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.

Intelligence Oversight in the 113th Congress

During the last two years, the U.S. intelligence community has faced momentous challenges and experienced extraordinary upheaval, including the Snowden disclosures beginning in June 2013 and the release of a redacted summary of the Senate report on CIA interrogation practices last year.

Those episodes and others are reflected in a new report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence describing its oversight activities in the 113th Congress from January 2013 to January 2015.

Highlights of the new report include these:

**    Efforts to make U.S. intelligence agencies financially auditable are progressing slowly. “The CIA, NGA, NRO, and NSA conducted audits of their fiscal year 2014 financial statements,” but only the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) completed the process successfully. The CIA, NGA, and NSA “received disclaimers of opinion,” meaning that their financial statements could not be validated by the auditors. “While the DIA and ODNI did not conduct an audit, both plan to do so in 2015,” the report said.

**    Over-control of classified information continues to hamper information sharing even within the intelligence community, the report said. “The Committee has been concerned about the IC’s misapplication and overuse of the originator control marking (ORCON), which can impede the complete and timely dissemination of intelligence, as the agency that originates the information retains control over its dissemination…. Committee staff concluded that the use of the ORCON marking by certain IC elements had increased substantially, and that in some cases classification and control marking policies had been violated.”

**    Efforts to enlist the resources of the Government Accountability Office to strengthen intelligence oversight — a move long advocated by outside observers — are continuing, as the Committee encourages “open lines of communication and collaboration” between ODNI and GAO. The new report reveals that the classified annex of the FY 2014 authorization bill “directed the development of a specific GAO review to bolster intelligence oversight and reduce unnecessary fragmentation, overlap, and duplication.”

**    The report provides some new details of the three-volume structure of the still-classified CIA “torture report”. The first volume addressed the history of CIA’s interrogation program in 1,539 pages. The second volume devoted 1,858 pages to intelligence acquired through the program and CIA’s representations of its effectiveness. And the third volume, in 2,855 pages, focused on the detention and interrogation of 119 CIA detainees.

**    The Committee report said that “Financial intelligence has emerged as a significant are of IC activity, aiming to ‘follow the money’ of adversaries. It has proven to be a powerful tool confronting a range of challenging threats including terrorism, weapons proliferation, and narcotics trafficking.”

**    “The Committee also devoted significant time and attention to lethal operations against counterterrorism targets…. The Committee has worked with the Executive Branch to understand the legal basis for these operations.”  Likewise, “The Committee seeks to ensure that covert action programs are consistent with United States foreign policy goals, and are conducted in accordance with all applicable U.S. laws.”

**    With seeming condescension, the report noted that “The Committee annually receives hundreds of phone calls, facsimiles, mail, and email communications from self-identified whistleblowers on matters they believe to be of urgent concern. Committee staff reviewed and investigated these communications.” If these investigations yielded any actionable findings, they are not mentioned in the report.

**    The report pointedly observed that “Since 1994, the Committee has held annual open hearings to review the Intelligence Community’s assessment of the current and projected national security threats to the United States.” That twenty-year tradition came to an end this year when the new Chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, decided to hold the Committee’s annual threat briefing in closed session.

The new Senate Intelligence Committee report does not contain any note of critical self-examination or any suggestion that congressional oversight itself might have been complicit in the errors and excesses of intelligence agencies. Accordingly, the report does not address any potential changes that might be made to improve the intelligence oversight process.

FRUS on Investigating Intelligence in the 1970s

“There is too much disclosure,” complained George H. W. Bush, then-Director of Central Intelligence, in a 1976 memo to President Gerald Ford.

“We are continually pressed by Congress, by the courts, by the Freedom of Information Act, to give up sensitive material,” DCI Bush added. “We are trying to hold the line but there is a continuous erosion which gives away classified information at home and complicates our liaison relationships abroad. I am frustrated by our inability to deal with the leaking of classified information.”

His memo to President Ford was presented (as document 78) in a fascinating new collection of executive branch documents on the investigations of U.S. intelligence agencies during the 1970s. The collection was assembled for the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series (1969-1976, volume XXXVIII, part 2), which has just been published in hardcopy. It was posted in full last December on the website of the State Department historian.

In the aftermath of the Senate Church Committee investigation, “I find no degradation in the quality of intelligence analysis,” said Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Top Secret meeting of the National Security Council in January 1977 (document 83 in the FRUS collection).

“The opposite is true, however, in the covert action area,” Kissinger told the NSC. “We are unable to do it anymore.”

“Many things are not even proposed these days because we are afraid to even discuss them much less implement them,” Kissinger said then.

Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., who was the chief counsel of the Church Committee, has written a new book of his own on secrecy in the broad sweep of American history up to the present day. Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy (The New Press, 2015) was published this week. The book was welcomed by Katrina vanden Heuvel writing in the Washington Post on April 7.

DHS Seeks Increase in Domestic HUMINT Collection

The Department of Homeland Security aims to increase its domestic human intelligence collection activity this year, the Department recently told Congress.

In a question for the record from a September 2014 congressional hearing, Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-GA) asked:  “Do we currently have enough human intelligence capacity–both here in the homeland and overseas–to counter the threats posed by state and non-state actors alike?”

The Department replied, in a response published in the full hearing volume last month (at p. 64):

“DHS is working on increasing its human intelligence-gathering capabilities at home and anticipates increasing its field collector/reporter personnel by 50 percent, from 19 to approximately 30, during the coming year.”

“We are also training Intelligence Officers in State and major urban area fusion centers to do intelligence reporting. This will increase the human intelligence capability by additional 50–60 personnel.”

The projected increase in DHS HUMINT collection activity was not specifically mentioned in the Department’s FY 2015 budget request.

Human intelligence collection in this context does not necessarily mean that the Department is running spies under cover. According to a 2009 report from the Congressional Research Service (footnote 38), “For purposes of DHS intelligence collection, HUMINT is used to refer to overt collection of information and intelligence from human sources. DHS does not, generally, engage in covert or clandestine HUMINT.”

In any case, “The DHS Intelligence Enterprise has increased intelligence reporting, producing over 3,000 reports in fiscal year 2014,” DHS also told Rep. Broun.

A June 2014 report from the Government Accountability Office found fault with some of that reporting, which is generated by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A).

“I&A customers had mixed views on the extent to which its analytic products and services are useful,” GAO found. See DHS Intelligence Analysis: Additional Actions Needed to Address Analytic Priorities and Workforce Challenges, GAO report GAO-14-397, June 2014.

DHS concurred with the resulting GAO recommendations.

 

Growing Data Collection Inspires Openness at NGA

A flood of information from the ongoing proliferation of space-based sensors and ground-based data collection devices is promoting a new era of transparency in at least one corner of the U.S. intelligence community.

The “explosion” of geospatial information “makes geospatial intelligence increasingly transparent because of the huge number and diversity of commercial and open sources of information,” said Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), in a speech last month.

Hundreds of small satellites are expected to be launched within the next three years — what Mr. Cardillo called a “darkening of the skies” — and they will provide continuous, commercially available coverage of the entire Earth’s surface.

“The challenges of taking advantage of all of that data are daunting for all of us,” Mr. Cardillo said.

Meanwhile, the emerging “Internet of Things” is “spreading rapidly as more people carry more handheld devices to more places” generating an abundance of geolocation data.

This is, of course, a matter of intelligence interest since “Every local, regional, and global challenge — violent extremism in the Middle East and Africa, Russian aggression, the rise of China, Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons, cyber security, energy resources, and many more — has geolocation at its heart.”

Consequently, “We must open up GEOINT far more toward the unclassified world,” Director Cardillo said in another speech last week.

“In the past, we have excelled in our closed system. We enjoyed a monopoly on sources and methods. That monopoly has long since ended. Today and in the future, we must thrive and excel in the open.”

So far, NGA has already distinguished itself in the area of disaster relief, Mr. Cardillo said.

“Consider Team NGA’s response to the Ebola crisis. We are the first intelligence agency to create a World Wide Web site with access to our relevant unclassified content. It is open to everyone — no passwords, no closed groups.”

NGA provided “more than a terabyte of up-to-date commercial imagery.”

“You can imagine how important it is for the Liberian government to have accurate maps of the areas hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic as well as the medical and transportation infrastructure to combat the disease,” Mr. Cardillo said.

But there are caveats. Just because information is unclassified does not mean that it is freely available.

“Although 99 percent of all of our Ebola data is unclassified, most of that is restricted by our agreements [with commercial providers],” Mr. Cardillo said. “We are negotiating with many sources to release more data.”

Last week, Director Cardillo announced a new project called GEOINT Pathfinder that will attempt “to answer key intelligence questions using only unclassified data.”

When it comes to transparency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligencerecently expressed the view that the U.S. intelligence community should make “information publicly available in a manner that enhances public understanding of intelligence activities, while continuing to protect information when disclosure would harm national security.”

But some intelligence agencies have chosen a different path.

At the CIA, for example, public access to unclassified translations and analytical products of the Open Source Center was abruptly terminated at the end of 2013. Such materials from the OSC and its predecessor, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, had provided invaluable support to generations of scholars, students, and foreign policy specialists. But that is no longer the case.