How the “Most Transparent Administration Ever” Worsens Transparency with Transparency Effort

The Director of National Intelligence has floated a “shockingly bad” proposal on how much review GAO will be permitted within the intelligence community. According to Steven Aftergood, because the proposal defines the intelligence community broadly, it might result in the loss of GAO review in agencies like DOD and State.

The Director of National Intelligence has prepared a draft intelligence directive on access by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to intelligence information, but it is “shockingly bad,” a congressional official said.


The first draft of the new directive is said to reserve maximum discretion to the DNI, and to offer little practical assurance that GAO will get access to the information it needs.So, for example, the definition of intelligence information that may be withheld from GAO extends broadly to law enforcement, military and intelligence information related to national security.  GAO access is to be denied whenever it concerns information regarding “intelligence budgets or funding, or personnel information that… may reveal intelligence strategy, capabilities, or operations.”

“In other words, GAO cannot look at anything that involves money or people,” the congressional official told Secrecy News.  “Combine that with the sweeping, open-ended definition of intelligence and large chunks of the federal government suddenly vanish from [GAO] oversight– DOD, FBI, DHS, State Department, etc.”

Aftergood points out what I did several weeks ago: the intelligence agencies generally (with the exception of NRO), and NSA in particular, have completely ineffective accounting systems.

But when the Committee looked at NSA’s books in 2009, they were still a complete clusterfuck.

The NSA‘s annual financial report was the exception, in that it showed no apparent improvement. In particular, the Committee was concerned about the failed implementation of NSA‘s new financial system. An NSA Inspector General report found that this system was put into operation before it was adequately tested and that operators were not properly trained to use it. The NSA also made $7 million in duplicative invoice payments, and the agency could not successfully reconcile its financial books at the end of fiscal year 2008. Further, a July 2008 Army Finance Command report, referenced by the NSA IG, found that the NSA‘s accounting system was in violation of public laws, Treasury Department financial manuals, and DoD regulations, and was inconsistent with the Federal Managers Financial Integrity Act.

After SSCI cracked heads, the NSA claimed it had fixed the problems in June 2009. Only they hadn’t.

In June 2009, the Director of NSA wrote to the Chairman and Vice Chairman, claiming that the NSA was now ―fully compliant with the laws, regulations, and manuals referenced in the U.S. Army Finance Command report and the Federal Financial Managers Integrity Act. The NSA Director‘s letter also stated that the NSA had been able to reconcile its fiscal year 2008 financial records. In July 2009, the Chairman and Vice Chairman wrote to the Secretary of Defense concerning the NSA Director‘s letter. They stated that in light of the NSA‘s past difficulties in producing auditable financial statements, the Committee believed the progress claimed by the NSA should be independently confirmed by the DoD Inspector General. Specifically, the letter requested that the DoD IG conduct a form and content review of the NSA‘s fiscal year 2009 financial statements to determine whether they were supported by reliable and accounting data and supporting information.

The Committee received the results of the DoD IG‘s review in November 2009, which was very critical of NSA‘s claims. Overall, the IG found that the NSA‘s financial statements were not adequately supported by reliable accounting data and supporting information. An even more disturbing finding was that the NSA‘s ―remediation plans do not fully address audit impediments. Specific findings included an inability to reconcile critical general ledger balances, failure to perform required accounting processes, and inconsistencies between the information contained in the notes to the financial statements and the information provided to the IG. The IG‘s findings raised serious questions about the assertions made by the NSA Director in his June 2009 letter and the support he is receiving from the administrative staff involved.

The report doesn’t actually say whether NSA has since fixed its auditing systems such that someone can actually tell whether the telecoms paid to spy on us are paid what they are supposed to be paid. So the most up-to-date information the report provides is that in late 2009, the NSA wasn’t really planning to fix the things that made it difficult to audit its books.

In other words, even before you get into the GAO oversight of the actual things the intelligence community does, you could at least throw the auditors in GAO at NSA’s awful accounting.

But James Clapper proposes to specifically prohibit such help from GAO.

It’s almost like they want to ensure that no one can audit the NSA’s books.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

  1. eCAHNomics says:

    shockingly bad

    complete clusterfuck

    It’s almost like they want to ensure that no one can audit the NSA’s books.

    Seems like SOP to me.

    • mzchief says:

      ( DING! )**3. There wasn’t one darn place I didn’t see this represented in the paper and IT systems of business and in government– especially around the Beltway. One evening a CPA acquaintance consulting for a firm primarily servicing DoD had a meltdown over a paper and IT systems audit that revealed that a USG agency division had “lost” $20 million USD and was not the least bit concerned about where the heck the money was. I saw these sorts of “oopsies” go viral through the US system by the early 2000s in multiple ways and wrote email rants about it at the time (Gee, I wonder why my Senators never responded to my polite phone enquiries on the topic? /s). I got yet another recent data point from someone auditing the books of an organization that was supposed to be providing a facility and service to the public.

