New Congressional Report on intel authorization legislation

A new Report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service was issued yesterday and obtained by the Federation of American Scientists. (CRS reports are unclassified but not issued to the public.)

The report covers intelligence authorization legislation. Perhaps surprisingly, specific intelligence legislation has not always been issued, despite the fact that it is mandatory to do so under the National Security Act of 1947. According to the CRS “this requirement has been satisfied in recent years by one-sentence catchall provisions in defense appropriations acts authorizing intelligence activities.”

As the report points out, when specific intelligence activities are not authorized through legislation this decreases Congressional oversight of the classified schedule of authorizations. This is in addition to an ongoing lack of public transparency of Congressional intelligence committees themselves, which rarely hold public hearings.

The report mentions one example of how authorization legislation leads to waste:

One example is the eventual cancellation of a highly classified and very costly overhead surveillance system that had been approved without support from the two intelligence committees.

I assume this refers to the Future Imagery Architecture (FAS) which suffered big cost overruns and had to be canceled. The successor to FIA by the way is the EnhancedView contract with GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, originally worth over $7 billion. (Due to a contracting market, GeoEye and DigitalGlobe plan to merge. The new company will take DigitalGlobe’s name, and the contract may be renegotiated).

One Congressional Subcommittee noted bluntly:

“[M]any of the major acquisition programs at the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Security agency, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency have cost taxpayers billions of dollars in cost overruns and schedule delays (Subcommittee on Oversight of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, “Initial Assessment on the Implementation of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004,” July 27, 2006, p. 5).

No specific authorizations were issued prior to 1978 and between 1995 and 2010, but since then there have been several. This is one area of improvement that can be credited to the Obama administration.

The other interesting point made in the report, is that it’s no longer any good putting intelligence authorizations only inside the Pentagon budget. Intelligence is becoming much more than combat or kinetic support, and linking intelligence to the DoD slants intelligence to military operations. I think this is right, and is a point that might be missed just by concentrating analysis on military and warfare. (Those things need to be studied too, obviously.)

For example:

In addition to well known threats from terrorist groups and hostile regional powers, the intelligence community should be organized to confront “a growing array of emerging missions that expands the list of national security (and hence, intelligence) concerns to include infectious diseases, science and technology surprises, financial contagions, economic compensation, environmental issues, energy interdependence and security, cyber attacks, threats to global commerce and transnational crime (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Vision 2015: A Globally Networked and Integrated Intelligence Enterprise, [2008], p. 5.)

Note the linkage of intelligence to security, and, from a geographer’s point of view, the highlighting of environmental issues, energy, cyber and global finance.

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