rebuttal to a pre-sentencing memorandum filed by the government last week ("Scientist Nozette Called Brilliant, Greedy Traitor," Secrecy News, March 13.)

"Contrary to poisonous inferences which the government spread on the public record in its initial Complaint and the detention hearing, this case is not about a man who had been committing acts of espionage for years," Nozette's attorneys wrote. "Rather this case is about the FBI wrongly suspecting Dr. Nozette was spying for Israel and then malevolently targeting him in the hopes they could ultimately ensnare him within the nation's espionage laws."

From their very first meeting, the FBI undercover agent "ignor[ed] Dr. Nozette's stated intent not to provide classified information and overtly encourag[ed] him to proceed otherwise," the attorneys wrote in what they said was simply an effort to correct the record.

"Dr. Nozette is neither attempting to withdraw from his plea nor evade responsibility for his conduct. His response to the UC's [undercover agent's] entreaties was inappropriate and ill-advised regardless of the devious, manipulative and exploitive nature of those overtures.... But it is important that the public, and the scientific community in particular, be aware of the tactics engaged in and the judgment, or lack thereof, exercised by the agents of the FBI and the Department of Justice in this case."

"At the end of the day it was the agents of the FBI who approached Dr. Nozette, not the other way around; and it was those same agents who created, manipulated and exploited the circumstances that led to this offense and sadly to Dr. Nozette's unnecessary fall and disgrace," they concluded.

Government attorneys immediately filed a reply, rejecting what they called "spurious allegations and attacks against dedicated law enforcement agents."

"In the end, defendant is the only person to blame for his predicament," they wrote. "There is no excuse for betrayal of one's country. There is no excuse for defendant's conduct."


Some new or updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has not made readily available to the public include the following.

Congressional Oversight of Agency Public Communications: Implications of Agency New Media Use, March 14, 2012:

The Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI): Budget Authority and Request, FY2010-FY2013, March 15, 2012:

Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA): What Is It, and How Has It Been Utilized?, March 15, 2012:

Russia's March 2012 Presidential Election: Outcome and Implications, March 14, 2012:


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

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