from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2013, Issue No. 102
December 6, 2013

Secrecy News Blog:


In a new Open Government National Action Plan that was released today, the White House affirmed its support for open government values, and set an agenda for the remainder of the current Administration.

"The new plan includes a wide range of actions the Administration will take over the next two years, including commitments that build upon past successes as well as several new initiatives," the Plan stated. "The Administration will work with the public and civil society organizations to implement each of these commitments over the next two years."

With respect to national security secrecy, the Plan includes a new commitment to "transform the security classification system" based on the principle that "classification must... be kept to the minimum required to meet national security needs...."

Towards that end, a new interagency Classification Review Committee is being established with White House leadership to evaluate proposals for classification reform, and to coordinate their implementation throughout the executive branch. The creation of such a body was the primary recommendation of the Public Interest Declassification Board last year, and it was strongly endorsed by public interest groups.

Both because of its interagency character and especially due to its White House leadership, the new Committee has the potential to overcome the autonomous classification practices of individual agencies that have contributed to the explosive growth in secrecy.

Positive results are naturally not guaranteed. The Administration has not embraced an explicit theory of how overclassification occurs, or even how overclassification is to be defined, and therefore it is not yet well-equipped to address the problem.

The new Plan notes that in June of this year President Obama directed the Intelligence Community to declassify and make public "as much information as possible" about intelligence surveillance programs. But in an optimally functioning classification system, the President's directive would have been redundant and unnecessary; the system would already be declassifying as much information as possible.

Of course, the existing classification system is not functioning optimally. That is the problem. So either the President needs to issue individualized directives to all agencies on every conceivable classified topic to "declassify as much as possible," or else the new White House interagency Committee needs to find alternate means to effectively communicate the same imperative.

"The Obama Administration remains fully committed to building a 21st-Century Open Government and fundamentally improving the relationship between citizens and government," the new Plan said.

Not everyone has gotten that message, though. The Central Intelligence Agency is determined to cut off public access to foreign news reports and translations gathered through its Open Source Center (formerly the Foreign Broadcast Information Service) and marketed to subscribers through the NTIS World News Connection. At the end of this month, this legendary resource will cease to be available to the public after more than half a century. ("CIA Halts Public Access to Open Source Service," Secrecy News, October 8).

A CIA official suggested that anyone who is interested in foreign news can "use the internet" instead.


In a new report to Congress, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence identified the seven external advisory committees that currently support and advise the DNI.

Ordinarily, government advisory committees that include non-governmental members are subject to open meeting requirements under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. It mandates that "the Congress and the public should be kept informed with respect to the number, purpose, membership, activities, and cost of advisory committees." The Act was intended to provide a check on the government's many advisory committees, which have sometimes played an influential role in the formulation of public policy.

But the Act also provides that committees established by the DNI may be exempted from public reporting requirements, as are all of the intelligence-related Committees listed in the new report. The report was released by ODNI under the Freedom of Information Act, with the names of all committee members redacted. In numerous cases, however, committee members have identified themselves in their own online bios.

The current DNI advisory committees are:

1. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Senior Advisory Group (SAG) which is supposed "to provide external perspective to the DNI on policy, industry best practices, technology breakthroughs, and best-in-class solutions relevant to current intelligence issues." SAG members include Jane Harman, Joanne Isham, and Paul Kaminski.

2. National Counterterrorism Center Director's Advisory Board (NCTC DAB) advises NCTC on counterterrorism policy and technology. Members include Jared Cohen and Michael Leiter.

3. National Counterproliferation Center (NCPC) Senior Counterproliferation Partners Advisory Board (SCPAB) advises the Center on "a variety of issues facing the Counterproliferation community" including assessments of significant intelligence events and guidance on interacting with military commands.

4. Homeland Security and Law Enforcement Partners Board (HS/LE PB) provides perspectives on the intelligence needs and equities of State, Local and Tribal partners.

5. Advanced Technology Board provides "linkages between the Intelligence Community and the scientific community" as well as "early notice of developments in science that might affect the Intelligence Community." Members include Robert Fein.

6. Financial Sector Advisory Board (FSAB) provides "insights on information sources, developments, and other areas expected to improve the Intelligence Community's ability to produce actionable intelligence in the financial arena." Current members include Bob Rose of Thomson Reuters (who also sits on the NCTC Director's Advisory Board).

7. Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies is the advisory group established at the direction of the President in response to the controversy generated by the Snowden disclosures. The Review Group members, disclosed by the White House but redacted by ODNI, are Richard Clarke, Michael Morell, Geoffrey Stone, Cass Sunstein, and Peter Swire.

DNI Clapper stated in 2012 that he had "reduced the number of advisory boards to the DNI as part of an efficiency review." Among the defunct advisory groups was the Intelligence Science Board, which produced an important study of the science of interrogation practices that became public in January 2007.


New or updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has withheld from online public distribution include the following.

Keystone XL Pipeline Project: Key Issues, December 2, 2013:

Mountaintop Mining: Background on Current Controversies, December 2, 2013:

Burma's Political Prisoners and U.S. Sanctions, December 2, 2013:

Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Leaders and Elections, December 3, 2013:

Veterans and Homelessness, November 29, 2013:

Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda): U.S. and International Response to Philippines Disaster, November 25, 2013:

Legislative Actions to Repeal, Defund, or Delay the Affordable Care Act, November 22, 2013:

Geoengineering: Governance and Technology Policy, November 26, 2013:

The 2013 Cybersecurity Executive Order: Overview and Considerations for Congress, November 8, 2013:


The structure and functions of the Defense Warning Network were outlined in a new directive issued yesterday by the Department of Defense.

The mission of the Defense Warning Network is to provide notice "of potential threats posed by adversaries, political and economic instability, failed or failing states, and any other emerging challenges that could affect the United States or its interests worldwide."

See The Defense Warning Network, DoD Directive 3115.16, December 5, 2013:


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

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