But the covert action program against Iran-- recently bolstered by Congressional authorization of an unrequested $20 million-- may be a milestone in the history of U.S. intelligence policy because it is such a terrible idea from every point of view. Specifically:
It undermines the rule of law. All covert actions potentially or actually violate nominal international standards of behavior. But the highly publicized Iran program explicitly contradicts U.S. obligations to the United Nations Charter and the 1981 Algiers Declaration agreed to by Washington and Teheran. This is a reckless path. As a Teheran radio commentary put it, "If measures such as those adopted by America against Iran were to turn into conventions dominating international relations, then no country will be immune from its harm.... Is the world moving toward a kind of anarchy?"
In short, the intensified Congressional covert action against Iran is unlikely to achieve any legitimate objective, and it is already generating negative consequences for the U.S., with worse perhaps yet to come. Because it has been so widely reported, the President should publicly and explicitly renounce the Iran covert action program. If this is politically or psychologically impossible, that would be another compelling reason to prohibit covert action altogether.
In the first three months of the current fiscal year, the National Archives alone efficiently declassified 16 million pages under the executive order, according to Assistant Archivist Michael Kurtz. That is more than was declassified by the entire government in any single year between 1982 and 1994, and puts the Archives well on the way to achieving the required declassification of 15% of its 25 year old records by next October.
Other agencies have been less forthcoming. The initial Air Force declassification plan estimated that there are 176 million pages of 25 year old classified Air Force documents and claimed that 175 million of them contain information that may be exempt from declassification. The Navy said it has more than 500 million pages and warned that "calculated at $1.00 per page," declassification review could cost more than $500 million. (By practicing selective bulk declassification, the Archives has lowered its costs to about 3 cents per page declassified in recent months.)
Resources for the declassification process are an issue in many agencies, even though funding for classification is practically unconstrained. Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary has ordered an internal reprogramming of funds in order to achieve Energy's 15% declassification target for 1996 and to respond to Congressional concern about the asserted problem of nuclear weapons information in other agencies' records [S&GB 54]. But for unknown reasons, Secretary O'Leary's directions have not been implemented by her staff.
The Defense Department to its credit has established an Historical Records Declassification Advisory Panel, at the request of a group of eminent historians, to advise and oversee the declassification process. The Panel, whose scope and influence remain to be determined, will hold its first public meeting February 1 at the National Archives.
"The Internet will play an increasingly significant role in international conflict" and is "a potentially lucrative source of intelligence useful to DoD," observes Mr. Swett. In addition to its utility for collection of intelligence and counterintelligence data, "The U.S. might be able to employ the Internet offensively to help achieve unconventional warfare objectives," including psychological operations and covert action.
Among other recommendations, Mr. Swett advises that intelligence analysts should routinely monitor Internet newsgroups related to their responsibilities. This is already taking place to some degree, and the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service has recently started reprinting items from newsgroups such as soc.culture.tamil and others.
Mr. Swett emphasizes that the views expressed in his paper are personal opinions and not necessarily DoD policy. Moreover, he stresses that his recommendations "should be carried out only in full compliance with the letter and the spirit of the law, and without violating the privacy of American citizens."
A copy of "Strategic Assessment: The Internet" is available
from S&GB for $5 or online at http://www.fas.org/cp/swett.html. The FAS website, incidentally,
and the government secrecy homepage in particular have both been
rated among the top 5% of all sites on the Internet by Point
Israeli censorship rules, comprised of 41 broad categories of information that are supposed to be submitted to the government censor prior to publication, prohibited publication of the Shin Bet chief's name-- Carmi Gilon-- but once it had been published abroad, the prohibition was nullified. (Further investigative reporting has revealed that Mr. Gilon smokes Marlboros and likes Chinese food.)
Concealment of Mr. Gilon's name under the initial "Kaf" was widely ridiculed within Israel, particularly since his name was already public knowledge among many Israelis, Palestinians, and hoodlums of various political persuasions. The Post's disclosure, which enabled publication of Mr. Gilon's name and photograph in the Israeli press, was almost universally applauded in Israel as a necessary first step towards improved oversight of Israeli security services.
But one respected columnist, Amir Oren of Ha'aretz (1/19/96), suggested that the Washington Post was hypocritical. He cited a recent article by the Post's Walter Pincus which clearly identified the CIA station chief in Paris down to the facial wound he suffered during service in Africa, but stopped short of mentioning his name because it is classified by law. "All of a sudden the Washington Post obeys the classification laws!" snapped Mr. Oren.
In any case, he wrote, "Just as American law does not prohibit Gellman from revealing the name of the head of the Israeli Shin Bet, Israeli law does not prohibit publication of the name of the CIA station chief in Tel Aviv."
Therefore, mimicking Mr. Gellman's published conversation with an Israeli telephone operator about Carmi Gilon's phone number, Mr. Oren transcribed his own conversation with an operator at the American Embassy who unwittingly revealed the name of the CIA station chief. "Half a minute on the telephone-- and the information is available to anyone who wants it."
Mr. Oren refrained from disclosing the name of the CIA station chief but inferred from it that he is a Jew. In an earlier column (1/12/96) Mr. Oren noted quizzically that both the (former) head of Russian intelligence Yevgeni Primakov and the Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch have a Jewish father- - "although not the same one."
The multifarious constraints on freedom of the press in Israel, including official secrecy, are explored in a masterful new book by Moshe Negbi entitled Chofesh Ha'itonut B'yisrael [Freedom of the Press in Israel] published by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. Moshe Negbi writes an influential, not entirely predictable column on law and civil liberties in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv.
In 1996, Israel may adopt a freedom of information law and thereby join the handful of advanced democracies that recognize a legally enforceable public right to government information. Public support for the new law has been led by the Coalition for Freedom of Information (c/o Shatil, P.O. Box 53395, Jerusalem 91533, Israel) which has done an exemplary job of analysis and advocacy.
Secrecy & Government Bulletin is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a 50 year old public interest organization of natural and social scientists concerned with issues of science and society. The FAS Project on Government Secrecy is supported by grants from the HKH Foundation and the CS Fund.
For further information contact Steven Aftergood, Federation of American Scientists, 307 Massachusetts Avenue N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, tel. (202)675-1012, or send email to [email protected] apc.org.