A Baseline for U.S. Counterintelligence Programs

A 2013 Intelligence Community Directive that was released this week “establishes the baseline for CI [counterintelligence] programs across the Intelligence Community (IC).”

Counterintelligence is defined as “Information gathered and activities conducted to identify, deceive, exploit, disrupt, or protect against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage, or assassinations conducted for or on behalf of foreign powers, organizations, or persons, or their agents, or international terrorist organizations or activities.”

Counterintelligence Programs, Intelligence Community Directive 750, was signed by DNI James R. Clapper on July 5, 2013, and was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

CI programs within the Intelligence Community are directed to address CI analysis, awareness and education, risk assessments, and critical asset protection.

A critical asset is “Any asset (person, group, relationship, instrument, installation, process, or supply at the disposition of an organization for use in an operational or support role) whose loss or compromise would have a negative impact on the capability of a department or agency to carry out its mission; or may have a negative impact on the ability of another U.S. Government department or agency to conduct its mission; or could result in substantial economic loss; or which may have a negative impact on the national security of the U.S.”

By any reasonable definition, the Office of Personnel Management database of security clearance background investigations for federal employees and contractors that was recently compromised by a foreign adversary would appear to qualify as a “critical asset.” But since OPM is not a member or an element of the Intelligence Community, it appears to fall outside the scope of this directive.

The IC Directive includes only the briefest of references to the sensitive topic of offensive counterintelligence, which involves penetrating, diverting and redirecting foreign intelligence efforts targeted at the United States:

“Effective mitigation of FIE [Foreign Intelligence Entity] activities involves anticipating, detecting, understanding, and assessing threats to national security and also taking appropriate CI actions to defeat, counter, neutralize, or exploit the threat.”

    *    *    *

ODNI this week also released a 2012 instruction on the ORCON dissemination marking, referring to intelligence information whose distribution is “originator controlled.”

“The use of ORCON enables the originator to maintain knowledge, supervision, and control of the distribution of ORCON information beyond its original dissemination. Further dissemination of ORCON information requires advance permission from the originator.”

However, its use should be limited. “The ORCON marking shall be applied judiciously in accordance with this ICPG to ensure that classified national intelligence is disseminated appropriately without undue delay or restriction.”

“The decision to apply ORCON shall be made on a case-by-case basis using a risk-managed approach. It shall not be applied in a general or arbitrary manner.”

See Application of Dissemination Controls: Originator Control, ICPG 710.1, July 25, 2012.

OLC: President May Withhold WMD Info from Congress

Despite an explicit statutory requirement to keep Congress “fully and currently informed” about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the President may withhold proliferation-related information from Congress if he determines that doing so could harm the national security, according to a sweeping opinion from the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that was prepared in 2003.

The opinion, written by then-OLC deputy John C. Yoo, was released this week under the Freedom of Information Act. See Presidential Authority to Protect National Security Information, January 27, 2003.

The OLC opinion takes an uncompromising view of presidential authority. It reviews multiple statutes that mandate disclosure of various types of information to Congress, including requirements to report on WMD proliferation and to keep the intelligence committees “fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities.” It then concludes that those statutes cannot override, modify or limit the President’s constitutional prerogatives.

“Despite Congress’s extensive powers under the Constitution, its authorities to legislative [sic] and appropriate cannot constitutionally be exercised in a manner that would usurp the President’s authority over foreign affairs and national security,” the OLC opinion said.

Even to a layman, the Yoo opinion seems muddled and poorly argued, in several respects.

*    Yoo claims that the statute requiring reporting of WMD proliferation was obviated by a signing statement issued by President Clinton in 1999. “In signing the legislation, President Clinton stated that section 1131 and similar provisions raised serious constitutional questions.” But upon examining the text of that 1999 signing statement, one finds that Clinton did not mention section 1131 at all, and the President’s comments there have no bearing on WMD proliferation or congressional reporting requirements.

*    Yoo uses the word “disclosure” throughout the opinion to refer to classified reporting to Congress, which excludes public release of the information. At no point does he try to explain how such reporting through classified channels “could harm the national security” if the information never became public.

