ODNI Declassifies Data on Frequency of Surveillance

06.30.14 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the “2013 Statistical Transparency Report” detailing the frequency of use of various intelligence surveillance authorities and the estimated number of targets affected by the surveillance.

While the reported numbers give some rough sense of the scale of intelligence surveillance — civil liberties groups said the estimated numbers are bound to be misleadingly low — the report provides no basis for evaluating the utility or legitimacy of the surveillance activities.

How many of the collection activities were authorized on the basis of erroneous information? How many actually produced useful intelligence? The report doesn’t say, and the raw numbers are not a substitute. If they were ten times higher, or ten times lower, we would be none the wiser.

(A supplemental response from ODNI to Senator Wyden was released today.)

See U.S. Phone Searches Expanded in 2013 by Siobhan Gorman, Wall Street Journal, June 27, and related coverage elsewhere (WashPost, Wired, Openthegovernment.org, Huffington Post).

From a secrecy policy point of view, perhaps the most intriguing feature of the new release is the unconventional timing of its declassification. The report is dated June 26, 2014 and was classified at the TOP SECRET/NOFORN level. But it says it was declassified by DNI Clapper three days earlier on June 23, 2014!

This temporally fluid approach to declassification could have many useful applications.