GAO Says It Will Forego Oversight of Intelligence

One way to supplement and improve intelligence oversight would be to employ the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an investigative arm of Congress, to perform routine audits of key intelligence functions.

Yet this potentially valuable oversight tool lies dormant due to opposition from the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

The GAO will not even attempt to conduct oversight of intelligence unless it is specifically tasked to do so by the Congressional intelligence committees, a GAO official said (pdf) last week.

“For us to undertake such work would require the sponsorship of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence or the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.”

“While we have the authority to do such work, we lack the cooperation we need to get our job done in that area. As a result, unless and until we receive such cooperation, and given GAO’s limited recourse, we will continue our long-standing policy of not doing work that relates directly to intelligence matters unless requested to do so by one of the select intelligence committees.”

The statement appeared in a June 14 letter report to Congress on security clearance policy (at footnote 1).

This places responsibility on the intelligence committees to fully utilize the tools at their disposal, including the GAO.

“Every committee member up for re-election in 2006 and 2008 … should be required to commit publicly to applying the full weight of the GAO, with added resources, to intelligence matters,” urged Robert Steele of Open Source Solutions.

In 2001 testimony, a GAO official outlined his agency’s authority to conduct intelligence oversight and described the history of GAO access to intelligence information.

“We have not actively audited the CIA since the early 1960s, when we discontinued such work because the CIA was not providing us with sufficient access to information to perform our mission,” said Harry L. Hinton, Jr.

See “Observations on GAO Access to Information on CIA Programs and Activities,” July 18, 2001.

And see, relatedly, “CIA News, Inc.” from the Project on Government Oversight.

Gen. Hayden on Intelligence Oversight (2005)

Gen. Michael Hayden, who is now the new CIA director, presented himself as a committed proponent of intelligence oversight in an April 2005 hearing on his nomination to become Deputy Director of National Intelligence.

But the record of that hearing, which has just been published, takes on a different aspect in light of the NSA warrantless surveillance program which was disclosed by the New York Times in December 2005 and kept secret from most members of the congressional intelligence committees.

“In a variety of sessions I have tried to be completely open and have treated the Committee as a stakeholder in our operational successes,” Gen. Hayden told the Senate Intelligence Committee in spring 2005 (at p. 49 of the PDF version).

He explained his understanding of the indispensable role of oversight.

“To be successful, the American intelligence community has to be very powerful and largely secret. And yet we live in a political culture that distrusts two things most of all: power and secrecy.”

“The path through what would otherwise be an unsolvable dilemma is the Congressional oversight structure where the people’s elected representatives have full access to our activities — thus ensuring necessary secrecy while creating the public confidence that ultimately allows us to create and exercise the powers that we need,” Gen. Hayden said then.

It follows logically that a failure to provide elected representatives with “full access to our activities” would engender a loss of public confidence.

See “Nomination of Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden to be Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence,” hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, April 14, 2005.

DoJ Inspector General Report on Moussaoui

The Department of Justice Inspector General released a newly declassified version of its 2004 audit of the FBI’s handling of intelligence information related to the September 11 attacks, including a newly disclosed chapter (large pdf) on the case of Zacarias Moussaoui.

In a previously released version of the report, the entire chapter 4 on Moussaoui had been withheld by court order because of Moussaoui’s ongoing trial. With the conclusion of that trial last month, the suppressed chapter was approved for release.

See “A Review of the FBI’s Handling of Intelligence Information Related to the September 11 Attacks,” as released June 16, 2006.

The Mubtakkar of Death

Al Qaeda terrorists contemplated an attack on New York subways in 2003 using an “easily constructed” device called a “mubtakkar” to release cyanide gas, according to a story in Time Magazine this week.

But there are reasons to question the reliability and significance of the story, suggested chemist George Smith of

For one thing, “why, if the mubtakkar of death is so easy to make has it not been seen since, or employed in Iraq, or used anywhere there have been other terror attacks?”

See Smith’s skeptical account on his new blog Dick Destiny here and here.

An overview of chemical warfare agents and analytical methods for their identification was prepared this year by Defence Research and Development Canada.

See “Analysis of Chemical Warfare Agents: General Overview, LC-MS Review, In-House LC-ESI-MS Methods and Open Literature Bibliography” (pdf), Defence Research and Development Canada, March 2006.

Selected Docs on Military Policy

“The alteration of official DoD imagery by persons acting for or on behalf of the Department of Defense is prohibited,” advises a new Pentagon Instruction. See “Alteration of Official DoD Imagery” (pdf), DoD Instruction 5040.05, June 6, 2006.

“The days of total air superiority by friendly forces are over. Our potential enemies now may have as many or more aircraft than we do,” according to a new Army correspondence course on defending against attacks from the air. “Our potential enemies will gain air superiority over sectors of the battlefield for certain periods…. Successful small arms defense against air attack is an essential element of survival on the battlefield.” See “Small Arms Defense Against Air Attack” (pdf), US Army Air Defense Artillery School, May 2006.

