from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 43
May 7, 2004


The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) will investigate the decision to classify a U.S. Army report concerning the torture of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military personnel, its director said yesterday.

The ISOO is responsible for oversight of classification policy in the executive branch.

In an apparent violation of classification rules, the report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, which identified numerous illegal acts of abuse, was classified Secret/No Foreign Dissemination.

Yet the executive order that governs national security classification states that "In no case shall information be classified in order to... conceal violations of law...."

The ISOO move, reported in the Washington Post today, came in response to a May 6 letter from the Federation of American Scientists questioning the secrecy of the Army report and requesting an investigation.

"It is disappointing to realize that in this case the national security classification system functioned, intentionally or not, to cover up an egregious set of crimes," the FAS letter said. See:

"It is my intent to pursue the issues you identified in your letter," ISOO director William Leonard promptly responded. "I will advise you when my review is complete." See:

Mr. Leonard noted in a telephone interview that ISOO is already investigating related Defense Department classification policies regarding detention and interrogation activities at Guantanamo Bay.


The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence tentatively set the stage for future intelligence reforms in its new report on the FY 2005 intelligence authorization act.

"This Committee is impatient for real reforms in information sharing and data access. Intelligence data that is collected by the U.S. Government belongs to the U.S. Government--not the intelligence agency that happened to collect it," the Committee report said pointedly.

"Although efforts have been made to surmount restrictions, some information sharing limitations have reemerged in the very programs that were designed to address them. The operations of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) are a prime example of this transfer of limitations," the report observed.

However, the Committee's "impatient" concern with overcoming arbitrary restrictions on intelligence information does not extend to improving public access to such information. The new intelligence authorization act perpetuates without comment the classification of the intelligence budget, as if this were a vital national security secret.

Among various other provisions, the new authorization bill proposes to repeal the eight year term limit on membership on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

See Senate Report 108-258 on the FY 2005 Intelligence Authorization Act here:


The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes domestic counterintelligence search and surveillance operations, approved a record high number of such operations last year.

According to a new annual report to Congress, 1724 applications for search or surveillance were approved by the Court, in whole or in part. Four applications were denied.

By comparison, 1228 applications were submitted and approved in the preceding year.

A copy of the 2003 annual report to Congress on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is available here:

While it is clear that these numbers are growing significantly, their meaning is fairly opaque. It is unclear how many distinct investigations they cover, what proportion are physical searches as opposed to electronic surveillance actions, and how many pertain to U.S. persons or foreign targets.

A provision in the 2005 intelligence authorization act that is pending in the Senate would expand reporting on the FISA and would make some such information available in future annual reports to Congress.

See Section 305, "Additional Annual Reporting Requirements Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978," in the Senate version of the 2005 intelligence authorization act (S. 2386) here:


Intelligence budget secrecy is the cornerstone of an outmoded classification system that promotes mediocrity in U.S. intelligence. What honest intelligence professional would endorse the claim of classifiers that publication of a single budget number would "damage national security"?

But bureaucratic secrecy continues to trump analytical integrity, and even the aggregate annual intelligence budget figure remains classified.

Nevertheless, it is possible to establish the broad parameters of intelligence spending over the past several decades based exclusively on official sources. An initial compilation of such sources is available here:

A look back at the rise and fall (and rise again) of intelligence spending puts into perspective the often-voiced complaint that U.S. intelligence suffered "severe" budget cuts in the 1990s. It turns out that even at its lowest point in the 1990s, the intelligence budget was still 80% higher (in real terms) than it had been in 1980.


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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