Department of Defense intelligence agencies were told last week to consider granting requests from the congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO) for access to classified foreign intelligence information.
A new DoD directive (pdf) states explicitly for the first time that GAO requests for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information may be granted:
“Although the Comptroller General may be prevented from compelling access to this information, such information should not be denied categorically. Such information may be furnished to GAO representatives having a legitimate need to know. Therefore, denials of access to such information must be carefully considered and supported legitimately.”
See “Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Comptroller General Requests for Access to Records,” Department of Defense Instruction 7650.01, January 27, 2009 (at page 6).
As of last year, 1000 GAO analysts held top secrecy security clearances and 73 were cleared for intelligence information (Secrecy News, “GAO and Intelligence Oversight,” August 4, 2008).
GAO access to intelligence information has long been a subject of dispute and controversy. By law (31 U.S.C. 716d), the Comptroller General who directs the GAO cannot compel executive branch agencies to disclose intelligence information. The Central Intelligence Agency has generally refused to cooperate with GAO auditors, while defense intelligence agencies have historically been somewhat more forthcoming.
Using GAO analysts to audit intelligence agency operations potentially offers a way to augment and improve congressional oversight of intelligence, the Federation of American Scientists and others have argued (pdf).
A bill to affirm the role of GAO in intelligence oversight was introduced by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) in the last Congress.
“It is my strong belief that the Intelligence Community could benefit from the Government Accountability Office’s expertise in reviewing organizational transformations and management reforms,” Sen. Akaka said at a Senate hearing on the subject last year.