"It is necessary to have at least a minimal clandestine presence in most countries," declared the House Intelligence Committee IC21 Staff Study. This is a pivotal, yet unexamined judgment that significantly shapes the character of U.S. international relations.
"The CIA has imposed huge numbers of its operatives on U.S. embassies in countries with open societies," according to former Ambassador Robert E. White of the Center for International Policy. "In many overseas posts, CIA staff outnumber legitimate diplomats."
Given the budgetary, political and programmatic tradeoffs between diplomacy and intelligence, the U.S. government has increasingly opted for the latter. Thus, the State Department budget for foreign operations has been cut by 50 percent over the last decade and dozens of consulates and embassies have been shut down. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence spending is more than 80% higher in real terms than it was in 1980 and it is still growing.
At a time when the opportunities and the necessity for preventive diplomacy are greater than ever, the ability to wield diplomatic influence is being shortchanged or crippled, as intelligence increasingly dominates U.S. foreign policy.
But in several important respects it is Canada, and not the United States, that holds that distinction today. Canada has proven to be far more nimble than the U.S. in adapting its intelligence apparatus to the post-Cold War security environment, and in meeting the demands of democratic government.
If intelligence threatens to displace diplomacy in the U.S., an opposing tendency is evident in Canada. The "primary purpose" of Canada's foreign intelligence liaison relationships "is to convince former adversaries that their legitimate security needs can be satisfied through liaison and cooperation, without the need to spy on Canada or Canadians," according to a 1994 annual report.
This is, in part, a reflection of the different roles that Canada and the U.S. play in world affairs. Even so, Canadian intelligence policy embodies a democratic spirit that would be worthy of emulation in the U.S., if the reform of Cold War intelligence ever becomes politically possible.
Budget disclosure. Since 1991, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Canada's national intelligence agency, has published its overall budget. Since 1994, it has also provided a three-figure breakdown of its personnel, operational and construction costs, along with a three year projected budget figure. In the U.S., American citizens have to depend on unauthorized disclosures for comparable information about their intelligence services.
Has intelligence budget disclosure compromised Canada's security? "I can't really see the overall figure being a detriment to Canadian national security," said Mark Boyer, CSIS Public Liaison Officer. "In fact, it helps us by letting Canadians know how much of their money is being spent on intelligence. It's an element of our public accountability."
Similarly, the annual budget of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada's national cryptologic agency and the counterpart of the U.S. National Security Agency, "has been public knowledge since May 1995," said CSE public affairs officer Eric Watson. "It's been an evolutionary change," he said. "As the world situation changes, so does CSE's policy about what it can disclose." Has CSE budget disclosure harmed national security? "No," he told S&GB.
Public Outreach. "Misinformation about the nature of the Service's mandate and activities is one of the most persistent problems CSIS has to deal with," according to the 1995 CSIS annual report. "If left unchallenged, it can undermine Canadians' trust in the Service's ability to do its job."
Public suspicion inevitably attaches to intelligence in otherwise open societies. U.S. intelligence (motto: "We didn't do it") is obviously no exception. But Canada has taken this problem seriously in a way that the U.S. has not. Canadian intelligence explicitly seeks to "encourage better public understanding of the global security environment and national security issues."
One Canadian initiative that is without parallel in the U.S. is the publication of a monthly intelligence report called Commentary written by CSIS intelligence analysts and issued in unclassified form for public consumption. Recent issues have provided original analysis on "Insurgency, Legitimacy and Intervention in Algeria," "The Security Implications for China of Environmental Degradation," and "Prospects for Democracy in Latin America," among a great variety of other topics. Each issue provides a contact address and phone number for the author so that after reading his analysis you can call him up, a la Holden Caulfield, and tell him what you think.
"Commentary is an extremely popular product," notes CSIS spokesman Mark Boyer, "both among the general public and within other government agencies." As a result of continuing growth in demand for subscriptions, CSIS has made Commentary available on its outstanding website at http://www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/.
