Secrecy News

CIA Seeks Expanded Definition of “Covert Agents”

At the request of the Central Intelligence Agency, the pending intelligence authorization bill includes a provision that would expand the definition of “covert agents” whose identities are protected from unauthorized disclosure.

The identities of intelligence officers who are serving abroad or who have done so within the past 5 years are already protected by current law.

But the new Senate intelligence authorization bill would expand that protection to include all unacknowledged intelligence personnel even if they never leave the country.

The bill would “protect the identities of all undercover intelligence officers, and United States citizens whose relationship to the United States is classified, regardless of the location of the individuals’ government service or time since separation of government service” (section 305). See Report on the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2018, 2019, and 2020, Senate Intelligence Committee, June 11, 2019.

Sen. Ron Wyden expressed concern about the proposed revision in a statement appended to the Senate Committee report.

He noted that the definition of “covert agents” would be modified “so that it applies indefinitely, including to individuals who have been in the United States for decades and have become senior management or have retired. I am not yet convinced this expansion is necessary and am concerned that it will be employed to avoid accountability.”

Furthermore, “The CIA’s request that the Committee include this provision, which invoked ‘incidents related to past Agency programs, such as the RDI [Rendition, Detention and Interrogation] investigation,’ underscores my concerns,” Sen. Wyden wrote.

The expanded definition, if enacted, would likely imply increased withholding of historical and other intelligence records under the Freedom of Information Act.

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The latest intelligence authorization bill includes numerous provisions of interest dealing with whistleblower protection, contractor oversight, security clearance policy, cyber security and other topics.

The bill would also impose various reporting requirements including “an unclassified report on the death of Jamal Khashoggi” that would “include identification of those who carried out, participated in, ordered, or were otherwise complicit in, or responsible for, Mr. Khashoggi’s death.”