But if the reality of intelligence policy remains immutable for the time being, at least the theory of intelligence is evolving in interesting new directions.
"The U.S. Intelligence Community is an essential element of national power, but only if it is firmly grounded in the context of a larger national intelligence," writes Robert D. Steele in a provocative new paper on "Intelligence and Counterintelligence: Proposed Program for the 21st Century." Steele calls for a new integration between the intelligence community, the rest of government, and the private sector-- a vision that is at odds with traditional secrecy practices.
"It is not possible for a classified intelligence community to succeed in the information age if it attempts to determine its requirements, collect its secrets, and produce its reports in isolation from the larger worlds that surround it-- both the world of unclassified government information, and the world of private sector 'open source' information," he writes.
One of the salient features of the present day is the explosion of unclassified open sources of information in previously inaccessible or opaque areas of national security significance. (Lately, even Hezbollah has set up a website, reportedly with Iranian support, to supplement its television, radio, and print publications.) These new and emerging open sources have well known limitations of accuracy, completeness, integrity, and so on-- just as all other information sources do-- and they require validation. But they also represent a potential intelligence bonanza.
While "stolen secrets"-- a traditional definition of intelligence-- may remain valuable and occasionally indispensable, the fact is that secrets represent a smaller and smaller fraction of the information that is needed to inform national security policy. By neglecting open sources and insisting that intelligence means stolen secrets and little else, U.S. intelligence agencies are driving themselves towards obsolescence and doing a disservice to the nation.
Robert Steele, himself a former intelligence officer, is among the few intelligence proponents who recognizes this new reality and takes it seriously as a starting point for intelligence reform. "It is important to understand," he writes, "that 'intelligence' is not inherently classified or secret. On the contrary, its utility decreases with every increase in compartmentation and restriction."
In his new paper, Mr. Steele argues that much of the existing cold war infrastructure for intelligence could be streamlined or eliminated-- for a savings that he estimates at more than $11 billion per year. He further proposes several new initiatives emphasizing open sources-- totaling $1.6 billion-- that could help realign U.S. intelligence with external reality in the years to come.
A copy of the April 14 paper may be found at http://www.oss.net/OSS21.
The Court's activity in 1996 surpassed the previous year's level of 697 approvals, which had been the largest number of surveillance and search actions authorized by the Court until that time, and it appears to reflect a steady increase in counterintelligence operations. As usual, "No orders were entered which modified or denied the requested authority."
"I bristle at the suggestion in some quarters that we are a rubber stamp for the executive branch because no applications have been formally denied in recent years," presiding FISA Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth told an American Bar Association meeting on April 4. "Some applications have been revised. Some have been withdrawn and resubmitted with additional information, and the process is, in fact, working."
"I don't know how a better system could be devised," said Judge Lamberth, "and I have not heard one proposed by any of our critics."
But one proposal for a better system, suggested by attorney Kenneth C. Bass III, is to appoint an independent advocate for the target. The advocate's job would be to represent the constitutional interests of American citizens within the secret FISA Court process, particularly with respect to the warrantless physical searches that the Court began to approve in 1995.
"I do not think it serves the national interest for every application that has ever been presented to that Court to have been approved by that court," said Mr. Bass, a former Counsel for Intelligence Policy at the Justice Department. "It creates an aura of suspicion about the legitimacy of the Court that is not well-founded."
"The presence of an independent advocate for the target, certainly in United States person search cases, would in my judgment significantly alleviate some of the concerns about the possibility of abuse of the process," Mr. Bass told Congress in 1994.
A transcript of Judge Lamberth's April 4 talk appeared in Legal Times on April 14.
In its original form, NSDD 84 would have applied the pre-publication review requirements of the intelligence community to other executive branch agencies; required polygraph tests in leak investigations with loss of clearance for those who refused to comply; and required that contacts between cleared government personnel and media representatives be reported. In the face of resistance from federal employees' unions, civil libertarians and members of Congress, these requirements were relaxed or abandoned.
The contents of the revised Directive have not yet been revealed. There are, however, few possible measures that have not already been tried over the years in unsuccessful attempts to stem the escalating flood of leaks. One step that the Directive is not expected to recommend is a dramatic reduction in the volume of classified information so as to maximize the protection of the nation's most sensitive secrets.
A Justice Department official alluded to the new draft Directive at a March 21 meeting of the Security Policy Forum. Despite efforts by the Security Policy Board to prevent public access to its deliberations by marking its records "For Official Use Only," a copy of the March 21 meeting minutes was obtained by S&GB and is available at http://www.fas.org/sgp/spb/spf397.html.
"Overclassification-- such as occurred in the 1990s with respect to powerful perception-management capabilities acquired by the military under the aegis of information warfare-- dangerously undermined civil-military relations," thereby contributing to the coup. "In the mid-1990s, the overclassification problem arose with respect to the military's burgeoning involvement in information warfare, particularly offensive information warfare. Military leaders coyly declined to discuss the topic, citing high security classifications. Indeed, the subject was so grotesquely overclassified that even within the armed forces and the civilian defense establishment few knew any of the particulars."
Fortunately, a counter-coup in the year 2015 returned the U.S. government to civilian control. A copy of Col. Dunlap's paper, first published in October 1996, may be found at http://www.usafa.af.mil/inss/ocp11.htm.
Intelligence supporters and critics both expressed unhappiness with the revealed figures, which indicated that Congress had imposed multi-billion dollar cuts to intelligence, the story said. "It's about time they stopped letting political lightweights second-guess the needs of brave men and women in hazardous situations," said Rep. Alexander West (R-NC), an intelligence agency supporter.
But the intelligence agencies have "proven they can't be trusted to manage their affairs properly, [and] no one wants to do anything about it," complained Sen. Patrick Dunleary (D-IL), a critic of intelligence spending. "My colleagues have exceeded my expectations of venality."
The story, which rings remarkably true except for the part about Congress cutting the intelligence budget, appeared last year as part of a political simulation game called "Reinventing America" and may be found at http://pathfinder.com/reinventing/game1/nwiw26t30s1.html.
More bizarre things are turning up as researchers begin to wade through declassified files. Lately, archivists have discovered human body parts maintained as "federal records" in government storage facilities, as reported in the Jewish newspaper Forward (4/4/97, p. 5) The National Archives in College Park, Maryland, has identified "a human skin lampshade, or part of one," from the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald. The National Museum of Health and Medicine holds three pieces of tattooed human skin, also from Buchenwald.
And in a locked cabinet in a locked room inside a secure building, the Museum is storing a bisected human head preserved with wax. Declassified Army records indicate that the head was taken from the Dachau concentration camp. Holocaust researchers expressed surprise and dismay at the new findings. "Remains of people, as a rule, should be buried," said one.
Secrecy & Government Bulletin is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
The FAS Project on Government Secrecy is supported by grants from the Rockefeller Family Fund, the CS Fund, the New York Times Foundation, the Greenville Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.