SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 31
April 1, 2008

Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/

A NEW INTELLIGENCE OVERSIGHT TASK FOR GAO

For the first time in six years, the Government Accountability Office has been asked by a congressional intelligence committee to perform an intelligence oversight-related function.

On March 11, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), an intelligence subcommittee chairwoman, called upon the GAO to review security clearance processes in the intelligence community and to examine the DNI's pilot project on security clearance reform.

The new assignment potentially represents a breakthrough in the longstanding stalemate over GAO's role in intelligence oversight. Opposition to GAO oversight in the intelligence community combined with resistance from the congressional committee leadership have effectively sidelined GAO since the intelligence committees submitted their last intelligence-related request to GAO in 2002.

Proponents of an increased intelligence oversight role for GAO (including FAS and GAO itself) have argued that not only does GAO possess relevant expertise, but that by sharing the oversight burden GAO can free the intelligence committees to focus on more specialized oversight functions.

The new GAO assignment was described in a March 12 news release from Rep. Eshoo:

It was also noted by me in a letter to the editor of the Washington Post on "Extending the GAO's Reach," March 31:

The potential role of the GAO in intelligence oversight was addressed in a February 29 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chaired by Senator Daniel Akaka.


AVOIDING A NUCLEAR ARMS RACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

The likely responses of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey to Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon were considered in a new staff report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"How are these three countries responding today to the Iranian nuclear program? How would Riyadh, Cairo, and Ankara respond if Tehran were to cross the nuclear threshold and acquire nuclear weapons? Would they pursue nuclear weapons of their own? What factors would influence their decisions? What can the U.S. do now and over the coming years to discourage these countries from pursuing a nuclear weapon of their own?"

"Based on 5 months of research and interviews with hundreds of officials and scholars in the United States and seven Middle Eastern countries, this report attempts to answer these questions."

See "Chain Reaction: Avoiding a Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East," Senate Foreign Relations Committee print, February 2008:


JUDICIAL SECRECY AND THE SUNSHINE IN LITIGATION ACT

"Far too often, court-approved secrecy agreements hide vital public health and safety information from the American public, putting lives at stake," observed Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI).

"The secrecy agreements even prevent government officials or consumer groups from learning about and protecting the public from defective and dangerous products."

"Legislation that I've introduced... seeks to restore the appropriate balance between secrecy and openness. Under our bill, the proponent of a protective order must demonstrate to the judge's satisfaction that the order would not restrict the disclosure of information relevant to public health and safety hazards."

Sen. Kohl's proposed remedy, the Sunshine in Litigation Act, was the subject of a recent Senate hearing that has just been published.

See "The Sunshine in Litigation Act: Does Court Secrecy Undermine Public Health and Safety?", Senate Judiciary Committee, December 11, 2007:


MORE EMBLEMS FROM THE PENTAGON'S BLACK WORLD

In what might seem like an April Fool's Day indulgence but isn't, the New York Times today probed further into the emblems that circulate officially or unofficially around classified Defense Department programs (Secrecy News, March 24).

The emblems and patches, gathered by author Trevor Paglen, "reveal a bizarre mix of high and low culture where Latin and Greek mottos frame images of spooky demons and sexy warriors, of dragons dropping bombs and skunks firing laser beams." Several of them are featured in a Times graphic supplement.

See "Inside the Black Budget" by William J. Broad, New York Times, April 1:

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

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