Some recent Congressional Research Service items include:

“Peacekeeping and Related Stability Operations: Issues of U.S. Military Involvement” (pdf), updated May 18, 2006.

“Periods of War” (pdf) (on the official beginning and ending dates of war), May 1, 2006.

And for no extra charge: “Net Neutrality: Background and Issues” (pdf), May 16, 2006.

Pentagon/White House Provide Talking Points on Iraq Debate

Coverage of the debate in both the House and the Senate on measures to endorse the current policy in Iraq, referred to a mysterious set of talking points, called the Iraq Floor Debate Prep Book. The Washington Post wrote:

“Their position was bolstered by a 74-page document drafted by the White House and distributed by the Pentagon, replete with talking points, quotations and timelines to back administration policy. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) called the document “an affront to the American people.”

Some have raised questions about the legality of the document (because of bans against using Executive branch funds to lobby Congress) and it was formally withdrawn. We asked Senator Lautenberg’s office for a copy of the document, which it kindly provided, along with a letter to Secretary Rumsfeld.

37 Nobel Laureates Sign Letter Opposing the Indian-US Nuclear Deal

Thirty seven Nobel Laureates signed a letter opposing the administration’s proposed nuclear trade deal between India and the United States. The letter was released at a press briefing at the National Press Club yesterday.

The Federation of American Scientists was founded by scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bombs. The founders of FAS understood that the technology that made nuclear power possible and the technology that made nuclear weapons possible were inextricably entangled. One of the founding issues of the Federation was, therefore, openness and international inspection, if not control, of all the world’s nuclear facilities. They recognized that this was the only hope of avoiding wide-spread proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Here we are sixty years later and faced with the same issue. The Federation strongly supports improved economic, cultural, trade, academic, and security relations with India. We would like to see Chinese, as well as US, Russian, indeed, everyone’s nuclear arsenals dramatically reduced and eventually eliminated. The Indian-US nuclear deal further undermines the already weakened non-proliferation regime and pushes the world in the wrong direction, toward greater legitimacy of nuclear weapons.

The Federation of American Scientists is proud that thirty seven Nobel Laureates on its Board of Sponsors agreed to endorse this letter to Congress.

US Air Force Publishes New Missile Threat Assessment

The Air Force has published a new report about the threat from ballistic and cruise missiles. The new report, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, presents the Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s (NASIC) assessment of current and emerging weapon systems deployed or under development by Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Syria and others.

Among the news in the report is a different and higher estimate for China’s future nuclear arsenal than was presented in the previous NASIC report from 2003. Whereas the previous assessment stated that China in 15 years will have 75-100 warheads on ICBMs capable of reaching the United States, the 2006 report states that this number will be “well over 100” warheads. NASIC also believes that a new Chinese cruise missile under development will have nuclear capability.

Also new is that NASIC reports that the Indian Agni I ballistic missile has not yet been deployed despite claims by the Indian government that the weapon was “inducted” into the Indian Army in 2004. Contrary to claims made by some media and experts, the NASIC report states that the Indian Bramos cruise missile does not have a nuclear capability. The Babur cruise missile under development by Pakistan, however, is assessed to have a nuclear capability.

A copy of the report, which was published in March 2006 and recently obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, is available in full along with previous versions here.

“Congressional Oversight of Intelligence is Broken”

Congressional oversight of intelligence is “dysfunctional,” according to a new report from the liberal Center for American Progress.

Some of the most urgent and fundamental policy issues facing the nation are matters of intelligence policy: What are the proper boundaries of domestic intelligence surveillance? What is the legal framework for interrogation of enemy detainees? Why haven’t the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission been effectively implemented?

But at a moment when intelligence policy is relatively high on the public agenda, the intelligence oversight committees in Congress seem to have little to contribute.

Even on specific intelligence questions such as the conduct of warrantless domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, the public can gain more insight from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has held several public hearings on the subject, than from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has held none.

The new Center for American Progress report provides a useful survey of the history of intelligence oversight and its current failings, along with a prescription for improvement.

“Correcting the problems that plague congressional oversight of intelligence will not require dramatic changes in the existing oversight structure. Congress has all the tools it needs to conduct its oversight responsibilities effectively….it is simply not using them. It must.”

See “No Mere Oversight: Congressional Oversight of Intelligence is Broken,” June 13, 2006.

Some of the limitations of intelligence oversight are implicit in the structure of the process.

For an earlier (1992) self-critical account by a staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, see “Congressional Oversight of Intelligence: One Perspective” by Mary K. Sturtevant, American Intelligence Journal, Summer 1992.

A recent study (pdf) of Romania’s intelligence apparatus finds that “legislative control of intelligence in Romania can be estimated on a low-medium-high scale as ‘medium to high’.”

Furthermore, in Romania “the budgets of the intelligence agencies are transparent,” which is more than can be said about U.S. intelligence.

See “The Intelligence Phenomenon in a New Democratic Milieu: Romania — A Case Study” by Valentin Fernand Filip, Naval Postgraduate School, March 2006.