SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2014, Issue No. 25
March 27, 2014

Secrecy News Blog: http://blogs.fas.org/secrecy/

INTELLIGENCE WHISTLEBLOWER LAW HAS BEEN USED INFREQUENTLY

The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) has rarely been relied upon by intelligence agency whistleblowers, according to a newly released 2009 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Inspector General.

During the ten year period after the Act came into effect in January 1999, intelligence agency Offices of Inspector General (OIGs) said that only ten whistleblower complaints had been filed.

"According to the questionnaire responses we received, since 1 January 1999, 4 IC OIGs received a total of 10 ICWPA complaints," the October 2009 report said.

"The CIA and DoD OIGs received four complaints, and the OIGs for DOJ and ODNI each received one complaint."

"Of the 10 complaints, 3 were deemed by the CIA and DOD OIGs to be 'urgent concerns,' as defined by the ICWPA, and all 3 were found to be credible. The CIA and DOD OIGs notified Congress of the three complaints, as required by the statute."

"Of the remaining six complaints, all... were deemed 'not credible' by the respective OIGs."

"Of the 10 complaints received by the IC OIGs during the 10-year reporting period, 3 of them -- 2 from CIA and 1 from DoJ -- included allegations of reprisal."

"However, the CIA OIG found no evidence of reprisal when it investigated these allegations. The DoJ OIG referred the complaint to the DoJ Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigated the matter and found no evidence of reprisal."

"The OIGs also reported that none of the complaints submitted to the IC OIGs was deemed fraudulent or made in 'bad faith'," the report said. But the contents of the complaints and any consequences resulting from them were not described in the report.

See the Report to Congress on the use of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act submitted by ODNI Inspector General Roslyn A. Mazer, October 19, 2009.

The creation of an Intelligence Community-wide Inspector General in 2010 included establishment of a new IC IG Hotline, which "provides a confidential means for IC employees, contractors, and the public to report fraud, waste, and abuse."

During a recent six-month period, the IC IG internal Hotline received 70 contacts from IC personnel as well as 77 contacts from the general public, according to a March 2013 semi-annual report. The results of those contacts, i.e. whether they prompted an investigation and corrective action, were not reported.

By comparison, the Department of Defense Hotline received more than 15,000 contacts during a six-month period ending September 2013. The DoD Inspector General opened 1,341 cases as a result.

DoD has a budget and a workforce that are roughly an order of magnitude larger than those of the Intelligence Community, so the two cannot be directly compared.

But it appears that whistleblower reporting of suspected waste, fraud and abuse has been institutionalized and routinized to a far greater extent in the Defense Department than within the Intelligence Community, where it remains uncommon.


NEWLY DECLASSIFIED INTELLIGENCE SATELLITE IMAGERY IS HARD TO ACCESS

The declassification of historical intelligence satellite imagery has been a boon to scientists, environmentalists and other researchers since it began with President Clinton's 1995 executive order 12951. So, for example, "The declassification of imagery from CORONA and subsequent intelligence satellite programs has inspired a revolution in landscape archaeology in the Near East," wrote archaeologist Jason Ur.

But last year's declassification of imagery from the KH-9 HEXAGON intelligence satellite will be slower to generate any such revolutionary impact because the newly declassified images are so hard to access and to use.

The KH-9 imagery was successfully transferred from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to the National Archives. But in order to protect the perishable film it must be maintained in cold storage, and so it was all sent to a National Archives facility in Lenexa, Missouri. Researchers must make their best guess as to what images they are seeking, and then order the originals to be transferred from cold storage. It's a slow and cumbersome process.

The larger policy issue is that the archival burden on the National Archives and Records Administration is growing faster than the available resources. The task of curating the nation's documentary heritage appears to be escalating out of control. Meanwhile, the Archives is literally running out of space. Last month, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero announced the closure of three NARA facilities "as part of ongoing budget adjustments."

