Secrecy News

IC “Portfolios” Overcome Compartmentalization of Intelligence

Excessive compartmentalization of intelligence can be counteracted by the use of “portfolios” of compartmented programs, according to new intelligence community guidance.

Undue secrecy in intelligence is not only a barrier to external oversight and public accountability. It can also be an obstacle to effective mission performance. That is fortunate in a way since it provides a reason for officials to reconsider classification policy and an incentive for them to curtail unnecessary secrecy.

Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats, who has kept a comparatively low public profile lately, surfaced last month to issue new guidance that is intended in part as a way to curb internal IC secrecy.

The guidance discusses the creation and management of intelligence “portfolios.” This term refers to a collection of classified programs that overlap in some way and that are bundled together to facilitate information sharing and collaboration.

“Establishment of a Portfolio may be required in order to achieve unity of effort and effect against the highest priority requirements or when compartmentalization hinders or prevents access to information necessary for intelligence integration,” according to the new guidance. The practice has no bearing on public disclosure of intelligence information.

All portfolio personnel are to be “indoctrinated” (i.e. granted access) to all portfolio programs, in what amounts to a reversal of the compartmentalization process. See Intelligence Community Portfolio Management, Intelligence Community Policy Guidance 906.1, December 15, 2017.

The portfolio concept was previously defined in the 2015 Intelligence Community Directive 906.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence will convene a day-long “Intelligence Community Civil Liberties, Privacy and Transparency Summit” for IC employees on January 24.

One thought on “IC “Portfolios” Overcome Compartmentalization of Intelligence

  1. The statement “All portfolio personnel are to be “indoctrinated” (i.e. granted access) to all portfolio programs, in what amounts to a reversal of the compartmentalization process” is not really accurate.

    In the current compartmentation schema intelligence collection programs are protected by compartments. For instance most Human Intelligence (HUMINT) is protected by HCS. If you are approved for access to HCS you have legal authority to see anything marked as HCS whether it is about terrorism, political, economic, or weapons development. So one example that might be considered “over secrecy” is an analyst who needs human intelligence about a particular country’s political system, but isn’t approved because that would open the analyst to weapons and terrorism information well beyond what he/she actually needs. So some analysts (especially those with lower-level access approvals) claim that they are being kept from seeing information because they can’t get approval for a particular kind of collected intelligence.

    The portfolio process simply changes the rules used to compartment intelligence. So instead of grouping all HUMINT together, the portfolio process requires grouping of sensitive information by topic. Some HUMINT will be put in the Terrorism Portfolio, some in the Weapons Portfolio and some in the Political Portfolio. All analysts whose job is terrorism will be given access to all compartmented terrorism information in that “portfolio.” So HUMINT, MASINT, ELINT, IMINT, GEOINT, etc. will be divided by topic and specific information related to the topic will be placed into the appropriate portfolio. That will improve access for analysts because they will now get access to all intelligence related to their topic of expertise. But they will lose access to information not related to their expertise (that they have now under the current system).

    The portfolio approach will not remove unnecessary secrecy or keep anything from being compartmented. It will simply re-label the “bins” things are put in and give people access to the appropriate bins.

    What is unclear about the change is what will happen to the tens of millions of legacy documents currently in the old bins. Will the IC conduct a massive re-binning exercise where documents are re-divided by topic, will the legacy just be left under the old rules, or will the legacy material be put into both old and new bins.

    Hope this helps unscramble the arcane bureaucracy a bit.

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