*    Yoo does not acknowledge or mention the Supreme Court’s 1952 Youngstown decision which addressed Presidential authority in the face of contrary statutory imperatives: “When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter.” To sustain his position, Yoo cannot admit the existence of any relevant constitutional powers of Congress, since those would diminish the President’s freedom of action.

*    Yoo does allow that “the President can disclose such information as a matter of inter-branch comity to members of Congress of his choosing when he judges it consistent with the national security.” But this is incoherent, even by Yoo’s own lights, since whenever disclosure is consistent with national security, the President’s authority to withhold it evaporates. Then disclosure to Congress would not be a matter of comity at all, but a binding requirement.

The six page OLC opinion does have some positive features.

*    It was prompted by an inquiry to OLC from then-White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as to “whether the President has the constitutional authority to withhold sensitive national security information from Congress involving the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by other nations.” So the very fact of the inquiry is an indication that the authority to withhold was not self-evident even to the George W. Bush White House.

*    The opinion discloses the title of at least one previously unknown OLC opinion on Congressional Notification for Certain Special Operations (November 1, 2002).

It is unclear whether the 2003 Yoo OLC opinion has had any enduring impact or influence on executive branch policy.

The first known public reference to the opinion appeared in a declassified version of the 2009 Joint Inspector General report on the President’s Surveillance Program (Stellar Wind) that was obtained by the New York Times this year in response to a FOIA lawsuit.

Footnote 192 on page 167 of the DOJ volume of the Joint Report (p. 504 in the NYT PDF) reads in part: “Citing… a 2003 OLC opinion, Gonzales’s letter stated that the President has the constitutional authority to define and control access to the nation’s secrets, ‘including authority to determine the extent to which disclosure may be made outside the Executive Branch’.”

The reference to the 2003 OLC opinion was first noticed by Marcy Wheeler last May.

In its response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Office of Legal Counsel said that the 2003 Yoo opinion “is protected by the deliberative process and attorney-client privileges and [is] exempt from mandatory disclosure pursuant to FOIA Exemption Five.”

Nevertheless, wrote OLC Special Counsel Paul P. Colborn, “we are releasing it to you as a matter of discretion.”

Intelligence Agencies Have a “Duty to Warn” Endangered Persons

Intelligence agencies that discover a threat to a person’s life or safety are obliged to alert the intended target in most cases as long as they can do so without compromising intelligence sources and methods, a new intelligence community directive instructs.

A U.S. intelligence agency “that collects or acquires credible and specific information indicating an impending threat of intentional killing, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping directed at a person or group of people shall have a duty to warn the intended victim or those responsible for protecting the intended victim, as appropriate,” the new directive states. “This includes threats where the target is an institution, place of business, structure, or location.”

Remarkably, “the term intended victim includes both U.S. persons… and non-U.S. persons.”

The “duty to warn” obligation, which in principle dates back at least several decades, was formally established last month by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper in Intelligence Community Directive 191, July 21, 2015.

It is not binding in all circumstances, however. Notification of the target would be waived if it “would unduly endanger U.S. government personnel, sources, methods, intelligence operations, or defense operations.”

The notification requirement also does not apply in cases where the threat emanates from the U.S. government itself, whether in combat operations or in “covert” targeted killing programs. Thus, the directive states that the requirement would be appropriately waived when “There is a reasonable basis for believing that the intended victim is a terrorist, a direct supporter of terrorists, an assassin, a drug trafficker, or involved in violent crimes.”

Likewise, no notification would be required in cases where “The intended victim is at risk only as a result of the intended victim’s participation in an insurgency, insurrection, or other armed conflict.” Nor is notice needed when the intended victim “is already aware of the specific threat.”

The “duty to warn” requirement seems to be an obligation that has been voluntarily assumed by the U.S. intelligence community, perhaps for moral or prudential reasons. In other contexts where there are similar requirements for professionals to breach confidentiality and to warn of credible threats (most notably mental health care), they are rooted in case law. But no comparable legal precedent or statutory requirement appears to exist in the intelligence context that would compel agencies to act in this way. The legal authorities cited in the new DNI directive — the National Security Act and executive order 12333 — do not specifically mention the duty to warn.

