One method that you can use to understand the actions of your government, especially in any matter that would be classified as “above top secret,” is to understand how and why it gathers and collects intelligence. As a citizen, you don’t really want foreign elements to know how or why – because then foreign counterintelligence efforts have a better chance at success.
With that said, the citizens of a nation should have some awareness and understand of how the government handles intelligence matters. Because, ultimately, if you don’t agree with the morality of those efforts, you will be stuck explaining why your own government performed such atrocious and terrible actions in foreign lands (or domestically).
Even the intelligence community needs a watchdog. You’ve probably heard about the term “above top secret,” which I’ve written about at length before. There is no such level of classification – but there is a level “beyond” top secret that involves code words and a compartmentalization of intelligence. Unfortunately, being more secretive and protected than even the best secret societies in the world – the intelligence community, by its very nature, encourages corruption and abuse from within.
American citizens caught a glimpse of some of the perceived problems within the IC when the Senate passed the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. Unfortunately, the bill is filled with a lot of legalese and complex language. So, to simplify the matter, I am going to detail the basic principles of the act and explain what it means in simple terms.
Elements of the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004
The critical elements of the Intelligence Reform Act that you need to know:
- -> Subtitle A: Establishment of Director of National Intelligence - (Sec. 1011) - This section creates a Director of National Security, appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, that introduces a "middle-man" between the Executive Office and the Central Intelligence Agency. This is an effort to prevent the Executive Branch from affecting Intelligence analysis, and vice versa. Obviously, Iraq intelligence estimates played a big part in this reform. The director serves as the head of the IC and is the president's top intelligence advisor.
- -> The Director has "access to all national intelligence and intelligence related to national security" - unless the President directs otherwise.
- -> The Director manages funds appropriated to the Intelligence Community
- -> The Director will "develop standards for the collection and dissemination of national intelligence," and will ensure that the CIA and other intelligence agencies comply with the law, and will encourage the sharing of intelligence while protecting intelligence sources and methods.
- -> The Director will "establish uniform procedures for access to sensitive compartmented information."
- -> Establishes the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Intelligence Council.
Amazingly, within the Office of the Director (which, remember, now has full control over the Intelligence community), this Act created a position within the DNI called the "Civil Liberties Protection Officer", a "Director of Science and Technology" and a "National Counterintelligence Executive." All three positions clearly have a high level of power, being situated within the ODNI, but it should especially put American's minds at ease knowing that there is now a position in such a high office with the intent of protecting Civil Liberties.
Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and Slashing CIA Positions
The importance of Civil Liberties in the act is especially obvious in Subtitle F: "Privacy and Civil Liberties", which establishes a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board within the Executive Office of the President with the following goals.
- -> Review actions taken by the President (Executive branch) against terrorism
- -> Review all anti-terrorism laws to ensure privacy and civil liberties protections are in place
- -> Produce annual reports related to the oversight activities, actions and findings
The Act also hit the CIA very hard - slashing several high level positions including:
- -> Assistant Director of Central Intelligence
- -> Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production
- -> Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Administration
I guess the Senate figured the CIA had one "Assistant Director" too many.
Declassifying National Intelligence
For many years, the American public has been under the increasing suspicion that the Intelligence Community is becoming more and more cloaked in secrecy and using "national security" as an excuse to hide mistakes, misappropriation of funds and corruption. The National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 solidifies the Declassification Act of 2000 by requiring the Public Interest Declassification Board to report to the Executive Office.
The effort to declassify information that really has no need to remain classified (except, possibly, to cover up wrongdoing) is clearly a constant battle between Congress and the IC. The Act of 2004 is clearly a display of congressional power in reforming the IC to align more with the public welfare rather than aligning with private desires to "cover-up" sensitive information for which there is no longer a national security need for classification. The act makes the following reforms to declassification procedures.
- -> The Board must review and provided recommendations regarding any congressional requests to declassify records.
- -> The Board must perform a declassification review whenever the President requests it.
This Act set off a domino effect throughout the political and intelligence communities. Certain issues came about that demanded an amendment, which went before Congress before it was passed in its final form. This was known as Amendment No. 3903 - and surprisingly it provided the public - journalists and researchers - with a glimpse into the world of top secret classifications, and what "above top secret" really means. I will be covering that fascinating amendment a little later this week - stay tuned!