A Forgotten Spy at GAO?

02.13.09 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“There is no known instance in which classified information was leaked or compromised by Government Accountability Office (GAO) employees,” I wrote on February 9 (“Senate Bill Revisits GAO Oversight of Intelligence”).  But that may not be true, according to one former GAO analyst.

“Sadly, your assertion of GAO’s record of no loss or compromise of classified information is probably not correct,” the former analyst told me.  “There was a German-born staff member in the old Programs Evaluation Division in the 1970s and 1980s who turned out to have been a Stasi plant.”

“I don’t remember the gentleman’s name.  I don’t think it was ever proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he had committed espionage, but I do recall that he was allowed to quietly retire on essentially no notice.  I also recall that GAO went through a really thorough internal review thereafter to assess the damage.”

“I’m sorry I don’t remember my former colleague’s name, but I do recall that there was a great deal of handwringing on this one.”

If there was a compromise of classified information at GAO in this case, however, it was the exception that proved the rule, said the former analyst (who asked that his name be withheld).

“I will assert… that GAO was among the most cautious and careful of government agencies in which I have either worked or observed in the manner in which it handles classified information.”

“One of the most frustrating problems for Executive Branch agencies is that GAO consistently wants the original classification guidance/authorities for classified materials that end up in its possession.  This ‘auditor’s obsession’ with the ‘complete’ file unfortunately uncovers the fact that much classified material is incorrectly marked or is classified according to whim and whimsy, not a bona fide classification guide.”

“And therein lies the problem,” he said.

On February 11, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Bennie Thompson and several colleagues that would “reaffirm and clarify the authority of [the GAO] to audit and evaluate the programs, activities, and financial transactions of the intelligence community.”  The new bill, HR 1008, is a companion to Senator Daniel Akaka’s Intelligence Community Audit Act, S.385, that was introduced in the Senate on February 5.