If necessary to protect sources and methods, “communication of threat information to the intended victim may be delivered anonymously,” the new DNI directive says.

Former U.S. intelligence officer Rick Francona recalled being part of a CIA covert action team in northern Iraq in 1995 that was tasked one day to warn an American living there that he had been targeted for death by Iranian Revolutionary Guards because of his Christian missionary activity.

Francona and his heavily armed CIA team knocked on the incredulous American’s door and introduced themselves: “We’re from the State Department.”

Intelligence Contractor Oversight, and More from CRS

Effective oversight of intelligence community contractors is a particularly difficult exercise since the reliability of official data on contractor activities is uncertain and most of it is classified and inaccessible to outsiders, a new report from the Congressional Research Service explains.

“Contractors have been and are an integral part of the intelligence community’s (IC’s) total workforce (which also includes federal employees and military personnel). Yet questions have been raised regarding how they are used, and the size and cost of the contractor component.”

The new CRS report “describes several initiatives designed, or used, to track contractors or contractor employees. [It also] addresses the questions of whether IC contractor personnel are performing inherently governmental functions and whether the IC’s acquisition workforce is equipped to monitor contractors performing critical functions….”

The CRS report itself was prepared without access to classified data on the role of contractors, so it sheds no new factual light on the subject. Instead, it summarizes the recent literature on internal IC contractor management and congressional oversight of IC contractors.  See The Intelligence Community and Its Use of Contractors: Congressional Oversight Issues, August 18, 2015.

Dozens of other new and updated CRS reports were obtained and posted online last week, including these:

The Greek Debt Crisis: Overview and Implications for the United States, August 19, 2015

China’s Currency Devaluation, CRS Insights, August 17, 2015

Powering Africa: Challenges of and U.S. Aid for Electrification in Africa, August 17, 2015

Unaccompanied Alien Children: An Overview, updated August 18, 2015

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: Federal Aggravated Identity Theft, updated August 20, 2015

Medal of Honor: History and Issues, updated August 18, 2015

Sentence for Killing a Bald Eagle Found Too Severe and Unauthorized, CRS Legal Sidebar, August 18, 2015

Biopower: Background and Federal Support, updated August 14, 2015

California Drought: Hydrological and Regulatory Water Supply Issues, updated August 14, 2015

Automatic Continuing Resolutions: Background and Overview of Recent Proposals, August 20, 2015

“Who is a Veteran?” — Basic Eligibility for Veterans’ Benefits, updated August 19, 2015

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated August 17, 2015

Women in Combat: Issues for Congress, updated August 18, 2015

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Background and Current Developments, updated August 14, 2015

Not new, but of renewed current interest is Birthright Citizenship Under the 14th Amendment of Persons Born in the United States to Alien Parents, January 10, 2012.

*    *    *

The long-term vitality of the Congressional Research Service is threatened by Congress’s repeated refusals to appropriate the modest budget increases ($5 million in FY2016) that the agency has requested in recent years. Reductions in the quality of CRS publications and in the depth of staff expertise are foreseeable.

Other congressional support agencies and professional staff face similar curbs on funding, to the detriment of the legislative process.

“Why would Congress cannibalize its own legislative and creative capacity?” ask political science professors Anthony Madonna and Ian Ostrander. See “If Congress keeps cutting its staff, who is writing your laws? You won’t like the answer,” Washington Post, August 20.

House Adopts Intel Bill, Senate Affirms Torture Ban

The House of Representatives yesterday approved its version of the FY 2016 intelligence authorization act (HR 2596).

The bill includes “several” new reporting requirements intended “to enhance Congress’ role in and understanding of the classification process,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA). One of these requirements is for a report to Congress noting each occasion in the past 5 years in which non-compartmented intelligence reporting has been disseminated through a (more restrictive) compartmented channel.

The bill passed by the House preserves a proposed new restriction on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board barring its access to covert action information. The Washington Post reported last week that the restriction was prompted by an op-ed written by the Board chairman suggesting that the Board might be able to assist in oversight of covert targeted killing operations.

