from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2013, Issue No. 101
December 2, 2013

Secrecy News Blog:


The President would have to prepare a written plan for responding to the possibility of an unauthorized disclosure of any CIA covert action program, according to a provision adopted last month by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The requirement was introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and was adopted by voice vote in the pending FY 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act (section 307).

The measure represents an implicit acknowledgment that the secrecy of CIA covert action today cannot be assured or blithely assumed, particularly when compartmented intelligence programs are regularly reported in the press.

Covert action by definition is a CIA activity that is intended to be deniable and unattributable to the U.S. government. Covert action is considered to be an option when public disclosure of the operation would render it unfeasible, diminish its utility, or generate adverse consequences for the United States.

The history of CIA covert action, which remains obscure in large part, includes some notable successes, such as the clandestine support of Poland's Solidarity movement. But the record also includes terrifying failures, like the overthrow of Guatemala's leadership in 1954, which inaugurated decades of violent oppression in that country.

Analysts and former intelligence officials (such as Greg Treverton, Roy Godson, and Loch Johnson) have long argued that covert action should never be undertaken without a degree of confidence that the American public would support it if it were known.

The Schakowsky provision would effectively force such consideration of public reaction by requiring officials to anticipate and plan for the unintended disclosure of each covert action program.

Although her amendment was adopted by the House Intelligence Committee without objection, Rep. Schakowsky ended up opposing the Committee markup of the FY2014 intelligence bill. As explained in the Minority Views appended to the Committee report, she objected to the bill's failure to ban so-called "signature strikes," referring to the targeted killing of unknown persons based on their suspicious behavior, or signature.

Another proposal favored by Rep. Schakowsky but not adopted by the Committee would have required "an independent alternative analysis prior to striking a U.S. person."


The U.S. intelligence community should continue to provide intelligence support to national leaders even in the event of a catastrophic emergency, according to a new Intelligence Community Directive.

"IC elements shall develop and maintain COOP [continuity of operations] capabilities to ensure the uninterrupted flow of national intelligence and, through the support of COG [continuity of government], the continuation of National Essential Functions," the Directive states.

The capability to provide continuity of operations depends in part on the geographical dispersion of leadership, staff, communications and facilities.

"The IC provides timely, insightful, objective, and relevant national intelligence to the President... and other national leaders... wherever they are located and under all conditions," the Directive affirmed.

See "Intelligence Community Continuity Program," Intelligence Community Directive 118, November 12, 2013:

The new Directive implements the Bush Administration's 2007 National Security Presidential Directive 51 on "National Continuity Policy." Presidential directives remain in force unless or until they are superseded or rescinded.


The latest report from the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community provides an updated (and largely redacted) snapshot of the IG's investigative agenda.

During the nine-month period from July 2012 to March 2013, the IC IG internal hotline received 70 contacts or complaints from intelligence agency personnel, as well as 77 contacts from the general public.

Investigators conducted 75 investigations revealing some occasionally creative forms of misconduct. In one case, an ODNI employee "was operating a personal website on Government time using Government systems through which he solicited and received donations." Another ODNI employee "attempted to improperly obtain a security clearance for a private citizen through the use of a no-cost contract."

Three cases of suspected unauthorized disclosures were closed when they were found to be unsubstantiated. Two investigations of unauthorized disclosures remained open as of March 31.

Last month, IC Inspector General I. Charles McCullough III told Congress that his office could not perform an investigation of NSA surveillance programs because it lacked the resources to do so.

"While my office has the jurisdiction to conduct an IC-wide review of all IC elements using these authorities," Mr. McCullough wrote in a November 5 letter to Senator Leahy and others, "such a review will implicate ongoing oversight efforts. Therefore, I have been conferring with several IC Inspectors General Forum members in order to consider how such a review might be accomplished given the potential impact to IG resources and ongoing projects."


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

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