from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
November 14, 2000


A new Report of a congressionally-chartered "National Commission for the Review of the National Reconnaissance Office" complains that the growing openness of the post-cold war period has undermined U.S. intelligence capabilities and that stricter secrecy is now needed. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is the intelligence agency within the Defense Department that develops, acquires, and operates the nation’s spy satellites.

Among various other recommendations intended to revitalize the organization, the Commission calls for establishment of a new Office of Space Reconnaissance that would operate within the kind of tightly compartmented security environment that characterized the NRO’s earliest days.

The new proposed Office "would be under the direction of the NRO Director, but would operate in secure facilities separated from NRO activities. It would create and defend a separate budget element within the National Foreign Intelligence Program and have its own security compartment.... It would respond, through a special Executive Committee, to direction from the President, the Secretary of Defense and the DCI. The new Office would attack the most difficult intelligence problems by providing advanced technology that will lead to frequent, assured, global access to protect U.S. national security interests."

In short, it would be a sort of NRO within the NRO.

The Commission blames the openness that has ensued since the "fact of" NRO’s existence was officially acknowledged in 1992 for some of the NRO’s current shortcomings:

"Widespread knowledge of the NRO's existence and public speculation on how NRO satellites are used has aided terrorists and other potential adversaries in developing techniques of denial and deception to thwart U.S. intelligence efforts," the new Report states without evidence or elaboration.

"This is basically an assertion that the ‘fact of’ acknowledgment was a mistake-- which is breathtaking," said John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists. Pike noted that one of the most important post-cold war failures of U.S. intelligence was the failure to correctly assess the status of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program-- which resulted from Iraqi denial and deception efforts during the 1980s, well before the NRO was officially acknowledged.

The NRO Commission was chaired by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss and by retiring Senator Robert Kerrey. The Commission’s report, published today, is posted here:


In the culmination of one of the most successful declassification campaigns in recent memory, the Clinton Administration yesterday released over 16,000 documents on U.S. relations with Chile during 1968-1991.

"One goal of the project is to put original documents before the public so that it may judge for itself the extent to which U.S. actions undercut the cause of democracy and human rights in Chile," the White House said in a statement. "Actions approved by the U.S. government during this period aggravated political polarization and affected Chile's long tradition of democratic elections and respect for the constitutional order and the rule of law." See:

Peter Kornbluh, a Chile expert at the National Security Archive, the public interest research center that led the campaign to declassify the Chile documents, called the release a "victory for openness over the impunity of secrecy." A selection of key documents was prepared by the National Security Archive and posted here:


The House of Representatives yesterday approved a revised intelligence authorization bill, after removing the provision to criminalize unauthorized disclosures of classified information which had led President Clinton to veto the original bill.

The new bill, H.R. 5630, "is identical to the version of H.R. 4392 that passed the House and the Senate on October 12 of this year with one major exception," said Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Porter Goss. "The language, formerly section 304, prohibiting the unauthorized disclosure of classified information has been removed in its entirety. All the other provisions remain the same."

See yesterday’s action on the House floor here:

Although Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby has not publicly declared his own intentions with respect to the vetoed leak statute, the swift House action yesterday makes it more likely that Congress will defer any further consideration of the issue until next year.


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