Also yesterday, the Senate voted 78-21 to affirm a ban on torture and to limit the use of interrogation techniques to those that are included in Army Field Manual 2-22.3 (Appendix M). The measure was sponsored by Senators McCain and Feinstein.

“Current law already bans torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” Sen. McCain noted.

“However,” he said, “this amendment is still necessary because [after 9/11, so-called ‘enhanced’] interrogation techniques were able to be used, which were based on a deeply flawed legal theory, and those techniques, it was said, did not constitute ‘torture’ or ‘cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.’ These legal opinions could be written again.” The amendment is intended to preclude that possibility.

“I ask my colleagues to support this amendment,” Sen. Feinstein said, “and by doing so, we can recommit ourselves to the fundamental precept that the United States does not torture–without exception and without equivocation–and ensure that the mistakes of our past are never again repeated in the future.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who opposed the amendment, said “the effect of this policy is to hand our entire interrogation playbook to groups such as the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ‘ISIL,” Al Qaeda, and the Taliban, which is a profound mistake.”

House Intelligence Bill Would Limit PCLOB Oversight

Updated below

The House Intelligence Committee inserted language in the pending intelligence authorization bill that would bar access by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) to classified information pertaining to covert action.

“Nothing in the statute authorizing the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board should be construed to allow that Board to gain access to information the executive branch deems to be related to covert action,” according to the new Committee report on the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2016 (section 306), published yesterday.

To the extent that covert action is employed against terrorism and is therefore within the scope of PCLOB’s charter, the House Committee action would preclude PCLOB oversight of the implications of such covert actions for privacy and civil liberties.

That “unduly restricts” PCLOB’s jurisdiction, according to Rep. James Himes (D-CT), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who unsuccessfully sought to modify the provision.

It is possible that there is some tacit rivalry between PCLOB and the congressional intelligence oversight committees, particularly since the PCLOB found that the Section 215 program for collection of telephone metadata was unlawfully implemented while the oversight committees had approved and embraced it. (The recurring failure of the intelligence oversight committees to accurately represent broader congressional and public perspectives over the past decade is a subject that remains to be addressed.)

By contrast, the same House bill directed that the DNI shall provide the Government Accountability Office with the access to information that it needs to perform its authorized functions. The relevant directive (ICD 114) “shall not prohibit the Comptroller General [i.e., the head of the GAO] from obtaining information necessary to carry out an audit or review at the request of the congressional intelligence and defense committees.”

The new House Committee measure may be gratuitous in any event, since the PCLOB is an executive branch agency and is already subject to the authority of the Director of National Intelligence to protect intelligence sources and methods, and to regulate access accordingly.

The PCLOB has recently posted a plan for its review of two counterterrorism-related activities governed by Executive Order 12333.

“The Board plans to concentrate on activities of the CIA and NSA, and to select activities that involve one or more of the following: (1) bulk collection involving a significant chance of acquiring U.S. person information; (2) use of incidentally collected U.S. person information; (3) targeting of U.S. persons; and (4) collection that occurs within the United States or from U.S. companies,” the PCLOB plan said.

Yesterday, Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain introduced an amendment to the 2016 defense authorization act “to reaffirm the prohibition on torture.” The amendment would limit interrogation techniques to those included in the unclassified Army Field Manual 2-22.3 (Appendix M). And it would require regular review of “to ensure that Army Field Manual 2-22.3 complies with the legal obligations of the United States and reflects current, evidence-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use or threat of force.” The amendment had not yet been voted on as of yesterday.

Update: The origins of the House Intelligence Committee’s apparent animosity towards the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board were explored by Ellen Nakashima in Upset over op-ed, GOP lawmakers seek to curb privacy board, Washington Post, June 10, 2015.

Some New Intelligence Budget Data Disclosed

U.S. intelligence spending remains at the frontier of national security classification and declassification policy, as some new scraps of intelligence budget information are divulged, most other information is withheld, and a simmering demand for greater disclosure persists in Congress and elsewhere.

