[Intelforum] Secrecy News -- 06/15/09
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from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 52
June 15, 2009
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/
** WHITE HOUSE INTEL ADVISORY BOARD HAS NO MEMBERS
** "SENSITIVE" INFO IN THE CONGRESSIONAL RECORD
** A CLASSIFIED OBJECTION TO GEN. MCCHRYSTAL
** DOD ROLE DURING FLU PANDEMICS, AND MORE FROM CRS
WHITE HOUSE INTEL ADVISORY BOARD HAS NO MEMBERS
President Obama has still not appointed anyone to the President's
Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), Secrecy News has learned.
The PIAB has broad responsibility for conducting internal executive branch
oversight of intelligence, and it is specifically charged with alerting the
President to intelligence activities that may be unlawful or contrary to
executive order or presidential directive. Although the PIAB rarely
releases its findings to the public, it is positioned to play a
potentially important role in the intelligence oversight process. Its
actual performance seems to depend on the qualifications of Board members,
which have sometimes been minimal, as well as the receptivity of an
Administration to the oversight process.
Without any members, the PIAB is "kind of running on autopilot," said
Homer Pointer, counsel to the Board. But he added that "day to day
intelligence oversight marches on," particularly since the Director of
National Intelligence and relevant department heads are required by
executive order to report to the Board on a regular basis.
The Boston Globe reported last year that President Bush had "stripped the
Board of much of its authority" ("President weakens espionage oversight"
by Charlie Savage, March 14, 2008) but Mr. Pointer disputed that
News reports in January 2009 indicated that President-elect Obama had
asked former DNI J. Michael McConnell to serve on the PIAB. But for
whatever reason, a formal appointment of Mr. McConnell has not yet been
made, Mr. Pointer said, nor have any other members of the Board been
"We are hopeful that a new Board will be named soon," Mr. Pointer said.
"SENSITIVE" INFO IN THE CONGRESSIONAL RECORD
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) placed two "sensitive but unclassified" (SBU) State
Department documents in the Congressional Record last week, illustrating
the informal, non-binding character of this information control marking.
Rep. Wolf took to the House floor to express his views on the Council on
American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an advocacy organization that he said
had unacceptable links to terrorist groups. CAIR (www.cair.com) has
generally disputed such allegations.
But what is of interest here is Rep. Wolf's willingness to introduce two
State Department cables that are specifically marked "sensitive" and "SBU"
and to place them in the public record. Doing so might annoy the State
Department and violate unofficial norms of confidentiality, but it breaks
The problematic aspect of SBU and similar labels is that anyone can mark
anything "sensitive" or "for official use only" for any reason. The
system is completely unregulated. But the flip side is that records
bearing such markings are not rigorously protected and in fact are often
As the government moves to replace all kinds of SBU markings with a more
uniform "controlled unclassified information" (CUI) system, the
expectation is that the standards for applying controls on sensitive but
unclassified records will be more clearly articulated, limited and
enforced. By the same token, however, the freewheeling disclosure of such
records may grind to a halt. It's hard to know in advance if the benefits
in terms of public access to government information will exceed the
A CLASSIFIED OBJECTION TO GEN. MCCHRYSTAL
Gen. Stanley McChrystal was confirmed by the Senate last week to be the
new commander of U.S. (and NATO) forces in Afghanistan, a role that he
assumed today. But his nomination was opposed by Sen. Russ Feingold
(D-WI) who objected to the General's advancement on unspecified
"I oppose the nomination of LTG Stanley McChrystal to command U.S. forces
in Afghanistan for two reasons," Senator Feingold said on June 11. "The
first relates to a classified matter about which I have serious concerns.
I have conveyed those concerns in a letter to the President."
The second reason cited by Sen. Feingold was McChrystal's embrace of
interrogation techniques that went beyond those authorized in the Army
Field Manual on the subject.
DOD ROLE DURING FLU PANDEMICS, AND MORE FROM CRS
Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service obtained by
Secrecy News include the following.
"Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Updated 'Safeguards' and Net
Assessments," June 3, 2009:
"The Role of the Department of Defense During a Flu Pandemic," June 4,
"Congressional Oversight and Related Issues Concerning International
Security Agreements Concluded by the United States," June 2, 2009:
"The President's Office of Science and Technology Policy: Issues for
Congress," updated June 3, 2009:
"Landsat and the Data Continuity Mission," May 22, 2009:
"Geospatial Information and Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Current
Issues and Future Challenges," June 8, 2009:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the
Federation of American Scientists.
The Secrecy News Blog is at:
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