New Procedures for Intelligence System Acquisition

The Director of National Intelligence issued a directive last month prescribing procedures for major system acquisitions by elements of the intelligence community.

The directive defines a multi-phase process for identifying critical needs, evaluating alternative paths to meet those needs, and so forth.

See Intelligence Community Directive 115, “Intelligence Community Capability Requirements Process,” December 21, 2012.

Reaching the Debt Limit, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service which Congress has directed CRS not to release to the public include the following.

Reaching the Debt Limit: Background and Potential Effects on Government Operations, January 4, 2013

The “Fiscal Cliff” and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, January 4, 2012

Proposals to Change the Operation of Cloture in the Senate, January 3, 2013

International Trade and Finance: Key Policy Issues for the 113th Congress, January 4, 2013

Speakers of the House: Elections, 1913-2013, January 4, 2013

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Claims of Property Rights “Takings”, January 7, 2013

The Role of TARP Assistance in the Restructuring of General Motors, January 3, 2013

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, January 4, 2013

U.S.-Taiwan Relationship: Overview of Policy Issues, January 4, 2013

North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation, January 4, 2013

FAS Roundup: January 7, 2013

Iran’s intelligence ministry, intelligence oversight and public accountability, new CRS reports and much more.

From the Blogs

  • Senate Passes Intelligence Bill Without Anti-Leak Measures: On December 28, the Senate passed the FY2013 intelligence authorization act after most of the controversial provisions intended to combat leaks had been removed. The provisions that were removed from the final bill included restrictions on background briefings for the press, limits on media commentary by former government officials, and authority for the DNI to unilaterally revoke the pension of a suspected leaker.

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An Open Source Look at Iran’s Intelligence Ministry

Updated below

Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security is believed to employ more than 30,000 intelligence officers and support personnel, making it “one of the largest and most active intelligence agencies in the Middle East,” according to a new report from the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress.

“The Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) uses all means at its disposal to protect the Islamic Revolution of Iran, utilizing such methods as infiltrating internal opposition groups, monitoring domestic threats and expatriate dissent, arresting alleged spies and dissidents, exposing conspiracies deemed threatening, and maintaining liaison with other foreign intelligence agencies as well as with organizations that protect the Islamic Republic’s interests around the world,” the report states.

See “Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security: A Profile,” December 2012.

The report was first obtained and reported by Bill Gertz in “Iran Spy Network 30,000 Strong,” Washington Free Beacon, January 3, 2013.

The new report provides an informative account of the Ministry’s history, organizational structure, and recruitment practices, as far as these can be discerned from published sources.

“The information in this report was collected mainly from Farsi and English journals, online news Web sites, and Iranian blogs,” the Preface states.  (Some older information from the FAS web site is cited at a couple of points.)

“Needless to say, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security does not publish information about its activities on Iranian Web sites. Consequently, in the absence of official government information, this report occasionally relies on social media, in particular blogs, as a source of information more than might ordinarily be warranted. The reliability of blog-based information may be questionable at times, but it seems prudent to evaluate and present it in the absence of alternatives.”

“Every minister of intelligence must hold a degree in ijtihad (the ability to interpret Islamic sources such as the Quran and the words of the Prophet and imams) from a religious school, abstain from membership in any political party or group, have a reputation for personal integrity, and possess a strong political and management background,” the report says.

A newly disclosed U.S. Army intelligence document explains how to determine whether weapons that were captured in Iraq were manufactured in Iran.

Iranian weapons systems “have several distinctive visual identification markings that identify their source” which are described in the Army publication.  The document was partially declassified last month and was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Matthew Schroeder of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project.

See “Identifying Small Arms and RPGs Produced in Iran,” U.S. Army National Ground Intelligence Center, 2004.

Update (1/15/13): The assertion in the Library of Congress report that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security employs on the order of 30,000 personnel could not be independently corroborated, and the LOC/FRD report has been harshly criticized by some area experts. See How a Government Report Spread a Questionable Claim About Iran by Justin Elliott, ProPublica, January 14, 2013.

Army Drawdown, Special Operations Forces, More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has not made available to the public include the following.

Army Drawdown and Restructuring: Background and Issues for Congress, January 3, 2013

U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress, January 3, 2013

The Unified Command Plan and Combatant Commands: Background and Issues for Congress, January 3, 2013

Internet Domain Names: Background and Policy Issues, January 3, 2013

Internet Governance and the Domain Name System: Issues for Congress, January 2, 2013

Federal Regulation of Chemicals in Commerce: An Overview of Issues for the 113th Congress, January 3, 2013

Physician Practices: Background, Organization, and Market Consolidation, January 2, 2013

Understanding Defense Acquisition, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has not made publicly available include the following.