Last month the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) released heavily redacted versions of its annual budget justification books for Fiscal Year 2012 and Fiscal Year 2013.

The declassified portions of the NGA budget documents reflect an emphasis on improved sharing of geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) products and an ongoing reliance on commercial satellite imagery.

“The FY 2013 budget request reflects a continuation of NGA’s Vision to provide on-line, on-demand access to GEOINT knowledge and to create new value by broadening and deepening analytic expertise.”

The documents allude briefly to development of “next-generation sensor/system collection capabilities” as well as a “next-generation exploitation capability [that] will enable analysts to [deleted].”

The documents were processed for declassification in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

(The control markings on the original budget documents included “RSEN,” which is an abbreviation for “Risk Sensitive.” This term “is used to protect especially sensitive imaging capabilities and exploitation techniques,” according to ODNI classification guidance.)

Also last month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed the aggregate amount of national intelligence spending for Fiscal Year 2005: it was $39.8 billion. With this retrospective release, a full decade’s worth of official figures on U.S. intelligence spending from 2005 through 2014 have now been published.

That is not good enough, say some members of Congress, who have reintroduced legislation in the House and the Senate to require disclosure of each individual intelligence agency budget total.

“The biggest threat to the successful implementation of a vital national program is the combination of unlimited money with non-existent oversight,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) last month. “Requiring the public disclosure of top-line intelligence spending [at each intelligence agency] is an essential first step in assuring that our taxpayers and our national security interests are well served.”

“Disclosing the top-line budgets of each of our intelligence agencies promotes basic accountability among the agencies charged with protecting Americans without compromising our national security interests,” said Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo), who co-sponsored the legislation.

“Revealing the overall intelligence budget number has not jeopardized national security, as opponents of the proposal argued at the time, and has led to a more open and informed debate on national security spending,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). “My House colleagues and I are pushing to declassify the topline budget numbers for each intelligence agency to provide Americans with more information about how their tax dollars are spent, in a responsible manner that protects national security.”

Similar legislation was introduced in the previous Congress but was not acted upon.

ODNI: Annexes to Intelligence Bills are not “Secret Law”

A recent article in Secrecy News indicated that the classified annexes that accompany the annual intelligence authorization bills are legally binding and constitute “secret law” (A Growing Body of Secret Intelligence Law, May 4).

Robert S. Litt, the General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, wrote in last week to dispute that characterization:

    I read your piece on secret law and the classified annex to the Intelligence
    Authorization bills with interest.  I thought it was worth responding to let you know
    that I believe you are incorrect in saying that the classified annex has the force of
    law.  Each year’s Intelligence Authorization Act contains a provision — usually
    Section 102 in recent years — that provides that the amounts authorized to be
    appropriated are those set out in the schedule of authorizations in the classified
    annex.  It is only that schedule of authorizations that has the force of law.  The
    remainder of the annex is report language explaining the positions of the committee
    on a variety of issues, and has no more force than any other committee report.  That
    is to say, it expresses the views of the Congress, and it therefore would ordinarily be
    followed as a matter of comity, but does not have the force of law.

    In this regard, it is worth noting that the unclassified Joint Explanatory Statement
    accompanying the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2015 states (160 Cong. Rec.
    S6464, Dec. 9, 2014):

    “This joint explanatory statement shall have the same effect with respect to the
    implementation of this Act as if it were a joint explanatory statement of a
    committee of conference.

    “This explanatory statement is accompanied by a classified annex that contains
    a classified Schedule of Authorizations.  The classified Schedule of
    Authorizations is incorporated by reference in the Act and has the legal status of
    public law.”

    Bob Litt

In short: The schedule of authorized amounts that is contained within the classified annex does have the force of law, but the rest of the classified annex does not.

We accept the correction.

A congressional intelligence committee staff member concurred.

“The majority of the classified annexes are distinct from the schedules of authorization and are where the Committees opine on and direct various things,” the staff member said. “As a technical point, I believe that Bob is correct — they don’t have the force of law as they are not incorporated in the same way as the schedules.”

