from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 22
March 3, 2008

Secrecy News Blog:


The Government Accountability Office maintains an office at the National Security Agency but it remains unused since no one in Congress has asked GAO to perform any oversight of the Agency, the head of GAO disclosed last week. Despite multi-billion dollar acquisition failures at NSA and the Agency's controversial, possibly illegal surveillance practices, Congress has declined to summon all of its oversight resources such as GAO to address such issues.

In testimony before a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on February 29, I argued that the GAO has demonstrated the ability to contribute to oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies and that it should be called upon to do so again.

Although U.S. intelligence community leaders say they oppose a GAO role in intelligence oversight, I noted that GAO oversight staff have in the past been permanently stationed at NSA, where they successfully conducted audits and investigations.

Questioned on that point by Senator Daniel Akaka, Comptroller General David M. Walker, the outgoing director of GAO, confirmed that it was true.

"We still actually do have space at the NSA. We just don't use it and the reason we don't use it is we're not getting any requests, you know. So I don't want to have people sitting out there twiddling their thumbs," Mr. Walker said.

His prepared statement, entitled "GAO Can Assist the Congress and the Intelligence Community on Management Reform Initiatives," and those of the other witnesses at the February 29 hearing may be found here:

The hearing, which was broadcast live on C-SPAN, can be viewed here (requires RealPlayer from

See also "Panel witnesses press for GAO audits of intelligence agencies" by Chris Strohm, Congress Daily, February 29:


A Central Intelligence Agency employee who supported Agency declassification activities was killed in a traffic accident late last year. Perhaps befitting a CIA classification official, his name has not been publicly acknowledged by the Agency.

"The CIA expressed its sadness concerning a CIA member's death," according to a brief notice in the December 2007 minutes of a closed session of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee, which were published last week. "The member had served as a moving force on declassification issues."

Secrecy News asked CIA Public Affairs to provide the name of the CIA member. No response was received.

But a former Agency colleague identified him as Bob Knight.

His death in a motorcycle accident on the way to work was "a major blow to the rather small CIA declassification cadre."

"I think his career was mostly in the DI [Directorate of Intelligence], but he had worked in declassification since at least 2002."

Mr. Knight previously served as an Assistant Information Review Officer and worked on at least three major NIC publications, including National Intelligence Estimates on China, Vietnam, and the former Yugoslavia. Just prior to his death, he was serving as CIA coordinator for the Foreign Relations of the United States series.

"Bob's death was keenly felt by all who had worked with him," the former colleague said.


Although there is no foolproof system of preventing unauthorized disclosures of classified information ("leaks"), there are a variety of new technical tools that can deter such disclosures or facilitate identification of those who compromise information security, according a 2002 CIA Task Force Report that was released last year under the Freedom of Information Act.

See "Interagency Task Force Report on Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information," CIA Directorate of Science and Technology, 25 March 2002:

A supplementary paper argued that new legislation against leaks was "urgently needed." The author singled out the National Security Archive and the Federation of American Scientists for propagating the "popular myth that the government over-classifies everything, and classifies way too much."

See "Leaks: How Unauthorized Media Disclosures of US Classified Intelligence Damage Sources and Methods," Foreign Denial and Deception Committee, 24 April 2002:

The interagency process ultimately rejected the view that new legislation was needed. An October 2002 report to Congress from the Attorney General indicated that existing tools to combat leaks appeared to be adequate.


President Bush issued Executive Order 13462 last week redesignating the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) as the President's Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), and modifying the Board's functions and interactions with the executive branch.

The Order appeared to diminish the Board's autonomy and to further reduce its influence, which has been negligible in recent years.

It was reported by Pamela Hess of the Associated Press in "New White House Order Bolsters Intelligence Chief's Power," February 29:

The new Order and the 1993 Order that it superseded were critically compared by Smintheus in Daily Kos here:


Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

"Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Issues and Arguments," February 28, 2008:

"Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress," updated January 18, 2008:

"The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: A Brief Overview of Selected Issues," updated February 8, 2008:

"The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: Comparison of House-Passed H.R. 3773, S. 2248 as Reported By the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and S. 2248 as Reported Out of the Senate Judiciary Committee," updated February 8, 2008:

"Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategies, Approaches, Results, and Issues for Congress," February 22, 2008:

"Defense Contracting in Iraq: Issues and Options for Congress," updated January 29, 2008:

"FY2009 Defense Budget: Issues for Congress," February 11, 2008:


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

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