Statement of Colonel Daniel M. Smith, USA (Ret.)Of my 26 years on active military service, 16 were spent in military intelligence assignments, including one year in Vietnam, three years in a regular Army division, and seven years in the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Chief of Research, Center for Defense Information
before the Subcommittee on
Government Efficiency, Financial Management, and Intergovernmental Relations
House Committee on Government Reform
July 18, 2001
As a career military intelligence officer, I retain a bias in favor of the need for the United States government to keep secret information that it deems might be helpful to an adversary or competitor if that information became known. The government also has an interest in collecting information about other nations and foreign individuals with a view towards understanding and, if possible, influencing the behavior of these nations and individuals. How and on what basis these decisions are made also is information that needs to be protected.
On the other hand, as a career citizen of the United States, a status that preceded and post-dates my military service, I have a bias in favor of maximum openness in government, including justification of actions taken or not taken ostensibly on behalf of myself and other citizens. While there are legitimate security reasons to withhold information from the general public -- such as sources and methods used to acquire information on which decisions are based -- the threshold for withholding information from the elected representatives of the people must be significantly higher than for the general public. Otherwise the Congress can never know for sure whether it is carrying out its sworn duty to protect the public's general welfare against potential government intrusion into areas protected by the Constitution and to properly allocate resources among the various legitimate requirements of the nation in general and the intelligence agencies in particular.
This subcommittee can, I believe, exercise oversight of intelligence activities from the standpoint of efficiency and fiscal management without increasing the possibility that sensitive information inadvertently will be revealed.
As stated already, the most sensitive aspects of intelligence are sources and methods. To repeat the obvious, sources are the origin of information -- for example, photographs; electronic communications such as telephones, telegraph, Email, and microwave transmissions; radar and sonar scans; people; and books and other printed material. Methods are the manner by which theinformation is collected -- satellites carrying cameras or electronic devices that can detect electro-magnetic signals; airplanes and ships similarly equipped; intercepting microwave or satellite communications; lip reading a conversation; going to an arms bazaar and observing, taking pictures, or picking up pamphlets; or asking a direct question of someone willing to provide information.
In general, the more closely held the information is, the fewer the sources. Thus, should an adversary learn that the United States has such information, the easier it is for the adversary to determine the source of the revealed information and close our access to the source. This is why every attempt is made to blend sources and to screen out information that could only come from one or a few sources from finished intelligence products that are to be disseminated to intelligence consumers lacking special clearances.
Similarly, the more closely held the information is, the fewer methods there are to obtain it. Planes like the Navy EP-3 that collided with the Chinese F-8 fighter on April 1 collect certain electronic signals, some of which can be collected by satellites. But satellites collect other or confirming data via photographs and cover areas beyond the range of equipment on airplanes flying in international airspace, and the targets can be different echelons (national level vs. operational level). Some information, such as intentions of heads of government, can only be learned before an announcement by talking with people close to or at the top. And personal interaction also provides insight into what others know or suspect about U.S. offensive and defensive capabilities and plans.
Information that cannot be distributed to those who need it is useless. This applies both to those in the intelligence and military communities and to those in policy-making positions who have responsibilities under the Constitution to act in the name of, on behalf of, or to protect the citizens of the United States.
While there is a legitimate security requirement to limit the dissemination of sensitive material on a need-to-know basis, such need-to-know restrictions must be carefully evaluated to ensure they do not become an excuse to withhold information arbitrarily or to conceal failures or even misdeeds. Making information usable to different levels of government (and even to the public) by blending as many sources and methods as possible and screening out information that could only come from restricted sources is the job of professional intelligence analysts. Judging how well they are doing -- and whether priorities and expenditures are in line with the perceived threats -- is the job of Congress. And for that, Congress needs to have access to and hear from -- in executive session if necessary -- knowledgeable representatives of U.S. intelligence agencies.