Commercial Satellites as “National Technical Means”

U.S. intelligence agencies could do more to incorporate commercial satellite capabilities into the U.S. intelligence satellite architecture, an advisory panel told the Directors of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in a study last year.

The report (pdf) laid out several scenarios for integrating commercial capabilities into the government’s “National Technical Means.”

The panel’s preferred scenario “that mitigates the most risk is for the US government to competitively acquire satellites and supporting infrastructure to ensure maximum control and access to imagery data on demand.”

Purchase of satellites is warranted, the panel said, because “The US government cannot rely on or be dependent on any external entity to responsively get needed data.”

The report “contains general findings about the technical competency and business viability of commercial remote sensing vendors, suppliers, and CDPs [commercial data providers] in the United States.”

The report also specifies the standards that commercial vendors need to meet in order to satisfy a spectrum of intelligence requirements.

“The requested review was in response to concerns/criticisms by Congress of how NGA and NRO have under-utilized commercial remote sensing capabilities.”

The unclassified report has not been publicly released, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Independent Study of the Roles of Commercial Remote Sensing in the Future National System for Geospatial-Intelligence (NSG),” Report to the Directors of the NGA and the NRO, July 16, 2007.

I.F. Stone Project on Journalistic Independence

I.F. Stone (1907-1989), the celebrated journalist and iconoclast who was renowned for his independence, is being remembered in the service of the values he embodied.

The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University today announced the establishment of an I.F. Stone Award for journalistic independence, integrity and courage.

A richly detailed new website devoted to I.F. Stone provides excerpts from his writings, biographical information, reminiscences and other information.

Proliferation Security Initiative, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new or updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).

“Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI),” updated February 4, 2008.

“Botnets, Cybercrime, and Cyberterrorism: Vulnerabilities and Policy Issues for Congress,” updated January 29, 2008.

“Executive Order 13,438: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq,” updated January 29, 2008.

“Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Security Issues and Implications for U.S. Interests,” updated January 31, 2008.

“Asylum Law and Female Genital Mutilation: Recent Developments,” February 15, 2008.

“‘Wounded Warrior’ and Veterans Provisions in the FY2008 National Defense Authorization Act,” February 13, 2008.

GAO Oversight Office at NSA Lies Dormant

The Government Accountability Office maintains an office at the National Security Agency but it remains unused since no one in Congress has asked GAO to perform any oversight of the Agency, the head of GAO disclosed last week.

Despite multi-billion dollar acquisition failures at NSA and the Agency’s controversial, possibly illegal surveillance practices, Congress has declined to summon all of its oversight resources such as GAO to address such issues.

In testimony (pdf) before a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on February 29, I argued that the GAO has demonstrated the ability to contribute to oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies and that it should be called upon to do so again.

Although U.S. intelligence community leaders say they oppose a GAO role in intelligence oversight, I noted that GAO oversight staff have in the past been permanently stationed at NSA, where they successfully conducted audits and investigations.

Questioned on that point by Senator Daniel Akaka, Comptroller General David M. Walker, the outgoing director of GAO, confirmed that it was true.

“We still actually do have space at the NSA. We just don’t use it and the reason we don’t use it is we’re not getting any requests, you know. So I don’t want to have people sitting out there twiddling their thumbs,” Mr. Walker said.

His prepared statement, entitled “GAO Can Assist the Congress and the Intelligence Community on Management Reform Initiatives” (pdf), and those of the other witnesses at the February 29 hearing may be found here.

The hearing, which was broadcast live on C-SPAN, can be viewed here (requires RealPlayer).

See also “Panel witnesses press for GAO audits of intelligence agencies” by Chris Strohm, Congress Daily, February 29.

A Clandestine Declassifier

A Central Intelligence Agency employee who supported Agency declassification activities was killed in a traffic accident late last year. Perhaps befitting a CIA classification official, his name has not been publicly acknowledged by the Agency.

“The CIA expressed its sadness concerning a CIA member’s death,” according to a brief notice in the December 2007 minutes of a closed session of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee, which were published last week. “The member had served as a moving force on declassification issues.”

Secrecy News asked CIA Public Affairs to provide the name of the CIA member. No response was received.

But a former Agency colleague identified him as Bob Knight.

His death in a motorcycle accident on the way to work was “a major blow to the rather small CIA declassification cadre.”

“I think his career was mostly in the DI [Directorate of Intelligence], but he had worked in declassification since at least 2002.”

Mr. Knight previously served as an Assistant Information Review Officer and worked on at least three major NIC publications, including National Intelligence Estimates on China, Vietnam, and the former Yugoslavia. Just prior to his death, he was serving as CIA coordinator for the Foreign Relations of the United States series.

“Bob’s death was keenly felt by all who had worked with him,” the former colleague said.

CIA Task Force on Leaks (2002)

Although there is no foolproof system of preventing unauthorized disclosures of classified information (“leaks”), there are a variety of new technical tools that can deter such disclosures or facilitate identification of those who compromise information security, according a 2002 CIA Task Force Report that was released last year under the Freedom of Information Act.

See “Interagency Task Force Report on Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information” (pdf), CIA Directorate of Science and Technology, 25 March 2002.

A supplementary paper argued that new legislation against leaks was “urgently needed.” The author singled out the National Security Archive and the Federation of American Scientists for propagating the “popular myth that the government over-classifies everything, and classifies way too much.” See “Leaks: How Unauthorized Media Disclosures of US Classified Intelligence Damage Sources and Methods” (pdf), Foreign Denial and Deception Committee, 24 April 2002.

The interagency process ultimately rejected the view that new legislation was needed. An October 2002 report to Congress from the Attorney General indicated that existing tools to combat leaks appeared to be adequate.

The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board

President Bush issued Executive Order 13462 last week redesignating the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) as the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), and modifying the Board’s functions and interactions with the executive branch.

The Order appeared to diminish the Board’s autonomy and to further reduce its influence, which has been negligible in recent years.

It was reported by Pamela Hess of the Associated Press in “New White House Order Bolsters Intelligence Chief’s Power,” February 29.

The new Order and the 1993 Order that it superseded were critically compared by Smintheus in Daily Kos.

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following (all pdf).

“Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Issues and Arguments,” February 28, 2008.

“Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress,” updated January 18, 2008.

“The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: A Brief Overview of Selected Issues,” updated February 8, 2008.

“The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: Comparison of House-Passed H.R. 3773, S. 2248 as Reported By the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and S. 2248 as Reported Out of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” updated February 8, 2008.

“Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategies, Approaches, Results, and Issues for Congress,” February 22, 2008.

“Defense Contracting in Iraq: Issues and Options for Congress,” updated January 29, 2008.

“FY2009 Defense Budget: Issues for Congress,” February 11, 2008.