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Recently, one concerned researcher shared his frustrations about the current procedures for obtaining declassified satellite imagery. Secrecy News forwarded his comments to the National Archives and Records Administration, and a NARA official provided an annotated response, reproduced below.

Researcher: Since the [KH-9 HEXAGON] film is original negative, it was all shipped to Lenexa, in Kansas City, Mo.

NARA: Correct. There is a potential that some of the film was not acetate and as such didn't require cold storage but we did not have the resources to review each of the 14,685 cans to determine the base format and we erred on the side of caution in determining where to store it.

Researcher: NGA DID make available to NARA under the MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] the imagery, and finding aids, which are image mosaic overlays on maps 1:100,0000. These are completely useless.

NARA: There was no MOU for this particular transfer. Previous transfers had MOUs because there were multiple sets of records which were being distributed between NARA, NGA, and USGS. I think that there is some confusion between the past transfers and this one. For this transfer we were provided with frame metadata. The overlays referenced here do not index KH-9 film, they only index the airborne imagery previously transferred from NGA.

Researcher: There is also a CD-ROM which can be loaded onto a flash drive containing an ASCII file with mission date, pass frame, lat-long footprints, in an Excel format. But there is no way to know if the images are fully cloud-covered or not until the film arrives.

NARA: The CD provided for access as described in the KH-9 reference guide is what was provided to us by NGA. We know we can make it better but it will likely never provide information on cloud cover by image. All of our film, except for that indexed by the overlays requires looking at it to determine quality and potential cloud cover.

Researcher: One must submit that data to an archivist who then converts the info into Original Negative Can numbers. The researcher then must submit a second request including the ON number and the cold storage numbers to an Archivist, who quality controls it and submits the request to NARA Lenexa.

NARA: As with any other transfer of imagery, there is a process involved in going from whatever index exists to identifying the cans of imagery. In the case of KH-9, once researchers identify imagery from the frame metadata, we have a can locator which converts the information for missions, dates, etc. to an actual can of imagery. This can locator is available for copying by researchers, and is available through the consultant in the research room who can provide the necessary information. It is also available on a hard drive for researchers to use themselves.

There is a need to fill out a pull slip for documentation of use and a Lenexa request form but that is done at the same time and does not require much effort other than writing a can number and barcode.

Researcher: The cans show up a few days later, and an Archivist must then quality control the cans for "supply chain management." I have spent a week at College Park just to find this out, and I have yet to actually order a can and see imagery.

NARA: The process for requesting cans from Lenexa is the same for any record stored there. We submit the requests on a daily basis, the Lenexa staff pulls the items and ship them out the next day. They are potentially available two days after the initial request. We do have to take time to document where the cans are every step of the way in order to ensure the security of the holdings but that does not slow the process down significantly.

The biggest issues are those simply related to having records stored offsite--timing of requests, ability of staff pulling the items to find the correct items, and the weather which affects the shipments both during the winter and tornado season. There are sometimes preservation issues identified early before the records are used but that is very rare and they are generally addressed quickly so the researcher does not have to wait.

Researcher: By the next Friday, the researcher can only have the film checked out for 3 business days, Friday, Saturday, and Monday, then the film must be flown back to cold storage.

NARA: All of the research rooms have a 3 business day hold for records. This is simply to ensure that records are looked at in a timely manner and are available for other researchers. There is always the opportunity to extend the period of retention but the researcher needs to communicate a need for that.

The NARA official added a rough estimate of the cost of create a duplicate set of KH-9 imagery to facilitate user access:

"At 14,685 cans, and an estimate of $800 worth of film stock per can, the cost is likely more than 11 million dollars. In addition, we estimate it would take a dedicated employee some 8 years to perform the work (roughly 5 cans/day)."

"Digitization of course avoids the cost of the film stock, but has its own costs and challenges," the official said. "We have to try and figure out where we focus our limited resources."

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

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