SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 86
October 30, 2009

Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/

OBAMA BOOSTS WHITE HOUSE INTEL ADVISORY BOARD

In a move that will strengthen internal executive branch oversight of intelligence, President Obama this week said that a White House intelligence oversight board will be required to alert the Attorney General whenever it learns of "intelligence activities that involve possible violations of Federal criminal laws." A similar requirement for the board to notify the Attorney General had been canceled by President Bush in February 2008. President Obama reversed that step in his executive order 13516 on the authorities of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB) and the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB).

The new Obama order also restores to the PIAB and the IOB some of the other teeth that the Bush Administration had removed. The order states that the Director of National Intelligence and others "shall provide such information and assistance as the PIAB and the IOB determine is needed to perform their functions." The Bush order had only spoken of "such information and assistance as the PIAB and the IOB may need to perform functions under this order." So the new order (like the prior Clinton order) helpfully specifies that the PIAB and the IOB are the ones who will "determine" what they need--not the DNI or anyone else.

The Obama order does not restore the Clinton-era requirement that all intelligence agencies heads report quarterly to the IOB. Instead, as in the Bush order, the DNI is to report to the Board at least twice a year.

The Obama order states that the PIAB membership should be comprised of individuals "who are not full-time employees of the Federal Government." Previously, they had to be "not employed by the Federal Government" at all. The basis for this change is unclear.

Strengthening internal oversight of intelligence activities is among the easiest of changes to Bush Administration intelligence policy that the Obama Administration could be expected to make. The action does not entail any increase in public disclosure or congressional reporting concerning intelligence activities, not does it infringe on executive authority in any way.

On October 28, President Obama announced the appointment of former Senators Chuck Hagel and David Boren to the PIAB, which had been vacant until then.

"We are off to a good start with this meeting by welcoming the press, which past advisory boards have rarely done," the President said. "That's a reflection of my administration's commitment to transparency and open government, even, when appropriate, on matters of national security and intelligence." But judging from a published transcript, no matters of substance were discussed and no questions from the press were taken at the meeting.


Q&A WITH FBI DIRECTOR MUELLER

As a result of polygraph testing, more than a thousand applications for employment at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been rejected or otherwise terminated in the last year alone, the FBI told Congress last month. Polygraph testing has been the single largest reason for discontinuing an application, well ahead of administrative or medical issues, use or sale of illegal drugs, or other suitability or security issues. In Fiscal Year 2009, 339 special agent applicants were turned away on polygraph-related grounds, and 825 professional support applications were similarly discontinued.

These data were presented in responses to questions for the record from a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last March, and were transmitted to Congress on behalf of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on September 15, 2009.

Most of the congressional questions, on everything from Freedom of Information Act compliance to detainee interrogation, are focused and pointed. Some of the answers are informative and occasionally even startling.

Each day between March 2008 and March 2009, Director Mueller told the Committee, "there were an average of more than 1,600 nominations for inclusion on the [Terrorist] watchlist," as well as 4,800 proposed modifications of existing records, and 600 proposed removals. "Each nomination for addition [to the watchlist] does not necessarily represent a new individual," Mueller cautioned, "but may instead involve an alias or name variant for a previously watchlisted person."


NOTEWORTHY NEW PUBLICATIONS

Former FAS President Jeremy J. Stone has published a memoir of his efforts to promote constructive dialogue in several of the world's most intractable conflicts through his own organization, Catalytic Diplomacy. Remarkably, writes Morton Halperin in a Preface to the memoir, "The conflicts that Jeremy sought to mitigate -- US-Russian nuclear relations, China's relation with Taiwan, North Korea's relations with its neighbors, and U.S.-Iranian relations -- have all been affected for the better by his efforts." See:

The susceptibility of anti-satellite weapons to the control of international law is considered in a new paper called "ASAT-isfaction: Customary International Law and the Regulation of Anti-Satellite Weapons" by David A. Koplow, Michigan Journal of International Law, Vol. 30, No. 4, Summer 2009. Mr. Koplow is now Special Counsel for Arms Control at the Defense Department Office of the General Counsel.

Effective congressional oversight depends not only on the good intentions of the overseers, but also on their familiarity with the legislative, investigative and other tools they have at their disposal. But the skillful use of those tools has been largely a matter of tacit knowledge, handed down through the generations of congressional staff. To help preserve and propagate the techniques involved, the Project on Government Oversight has published a new handbook entitled "The Art of Congressional Oversight: A User's Guide to Doing It Right."

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

See also "Reducing Government Secrecy: Finding What Works" by Steven Aftergood, Yale Law and Policy Review, vol. 27, no. 2, Spring 2009:
      http://www.fas.org/sgp/eprint/aftergood.pdf

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