from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 58
July 9, 2009

Secrecy News Blog:


The intelligence authorization bill that is pending in the House of Representatives would generally require all members of the intelligence committees to be briefed on covert actions, not just the so-called "Gang of Eight," unless the Committee itself decided to limit such briefings.

"The Committee understands well the need to protect intelligence information from unauthorized disclosure and the prerogatives of the executive branch with respect to the protection of classified information. However, these principles must be balanced against the constitutional requirement for congressional oversight," the Committee wrote in its report.

The White House said it "strongly objects" to that provision and suggested the President would veto the bill to block it. The revised notification procedures would undermine "a long tradition spanning decades of comity between the branches regarding intelligence matters," the July 8 White House Statement of Administration Policy said.

But a new report from the Congressional Research Service reminds readers that the "tradition" regarding covert action notification is not so long, and that it is subject to modification in response to changing circumstances. It was first put in place in 1980, during the Iran hostage crisis. In 1991, following the Iran-Contra Affair, it was elaborated in congressional report language. Following the momentous challenges to congressional oversight in recent years, it would not be surprising if it were adjusted further.

A copy of the new CRS report was obtained by Secrecy News. See "Sensitive Covert Action Notifications: Oversight Options for Congress," July 7, 2009:

The CRS report mentions in passing an apparent discrepancy in the public record concerning covert action and the CIA detainee interrogation program. In pre-confirmation responses to questions, DNI Dennis Blair told the Senate Intelligence Committee that neither the Terrorist Surveillance Program nor the CIA detention, interrogation and rendition programs were covert actions and that therefore neither should have been subject to limited "Gang of Eight" notification procedures. But former CIA director Michael Hayden said in an April 16, 2009 TV interview that the CIA interrogation program "began life as a covert action." CIA Director Leon Panetta, when asked about both programs prior to his confirmation, said that the Terrorist Surveillance Program was not a covert action, but he was silent about the CIA program. Both DNI Blair and DCIA Panetta prefaced their responses with a disclaimer that they were not yet privy to classified information on these matters, though presumably the contents would have been reviewed prior to submission to eliminate factual errors. The discrepancy between their statements and that of former DCIA Hayden is unresolved.


The number of U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the decade following 9/11 is documented or projected in a detailed new report from the Congressional Research Service. "Using five DOD sources, this report describes, analyzes, and estimates the number of troops deployed for each war from the 9/11 attacks to FY2012 to help Congress assess upcoming DOD war funding requests as well as the implications for the long-term U.S. presence in the region." See "Troop Levels in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, FY2001-FY2012: Cost and Other Potential Issues," July 2, 2009:

Other substantively new and interesting CRS reports that have not previously been published online include the following.

"U.S. Security Assistance to the Palestinian Authority," June 24, 2009:

"North Korea's Second Nuclear Test: Implications of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874," July 1, 2009:

"Indonesia: Domestic Politics, Strategic Dynamics, and American Interests," updated June 17, 2009:

Last month, for the first time since 1989, the House of Representatives impeached a federal judge, Samuel B. Kent of the Southern District of Texas. Background on the process is helpfully provided in "Impeachment: An Overview of Constitutional Provisions, Procedure, and Practice," June 22, 2009:

Resolutions of Inquiry are increasingly used in the House of Representatives to elicit information from the executive branch. In the current Congress, eleven such resolutions have been introduced so far. An updated account of this legislative instrument is given in "House Resolutions of Inquiry," June 17, 2009:


Last year, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case brought by the ACLU against the National Security Agency challenging the constitutionality of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Sen. Arlen Specter wrote to Judge Sonia Sotomayor this week asking the Supreme Court nominee to be prepared at her confirmation hearing next week to say, among other things, whether she would have favored Supreme Court review of the matter.

The DNI Information Sharing Environment has released its latest annual report, detailing progress made and challenges remaining in the effort to improve sharing of terrorism-related information among authorized users, which generally does not include members of the public.

The public interest group OMB Watch reviewed the evolving policy on "controlled unclassified information" and offered its own critique in "Controlled Unclassified Information: Recommendations for Information Control Reform," July 2009:

Compliance with IAEA nuclear safeguards agreements is mandated in a new Air Force Instruction that also provides useful background on the safeguards process. See "Implementation of the US-International Atomic Energy Agency Integrated Safeguards Agreements," Air Force Instruction 16-605, June 23, 2009:

The effectiveness and the unintended consequences of U.S. export control policies were discussed at a hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee. The record of that hearing, with extensive post-hearing questions for the record, has just been published. See "Impacts of U.S. Export Control Policies on Science and Technology Activities and Competitiveness," February 25, 2009:

Public comments and recommendations on classification and declassification policies and related matters are being received until July 19 on the White House Office of Science and Technology blog:


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

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