Defense Acquisitions: How DOD Acquires Weapon Systems and Recent Efforts to Reform the Process, January 2, 2013

U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Current Conflicts, December 28, 2012

The Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, January 2, 2013

Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) and Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC): Background and Issues for Congress, January 2, 2013

Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV): Background and Issues for Congress, January 2, 2013

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Background and Current Developments, January 2, 2013

Improper Payments and Recovery Audits: Legislation, Implementation, and Analysis, January 2, 2013

The Purple Heart: Background and Issues for Congress, December 31, 2012

Geoengineering: Governance and Technology Policy, January 2, 2013

Is Biopower Carbon Neutral?, January 2, 2013

Unemployment Insurance: Programs and Benefits, December 31, 2012

Federal Benefits and the Same-Sex Partners of Federal Employees, December 21, 2012

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act: An Overview of Limiting Tort Liability of Gun Manufacturers, December 20, 2012

The FHA Single-Family Mortgage Insurance Program: Financial Status and Related Current Issues, December 21, 2012

Permanent Legal Immigration to the United States: Policy Overview, December 17, 2012

Inauguration Security: Operations, Appropriations, and Issues for Congress, December 17, 2012

Intelligence Oversight Steps Back from Public Accountability

The move by Congress to renew the FISA Amendments Act for five more years without amendments came as a bitter disappointment to civil libertarians who believe that the Act emphasizes government surveillance authority at the expense of constitutional protections.  Amendments that were offered to provide more public information about the impacts of government surveillance on the privacy of American communications were rejected by the Senate on December 27 and 28.

Beyond the specifics of the surveillance law, the congressional action appears to reflect a reorientation of intelligence oversight away from public accountability.  The congressional intelligence committees once presented themselves as champions of disclosure. They no longer do so.

The first annual report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, stated in 1977 that “While most of the work of the Committee is, of necessity, conducted in secrecy, we believe that even secret activities must be as accountable to the public as possible.”

Of course, the question of how much accountability is “possible” has always been debatable.  But the basic principle of maximum possible disclosure was endorsed by subsequent Committee leaders including Sen. Barry Goldwater and Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, who also wrote in 1981 that “intelligence activities should be as accountable as possible to the public.” In 1999, Senators Richard Shelby and Bob Kerrey affirmed on behalf of the Intelligence Committee that “as much information as possible about intelligence activities should be made available to the public.”

But in recent years the Committee’s periodic statement of principles has changed in a subtle but significant way.  In its most recent report in 2011, the Committee said it seeks “to provide as much information as possible about its intelligence oversight activities to the American public consistent with national security concerns.” Instead of disclosure and public accountability for intelligence activities, the Committee would promise only to reveal as much as possible about its oversight activities.

What makes this rhetorical shift noteworthy is that it seems to correspond in broad strokes to a shift in the character and activity of the Committee away from public accountability for intelligence.  Past Committees did not always press for public accountability (and were not often successful when they did), and the current Committee has not been completely indifferent to it, but there does seem to be a perceptible trend.

The Senate Intelligence Committee used to be at the forefront of debates over public disclosure of intelligence.  Demands for declassification — often for intelligence budget information — were a normal feature of annual intelligence legislation in the 1990s. Public hearings, including hearings with non-governmental witnesses, were commonplace.  To varying degrees, Senators like Daniel Moynihan, Howard Metzenbaum, Arlen Specter, Bob Kerrey, and others were thorns in the side of U.S. intelligence agencies in support of public disclosure.

Over the past decade, however, the Committee’s priorities appear to have changed, to the detriment of public accountability.  In fact, despite the Committee’s assurance in its annual reports, public disclosure even of the Committee’s own oversight activities has decreased.

In 2012, the Committee held only one public hearing, despite the prevalence of intelligence-related public controversies.  That is the smallest number of public hearings the Committee has held in at least 25 years and possibly ever.  A non-governmental witness has not been invited to testify at an open Committee hearing since 2007.

(A congressional official countered that in recent years confirmation hearings had provided the occasion for most public hearings by the Intelligence Committee, and that in 2012 there were simply no nominees requiring hearings.  Meanwhile, the official noted, the Committee did include a provision to reauthorize the Public Interest Declassification Board in its markup of the 2013 intelligence bill.  And the Committee is engaged with agency Inspectors General that are reviewing classification practices in the intelligence community and elsewhere.  The Committee’s own web site has also been usefully supplemented with hearing records and reports dating back to the 1970s.)

When annual disclosure of the intelligence budget total did finally become a routine occurrence in 2007, it was principally through the legislative efforts of Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, not the Intelligence Committee.  Similarly, efforts to strengthen oversight of intelligence by the Government Accountability Office were led by Senator Daniel Akaka, again from outside the Intelligence Committee.

