DoD: Intelligence Secrecy Must Yield to Internal Oversight

05.03.17 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Congressional oversight of intelligence often involves disputes over congressional access to intelligence information, records and personnel. But when it comes to internal Pentagon oversight, even the most tightly held intelligence programs are required to cooperate without reservation, a new DoD directive says.

Thus, the Senior Intelligence Oversight Official is supposed to have “complete and unrestricted access to all information concerning DoD intelligence and intelligence-related activities regardless of classification or compartmentalization, including intelligence special access programs.”

Intelligence agency heads are instructed to provide internal overseers with “access to any employee and with all information necessary to perform their oversight responsibilities, including information protected by special access programs, alternative compensatory control measures, or other security compartmentalization.”

The procedures for internal oversight of DoD intelligence activities were formalized in a new directive that was published last week. See Intelligence Oversight, DoD Directive 5148.13, April 26, 2017.

“Any allegation questioning the legality or propriety of DoD intelligence and intelligence-related activities” will be reviewed by a Department of Defense intelligence oversight official and reported on a quarterly basis to higher authorities, the directive said.

Meanwhile, intelligence agency heads are told to “take no adverse action” against DoD personnel or contractors who report what they reasonably believe to be a “questionable intelligence activity,” i.e. an intelligence activity that is inconsistent with law or policy, or any other “highly sensitive matter” that would “call into question the propriety of intelligence activities.”

From a distance, it is unclear how well the system of internal DoD oversight of classified intelligence programs is working. But in principle, it should bolster and help to inform the larger infrastructure of intelligence oversight.

“Appropriate senior leaders and policymakers within the Executive Branch and congressional defense and intelligence committees must be notified of events that may erode public trust in the conduct of DoD intelligence activities,” the directive said.