“That said, we very much expect that the Executive Branch will follow them, which in fact it does. I don’t know that this matters much, though.  While it may not be secret law, it is secret text that the Congress approves and is presented to the President at the time of his signature and that we believe is binding in practical terms,” the staff member added.

Thus, even if they do not entirely qualify as “secret law,” the classified annexes still have normative force, helping to shape the direction and execution of intelligence policy.

They therefore retain their significance for government accountability, including congressional accountability. And yet as a category of documents, the annexes are completely withheld from the public even decades after they are produced. Unfortunately, that remains undisputed.

*    *    *

Its specific content aside, Mr. Litt’s message is noteworthy as an uncommon act of official participation in public dialog.

In an open society, government officials ought to be reasonably accessible to the members of the public whom they ostensibly serve. But with some exceptions, they are not. Either they are insulated by layers of security, or they are isolated by hierarchical bureaucratic structures that make them unreachable. The secrecy-intensive culture of intelligence only aggravates the problem. Even an open government law like the Freedom of Information Act creates a procedural buffer that often impedes any kind of direct dialog.

Unlike most of his colleagues, Mr. Litt has been willing to engage with members of the public with some frequency. You can ask him a question. You can argue with him. He will argue with you. The point is that he is available to non-governmental interlocutors in a way that should be ordinary but is in fact unusual and exemplary. (See, for example, here, here and here.)

Mr. Litt’s attentiveness to the nuances of an article in Secrecy News brings to mind a passage from Robert M. Gates’ 1996 CIA memoir From the Shadows that is dear to the heart of small newsletter writers. The author was recalling Director of Central Intelligence Bill Casey whom he described as an omnivorous consumer of information from even the most obscure sources.

“Bill Casey was one of the smartest people I have ever known and certainly one of the most intellectually lively,” Gates wrote (p. 217). “He subscribed to newsletters and information sheets that I sometimes thought couldn’t have more than five readers in the world, and then he would ask if I had seen one or another item in them.”

A Growing Body of Secret Intelligence Law

Updated below

After President Obama suggested in a 2013 speech that the CIA drone program could be transferred to the Department of Defense, Senator Dianne Feinstein inserted a classified amendment in a spending bill to discourage the move, Politico recalled in a story last month.

Classified legislative language has been generated by Congress and used to shape intelligence policy each year since the congressional intelligence committees prepared the first stand-alone intelligence authorization act in 1977 (for Fiscal Year 1978).

Though unpublished, those classified provisions have the force of law, the Senate Intelligence Committee declared in the FY 1978 intelligence authorization report (S.Rpt. 95-214, May 16, 1977):

“It is the intent of the committee that the classified report, although not available to the public, will nonetheless have the force of a Senate authorization bill; further that the Intelligence Community shall comply fully with the guidelines and limitations contained therein,” the intelligence authorization report said.

What were those guidelines and limitations that the Intelligence Community was obliged to comply with? That remains a secret almost four decades later, because that first classified committee report has never been made public. Neither has a single one of the subsequent classified annexes to the annual committee authorization bills. Though they may have the legal force of other authorizing legislation, their classified contents remain almost entirely inaccessible to the public.

“The idea of secret laws is repugnant,” a federal appeals court memorably said (Torres v. INS, 7th circuit, 1998). The court’s concern at the time was that “People cannot comply with laws the existence of which is concealed.” But compliance aside, secret laws are also problematic because people cannot challenge them or seek to amend them.

“Secret law” can take a variety of forms. The term is often invoked with respect to unreleased opinions of the Office of Legal Counsel that interpret the law for the executive branch in undisclosed ways. It can also apply to secret presidential directives that define national policies and to some other categories of government information.

The classified annexes to the annual intelligence bills appear to constitute secret law in a strict sense. They legislatively establish programs, allocate resources, impose requirements and prohibitions on executive agencies, and more– all without public notice or accountability.

As U.S. foreign intelligence agency activities have expanded into non-consensual domestic collection practices and unconventional “enhanced” techniques, the secret laws that govern them become more than an abstract concern.

Only sporadically do particular provisions of classified annexes to the intelligence bills ever come to public knowledge, whether through leaks or official disclosures.

