from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 108
November 28, 2005


In an unusual expression of support for public access to official records, the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees have asked the Director of National Intelligence to process millions of pages of documents captured in Iraq for declassification and public release.

The request, in a November 18 letter from Rep. Pete Hoekstra and Sen. Pat Roberts, is focused exclusively on foreign documents obtained during military operations in Iraq from Desert Storm to the present.

But the two legislators implicitly present a critique of classification practices that is broadly applicable throughout the national security classification system.

The chairmen explained that the standard practice of classifying the Iraq documents in an attempt to avoid all risk from disclosure is self-defeating and sharply diminishes the intelligence value of the records.

"The current approach by the Intelligence Community requires that only cleared individuals look at this vast amount of data, and nearly guarantees that exploitation will take decades, if ever, to complete," they wrote.

Conversely, they argued, publication of the records could "dramatically" increase their intelligence value by harnessing the expertise of the interested public.

Such publication "would serve to allow the entrepreneurial, linguistic and analytic talents of the general public to dramatically assist the Intelligence Community in understanding the contents of these materials," the Committee Chairmen wrote.

A copy of their letter, which was previously reported by the Associated Press, is here:

Unfortunately, the clarity of their message was compromised when they added uncritically that "Without question, intelligence sources and methods would have to be protected."

If the protection of "sources and methods" is unconditional and cannot be questioned, no matter how obvious or trivial the sources or methods may be, then even unclassified records cannot be released without prior translation and review. The chairmen failed to confront the fact that their call for document disclosure is inconsistent with absolute protection of intelligence sources and methods.

"I would like to get these documents into the public domain in hopes that academics, journalists, bloggers and other interested people can help clear this backlog," said Chairman Hoekstra in a news release. "In the end, I think the government, and the public, will benefit from having all these documents translated."

The House and Senate intelligence committees are effectively fractured along partisan lines, and the letter from the Republican committee chairmen was not co-signed by the committees' Democratic leaders.

To date, there has been no formal response from the DNI, a committee staff member said.


Government agencies are making increased use of exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act to withhold information that would have been released in the past, according to a new study.

The study by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government compared FOIA responses and denials in 2000 and 2004. It found that unclassified information was increasingly being withheld from FOIA requesters using exemptions for intra- or interagency memoranda, internal personnel rules and practices, and proprietary information.

See "When Exemptions Become the Rule," Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, November 22, 2005:

The study was reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on November 23.


There is a temptation to evaluate progress in the war on terrorism by using parameters that lend themselves to numerical measurement: the number of terrorists killed or detained, the quantity of enemy assets confiscated, the growth in budgets for homeland security, etc.

But because terrorism is a complex and multi-dimensional problem, such simple quantitative measures may be misleading, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service. Some attacks on terrorists may exacerbate the threat and enhance terrorist recruitment, while increased resources devoted to security could be considered a self-imposed economic injury.

The new CRS report, which was first disclosed in the Wall Street Journal, explains the problem and describes some alternatives.

See "Combating Terrorism: The Challenge of Measuring Effectiveness," November 23, 2005:


The efforts of four European governments to integrate their growing Muslim populations are explored in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

See "Muslims in Europe: Integration Policies in Selected Countries," November 18, 2005:


The rapid growth of Chinese naval capabilities is the subject of a major new Congressional Research Service report.

See "China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities -- Background and Issues for Congress," November 18, 2005:


Another new CRS report describes Chinese government censorship of online content and the options for circumventing such censorship.

See "Internet Development and Information Control in the People's Republic of China," November 22, 2005:


The evolution of the U.S. signals intelligence capability from Pearl Harbor to the establishment of the National Security Agency in 1952 is the subject of a newly declassified NSA history volume.

The internal history traces "the struggle between centralized and decentralized control of SIGINT, interservice and interagency rivalries, budget problems, tactical versus national strategic requirements, the difficulties of mechanization of processes, and the rise of a strong bureaucracy."

The document was originally produced in classified form in 1990 under the title "The Origins of NSA" (which is also the title of an unclassified NSA public affairs brochure).

The declassified version, published by the NSA Center for Cryptologic History earlier this year in hard copy only, is now entitled "The Quest for Cryptologic Centralization and the Establishment of NSA: 1940-1952."

A scanned copy of the 129 page volume is available here in a large 6.6 MB PDF file:

A hardcopy original may be obtained while supplies last by sending a request with mailing address to [email protected].


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

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