SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 112
December 30, 2003

FBI INFORMATION SHARING STILL FACES OBSTACLES

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has improved its ability to share information about terrorist threats with other parts of government but still has major impediments to overcome, a searching review by the Department of Justice Inspector General (IG) has found. These obstacles include technological challenges, doubts about FBI credibility and the uneven quality of Bureau information.

"The FBI's fundamental information-sharing problem is the inability to move classified information... securely outside of the FBI. Due to the FBI's [information technology] limitations, even e-mails cannot be forwarded securely to the CIA. Instead, FBI personnel must print a paper version of the e-mail and provide this to their CIA counterparts," the IG stated in a new report (p. 13).

Meanwhile, other law enforcement agencies often doubt FBI assurances that it has shared all the relevant information it has.

"FBI officials told us that state and local law enforcement agencies often perceive that the FBI has more information than it is willing to share," the IG noted.

"As is reasonable, officials from state and local law enforcement agencies often want to know whether anything in their jurisdiction is being specifically targeted. FBI officials usually do not have any information about specific targets. However, FBI officials with whom we spoke said that state and local law enforcement officials often believe the FBI is withholding information when told that the FBI does not have any specific threat information," the IG report said (p. 16).

The FBI has been circulating weekly Intelligence Bulletins to some 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide to provide current counterterrorism threat information.

"However, the Bulletins are somewhat 'hit and miss' in terms of providing guidance on what specific actions to take or what terrorist characteristics to be aware of," the IG report said (pp. 58-60).

See "The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Efforts to Improve the Sharing of Intelligence and Other Information," U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General, December 2003 (redacted and unclassified version):

With greater information sharing comes more unauthorized disclosure, the IG report said.

One FBI official told the IG that "the information the FBI disseminates to the state and local law enforcement community frequently is seen or heard in the news media nearly immediately upon distribution" (p. 17).

This was newly demonstrated when the Associated Press reported on an FBI Intelligence Bulletin issued last week. The latest Bulletin warned police to be alert for people carrying almanacs, suggesting dubiously that terrorists might use the reference books "to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning."


DOD IG LOOKS BACK AT TERRORISM INFORMATION AWARENESS

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) did not adequately consider the privacy concerns associated with its controversial Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) program that was terminated by Congress earlier this year, the Department of Defense Inspector General said in a new report.

"DARPA could have better addressed the sensitivity of the technology to minimize the possibility of any Governmental abuse of power," the DOD IG said.

DARPA should have allayed such concerns by performing a privacy impact assessment, the report said, even though such an assessment was not required by statute.

"DARPA should have performed a privacy impact assessment because the development of TIA occurred simultaneously with the transition of TIA technology into the operational environment," the IG report said.

In response, DARPA stressed that "the TIA project has not, in fact, violated privacy policies of the United States," and the IG did not dispute this.

See "Terrorism Information Awareness Program," Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General, December 23, 2003:

Although TIA was terminated by the 2004 defense appropriations act, related technologies are being pursued by U.S. defense and intelligence agencies (see SN, 9/26/03).


CLASSIFIED TRASH AT NSA

The National Security Agency is refusing to provide federal regulators with information about environmental contamination at its Fort Meade, MD headquarters, claiming that to do so would pose a national security risk, the Baltimore Sun reported today.

See "NSA says its toxic waste is classified" by Rona Kobell and Ariel Sabar, Baltimore Sun, December 30:

The difficulties of enforcing environmental laws at classified government facilities were discussed in 1996 testimony from the General Accounting Office.

See "Environmental Oversight of Classified Federal Research," statement of Bernice Steinhardt, GAO before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, March 12, 1996:


REPORTERS IN AND OUT OF OFFICIAL FAVOR

One of the subtler ways of curtailing public access to government information is to channel public and media inquiries to public affairs personnel, who will provide an "authorized" official response, or none at all.

It follows that one of the challenges facing professional journalists is to cultivate independent sources who can provide an "unauthorized" perspective on events. But those journalists who succeed in doing so can expect to encounter criticism.

Recently, the Department of Defense approached the Washington Post to complain about one of its Pentagon reporters, Tom Ricks. Among the government's reported concerns was that Ricks was straying too far from official channels.

"The Pentagon's letter of complaint to Post executive editor Leonard Downie had language charging that Ricks casts his net as widely as possible and e-mails many people," according to an article in Washingtonian magazine.

See "Pentagon to Washington Post Reporter Ricks: Get Lost" by Harry Jaffe, Washingtonian (flagged by Romenesko at poynter.org):

If this kind of official rebuke to Ricks is a badge of honor, official commendation of particular journalists can be just as significant in a different way.

The late Michael Kelly, who was killed this year while reporting in Iraq, was singled out for unusually lavish praise by Bush Administration officials.

"I knew Michael Kelly and greatly admired his work," Vice President Dick Cheney told the American Society of Newspaper Editors in April. "He was a superb writer and as a reporter and editor he upheld the highest standards of your profession."

According to President Bush, who has said he does not regularly read newspapers, Kelly was "one of the most accomplished columnists and editors in America."

But Kelly, though beloved and admired by his friends and colleagues, was not an admirable journalist. As a New Republic editor and Washington Post op-ed writer, he was careless with facts, malicious towards ideological opponents, and intolerant of criticism.

A critical view of Kelly was presented by the ferociously independent Daily Howler here:


EARTHQUAKE IN IRAN

The devastation of the earthquake that leveled much of the city of Bam, Iran on December 26 is captured in a 1 meter resolution commercial satellite image taken one day later and released by Space Imaging, Inc. See:

The magnitude of destruction has elicited international support that transcends the usual political and religious divides. Donations to relief efforts can be made through the Iranian Muslim Association of North America (www.iman.org), the American Jewish World Service (www.ajws.org), and others.

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Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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