(The Intelligence Committee did, however, legislate a requirement in 2010 for disclosure of the budget request for the National Intelligence Program.  And it was cautiously supportive of an expanded role for GAO in intelligence oversight.)

Most recently, the Intelligence Committee conducted a multi-year investigation of the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program.  It is, said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Intelligence Committee chair, “by far the most important oversight activity ever conducted by this committee.”  But the resulting report “will remain classified and is not being released in whole or in part at this time,” she said December 13.  Its importance is evidently independent of any public impact it might have.

(A congressional official said there is an intent to make portions of the report public over the coming months.)

Even in view of the contrary indications (noted above), and some others, the dominant trend as we perceive it is that public accountability in intelligence has been deemphasized.

Senator Feinstein made the point another way, when she said of the Committee that “We are the public.”

“I mean, we are the public check on the Executive Branch,” Sen. Feinstein said during the FISA reauthorization debate on December 27, explaining why she believed greater disclosure of information concerning government surveillance activities was unnecessary. “We are not of the intelligence community. We are the public, and it is our oversight, it is our due diligence to go in and read the classified material.”

Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Sen. Saxby Chambliss also said that the Committees themselves provided public oversight by serving as proxies for the public:  “In matters concerning the FISA Court, the congressional Intelligence and Judiciary Committees serve as the eyes and ears of the American people. Through this oversight, which includes being given all significant decisions, orders, and opinions of the court, we can ensure that the laws are being applied and implemented as Congress intended.”

By these lights, public accountability is more or less superfluous.  Senator Chambliss said that a report on the privacy impact of government surveillance advocated by Sen. Ron Wyden was unnecessary, because “If we do our job, there is absolutely no reason for this amendment–and we do our job.”

Members of the House Judiciary Committee last month expressed their own confidence in non-public intelligence oversight.  They rejected a resolution introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich to require the Attorney General to produce legal justifications for the use of drones “relating to the practice of targeted killing of United States citizens and targets abroad,” a subject of recurring public controversy.

In a December 18 report, the Committee said the Kucinich resolution was unwarranted because “the House and Senate Intelligence Committees continue to conduct robust oversight into the drone program that targets terrorists and their associates.”  Public controversy is beside the point.

How should one understand the apparent diminished interest in public accountability?  It is hard to say.  There is a strain of political commentary that characteristically invokes official bad faith as the sovereign explanation for all disfavored policy outcomes:  Officials act the way they do — instead of the way I wanted them to — because they are power-hungry or compromised by financial interest, social affiliation, or personal ambition.  This is usually a lazy and self-serving explanation (if my opponents are scoundrels, I must be okay) even if it is not always and altogether wrong.

Another possibility is that intelligence collection is much more fragile than is generally recognized.  Even if that were true, however, it would not explain the broader trends — the declining number of public hearings on intelligence, the diminished focus on declassification, the abandoned (or muted) commitment to disclosure of “as much information as possible about intelligence activities.”

Nor does it fully explain the Senate’s categorical rejection last month of all of the proposed amendments to the FISA Amendments Act, which were about as undemanding as they could be. (The intelligence community said that one amendment to require preparation of an estimate of the number of American communications collected was not feasible or would entail privacy violations of its own). Most of the amendments would not have imposed any change in policy or any compulsory disclosure, but only certain reporting obligations, and even those had waivers for national security concerns.  As far as oversight and accountability are concerned, these proposals were practically de minimis, of homeopathic proportions, and yet they were rejected by the Senate.

(Although Sen. Jeff Merkley’s amendment to promote declassification of opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was among the rejected proposals, Sen. Feinstein said that she would work together with Sen. Merkley to help achieve that end.)

“What it comes down to is what we define robust congressional oversight in a program such as this to be,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of his amendment to the FISA Amendments Act, which was voted down on December 28.

“Plain and simple–we need more information,” said Sen. Mark Udall. “How else can we evaluate this policy? The American public has a right to know. And needs to know. How many Americans are affected by FISA? Are existing privacy protections working? Are they too weak? Do they need to be strengthened? These are vital questions. They need to be answered. And so far they have not been.”

Now, for the foreseeable future, they will not be answered, at least not to anyone outside of the intelligence committees.

New CRS Reports on Tax Policy

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has not made available to the public include the following items on tax policy.

International Corporate Tax Rate Comparisons and Policy Implications, December 28, 2012

Reform of U.S. International Taxation: Alternatives, December 27, 2012

Distributional Effects of Taxes on Corporate Profits, Investment Income, and Estates, December 27, 2012

Tax Deductions for Individuals: A Summary, December 20, 2012

Funding and Financing Highways and Public Transportation, December 26, 2012

The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases, December 27, 2012