CSIS also seeks to build constructive ties with academia, encouraging scholars to undertake unclassified research of national security significance. Among other things, "Commentary is a platform for us to engage the academic community," said CSIS communications officer Tom Gervais. Overall, "the main thrust of all this is to demystify intelligence for the Canadian public," he said.
Canada's experience offers a small hint of what an enlightened intelligence policy could be. With an intelligence budget that is more than 100 times larger than Canada's, a reformed U.S. intelligence community could do far more to enrich the public sphere, to engender public confidence and to serve the nation.
The Committee was unable to reach consensus as to whether or not the Clinton Administration engaged in an illegal covert action when it encouraged the shipment of Iranian arms to Bosnia.
But the report's most important assertions are peripheral to the Bosnia case and represent more fundamental issues: (1) the Administration is not properly documenting its policy decisions, and (2) the Administration has not conformed to Congressional reporting requirements or expectations.
The Committee found that executive branch agencies are deliberately failing to keep records of significant foreign policy decisions, for fear of unauthorized disclosure (i.e., leaks, not declassification). Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott told the Committee that many diplomatic transactions "do not end up on paper... because of the extreme sensitivity of the subject matter. What goes down on paper is more likely to come out in public, in inappropriate and harmful ways." By this logic, it is the most sensitive policy decisions that will be the least well documented. "It is precisely this approach... that the Committee believes is unwise and dangerous," the Report stated. In a second finding, the Committee complained that despite the legal requirement that the President keep Congressional intelligence committees "fully and currently informed" of U.S. intelligence activities, the Administration has interpreted this requirement narrowly so that it applies to procedural matters only, but not to the substantive content of intelligence that is collected or analyzed.
"It is hard to envisage how the intelligence committees could be kept fully informed of U.S. intelligence activities without being told what has been learned from those activities," the Committee stated, in an assertion that arguably exceeds the bounds of oversight and practicality.
More sensibly, the Committee recommended that "The Executive branch should inform Congress of significant secret changes in U.S. foreign policy." A copy of the Senate Committee report is available on the FAS website at http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/1996_rpt/bosnia.htm.
Secret Power: New Zealand's Role in the International Spy Network, by crusading journalist Nicky Hager, describes the communications monitoring system known by the codename ECHELON, which is jointly operated by the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is comprised of intercept stations situated around the globe "that automatically search through the millions of intercepted messages for ones containing pre- programmed keywords or fax, telex and e-mail addresses."
"The ECHELON system has created an awesome spying capacity for the United States, allowing it to monitor continuously most of the world's communications.... The capabilities of the ECHELON system are so great, and the secrecy surrounding it makes it so impervious to democratic oversight, that the temptation to use it for questionable projects seems irresistible," wrote Mr. Hager.
An astonishing feat of investigative prowess, Secret Power is a dense and sometimes difficult read. It reveals more than many readers will want to know. But as long as governments reveal less than their publics want to know, books like this are essential to public accountability.
FAS has posted the first two chapters of Secret Power with permission at http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/ along with book order information.
"We are also concerned that, within the 36% of its records for which the Agency has requested no exemption, substantial amounts of time and money have been spent reviewing materials of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, the great bulk of which were publicly available from the moment, however long ago, they were originally broadcast," the Panel report stated. The CIA, in other words, is "declassifying" substantial quantities of unclassified records.
Moreover, "Not a single whole collection from CIA files-- as opposed to selected documents-- is as yet available for research at the National Archives. Until such files become available, CIA will continue to have problems of credibility with the public and with the academic community," the Report said.
"We note in particular the Agency's failure, several years after it committed itself to this goal, to make available archival records relating to covert operations whose existence has long since been publicly acknowledged." A copy of the Report is available at http://www.fas.org/sgp/advisory/ciarev2.html.
Secrecy & Government Bulletin is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists. The FAS Project on Government Secrecy is supported by grants from the Rockefeller Family Fund, the CS Fund, and the New York Times Foundation.