The account of Sen. Feinstein’s secret intervention to maintain the CIA drone program was first reported by Greg Miller in the Washington Post (“Lawmakers seek to stymie plan to shift control of drone campaign from CIA to Pentagon,” January 15, 2014).

On other occasions, the Senate Intelligence Committee has voluntarily disclosed some of its own classified actions, if only in broad outline. Thus, the Committee revealed in a retrospective report this year:

*    “In the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 and associated classified annex, the Committee recommended additional resources to help assure the IC meets [its] counterintelligence and security goals as soon as possible.”

*    “The classified annex of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 required the DNI to provide an implementation plan for the Human Capital Vision.”

*    “The classified annex of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 directed the development of a specific GAO review to bolster intelligence oversight and reduce unnecessary fragmentation, overlap, and duplication.”

*    “The classified annex of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 required the DNI create a governance and oversight model to provide the DNI and the Congress with the insight required to ensure IC ITE [the IC Information Technology Enterprise] meets milestones for performance, cost, and schedule. The classified annex of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 required the CIA, DIA, NRO, NGA, and NSA to provide specific plans for adoption of IC ITE-compliant capabilities.”

Secret intelligence legislation is a subset of an even larger problem of secret congressional records that, once classified, remain that way indefinitely.

“The declassification procedures for classified records created by committees of Congress, particularly classified reports and closed hearing transcripts, are irregular and limited,” said the Public Interest Declassification Board in a 2007 report on Improving Declassification.

“The classified records created by the Congress often provide unique and significant insights into national security policy, decision making, and the budget and oversight process at a given point in time,” the PIDB report said. “Yet, because the records of the committees are classified and never subjected to declassification review, the public and historians are largely unaware of their existence.”

The PIDB recommended that “formal procedures should be established for the declassification review of classified committee reports and hearing transcripts.” But with few exceptions, that recommendation has not been acted upon, and the number of declassified congressional reports remains disappointingly small.

One example of a declassified committee report is the release last year of a redacted summary of the SSCI report on CIA detention and interrogation. Another is the redacted 2002 final report of the congressional joint inquiry into the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Over the years, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has published declassified transcripts of the Committee’s executive sessions (closed hearings) in a series of twenty volumes covering 1947 through 1968.  But after the latest volumes were published in 2007 and 2010 (covering hearings in 1967 and 1968), no further releases have been forthcoming from the Committee.

Update: For a response from ODNI, see Annexes to Intelligence Bills are not “Secret Law.”

Russia Images the LACROSSE Spysat

A Russian satellite tracking facility in Siberia has produced rarely-seen photographs of a U.S. intelligence satellite.

The U.S. Lacrosse radar satellite was captured in images generated at Russia’s Altay Optical Laser Center, apparently between 2005 and 2010. A selection of images was compiled and analyzed by Allen Thomson. See An Album of Images of LACROSSE Radar Reconnaissance Satellites Made by a 60 cm Adaptive Optics System at the G.S. Titov Altai Optical-Laser Center.

“The images contain enough information (range, angular scale) to perform a bit of technical intelligence (i.e., sophomore high school trigonometry) on the radar antenna size, which is a significant parameter affecting capability,” Mr. Thomson, a former CIA analyst, told Secrecy News.

While provocative, the intent of the imagery disclosure was obscure, he said.

“Why did the Russians release the images?  The US is highly paranoid about releasing resolved images of spysats, ours or others. The Russian paranoia is at least as great, so how did these images get out? What was the purpose?”

The images themselves seem to be mostly just a curiosity. But perhaps they underscore the growing visibility and the corresponding vulnerability of U.S. space-based assets.

“Our asymmetrical advantage in space also creates asymmetrical vulnerabilities,” said Gil Klinger, a defense intelligence official, last year. “Our adversaries recognize our dependence on space and continue to think of ways to respond to our space advantage.”

He testified at a 2014 House Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. national security space activities, the record of which has recently been published. Space protection, orbital debris, the industrial base and related topics were addressed.

Russia’s Altay Optical Laser Center was profiled by Mr. Thomson here.