SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 13
February 9, 2009

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DEPUTY AG-NOMINEE IS "A BIG BELIEVER IN WHISTLEBLOWERS"

David W. Ogden, who has been nominated to be the next Deputy Attorney General, last week expressed strong support for government whistleblowers who help to expose corruption or malfeasance.

"I am a big believer in whistleblowers," he said at his February 5 confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, "and in the need to make sure that people feel comfortable coming forward to make complaints."

"I think what we need is a process that encourages whistleblowing in this administration and any other administration going forward. The business of making sure that we're doing the right thing is an ongoing business," Mr. Ogden said in response to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

He said he would work with the Attorney General "to fashion an appropriate process that encourages whistleblowers to raise issues that need to be addressed."

Mr. Ogden also indicated a willingness to consider public disclosure of certain legal opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Sen. Ron Wyden noted that "there are a lot of important rulings that go to the meaning of surveillance law, and I think that a lot of those kinds of judgments really could be redacted and declassified so that the country could be brought in in a more informed, a more complete way to these national-security debates."

"I absolutely will commit to take a fresh look at this issue if I'm confirmed," Mr. Ogden said.

FIS Court opinions that interpret surveillance law were one of several categories of "secret law" that were identified in an April 30, 2008 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the subject.


TECHNOLOGY FOR DETECTION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS ADVANCES

Technology for detecting nuclear weapons and materials "appears to be advancing faster than many have expected," according to an exceptionally informative new report from the Congressional Research Service.

The 97-page report by CRS analyst Jonathan Medalia explains the basics of nuclear detection -- what is to be detected and how -- and introduces nine illustrative new and emerging technologies for detecting nuclear materials.

"Systems now under development have the potential to reduce false positives (speeding the flow of commerce) and false negatives (improving security)." Improved detection, besides enhancing security, also serves an important deterrent function, the author writes.

See "Detection of Nuclear Weapons and Materials: Science, Technologies, Observations," November 6, 2008.


SENATE BILL REVISITS GAO OVERSIGHT OF INTELLIGENCE

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and several Senate colleagues last week reintroduced the "Intelligence Community Audit Act" that would strengthen the authority of the Government Accountability Office to oversee intelligence agency programs and activities.

"GAO has well-established expertise that should be leveraged to improve the performance of the Intelligence Community," Sen. Akaka said. "In particular, GAO could provide much needed guidance to the IC related to human capital, financial management, information sharing, strategic planning, information technology, and other areas of management and administration."

"By employing GAO's expertise to improve IC management and operations while carefully protecting sensitive information, this bill would reinforce the Intelligence Community's ability to meet its mission," he said.

Until recently, intelligence agencies have been unenthusiastic or openly hostile to GAO involvement in intelligence oversight. Last year, when the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on the Akaka bill, not a single representative of the intelligence community agreed to testify.

But last month, the Department of Defense cautiously acknowledged that GAO auditors may be granted access to classified foreign intelligence under some circumstances ("DoD Should Not 'Categorically' Deny GAO Access to Intelligence," Secrecy News, February 4).

And at the January 22, 2009 confirmation hearing of Adm. Dennis C. Blair to be Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Blair also seemed to endorse a role for GAO in intelligence oversight.

Sen. Ron Wyden asked him: "If the GAO is conducting a study at the direction of one of the intelligence committees using properly cleared staff, will you give them the access they need to do their work?"

Adm. Blair replied: "Senator, I'm aware that the direction of GAO studies and the terms of them are generally subject to talk between the two branches of government for a variety of reasons, and subject to having those discussions, ultimately I believe the GAO has a job to do and I will help them do that job."

The congressional intelligence committees themselves have been reluctant to take advantage of the GAO for intelligence oversight, and it is not a coincidence that Sen. Akaka, the leading Senate proponent of the idea, is not a member of the Senate intelligence committee. But in another sign of shifting perspectives, Rep. Sylvestre Reyes and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo of the House Intelligence Committee last year asked the GAO to perform its first assessment of the intelligence community security clearance process. It was the first request to the GAO on any topic from either of the congressional intelligence committees in six years. ("A New Intelligence Oversight Task for GAO," Secrecy News, April 1, 2008.)

In an almost forgotten episode from 1982, a former GAO auditor alleged that Soviet spies had infiltrated the GAO. The Senate Intelligence Committee conducted an investigation and then-Committee chairman Sen. Barry Goldwater reported to the Senate that the allegation was not substantiated. There is no known instance in which classified information was leaked or compromised by GAO employees.

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

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