      Just for grins, I am going to remind folks about how easy it is to electronically steal from fiat currency systems. Fiat currency can be “expanded” and “contracted” via electronic forms of Rube Goldberg machinations and that’s precisely why it’s done that way. The fiat is any currency, e.g. bribes, mistresses, HTML link clicks, personal data if you know how to use it in conjunction with paper fiat currency.

      It’s such a dumb thing to try build and operate systems when under the influence of GREED and power lust. In the early 1990s, I was one of a team of analysts for the super commission version of the EPA for the State of Texas. Texas was promulgated complete authority to act as the EPA in the respective EPA region which included the very industrially polluted Houston ship channel. Fortunately the Commission was full of DFH scientists including moi so at the time things weren’t all that bad including the fact that we would never ever have allowed the Horizon drilling operation. As all of us were part of the legislative branch supporting the Texas Legislature, we all had our specialities. Mine was the Water Quality subject matter area of the public health and environmental regulation bailiwick which included the international waters of the Gulf of Mexico and all surface water within the State’s boundaries. There was no regulation of aquifers at the time and I told folks I thought that was a really bad idea. That was the year Clayton Williams sucked the water out of a whole aquifer for his ranch in West Texas. { forehead pounds desk } I also had visibility into the other subject matter areas as Petroleum Storage and Hazardous and Solid Waste Disposal. As I hung out with the engineers in the area’s professional association, I got to have informal chats with really concerned and competent people about what was really going on in clean up efforts, the true capabilities of the technologies/procedures (a pretty flimsy band-aid) and what was going on with the super funds (not at all encouraging as the containment wasn’t). I had gone to work at the Commission on the heels of my graduate work in Toxicology/Pharmacology, Biomedical/Electrical Engineering and prior industry experience in IT systems engineering on mostly science and defense projects (systems automation, telecomm, data acquisition and signal processing complete with a later DC Metro redux in tel-sat-co/RF/opticals systems and Big 4 accounting re-org). After my time at the Commission, it has been kick-the-can-down-the-road and a serious plummeting in regulatory activities with the associate much increased pollution and neglect. We’ve talk about the fruits of that here on this blog.

      So I recommend that everyone see the masterful job that political and financial systems analyst Stacy Herbert does today regarding the dynamics of our world dominated by an agnotologic capitalistic system (hat tip Michael Betancourt). She is crystal clear about the dynamics and how bad the kleptocracy really is. The chaser is Dmitry Orlov, a Russian engineer that survived the collapse of the USSR. He does a great spot on how the rich-ster’s nuclear industry and, particularly the GE-built and Japanese government/TEPCO mismanaged nuclear reactors at Fukishima, are resulting in a worldwide industrial supply line disruption domino falling and what that means to the whole system.

      In the end, the only way to survive our human-created failures is an aggressive return to honesty and the company of other honest folks. History will be written from that point forward.

      Are you willin’? (video clips from The Abyss)

      • Gitcheegumee says:

        “Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

        ~ Cree Indian Proverb

  2. BoxTurtle says:

    It’s almost like They want to ensure that no one can audit the NSA’s books.

    Fixed it for ya!

    Boxturtle (They’re not even bothering to hide what they’re doing anymore)

      • harpie says:

        From Politico 44 link, @6

        “I don’t feel moved today to say ‘thank you, Mr. President,’” said Steve Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. But he said he understands the award to be “aspirational,” in recognition of Obama’s potential to do more on the transparency front.

        “And in that sense, one could say it resembles the award at the Nobel Peace Prize,” Aftergood said. “It’s not because Obama brought peace to anyone but because people hoped he would be a force for good in the world, and maybe that’s the way to understand this award.”

  3. Nathan Aschbacher says:

    I’m increasingly convinced that Reagan was right. Government is the problem, the trouble is that it’s the problem because if people like Reagan.

    We have vanishingly few functional political institutions in thus country. We need to scrap this thing and start over somehow. The current foundation is completely incapable of maintaining good government. It just cannot be done. Like trying to build the Brooklyn Bridge from nothing but toothpicks and bubblegum.

  4. donbacon says:

    “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” — President Obama, Jan 21, 2009

  5. fatster says:

    More, more, more! That’s the ticket.

    U.S. still unprepared for threats, 9-11 panel chiefs say

    “Restrictions on access to certain sensitive FBI databases hindered some officials on detail to the FBI from fully understanding the potential threat posed by the perpetrator. These problems need to be addressed.
    . . .
    “Strengthening the DNI’s position would, we believe, advance the unity of intelligence effort that is needed,”


  6. Kevin Baron, ASBL says:

    it just keeps getting better and better…last year there was a proposal included in the NDAA that would have allowed two top pentagon officials to blacklist any contractor from working with the government for whatever “national security” reason they chose. Included was the fact that these decisions did not have to be made public and they were exempt from GAO review and protest, FOIA, and from federal court action…This was a complete power grab that would have allowed the Pentagon to benefit their favorite defense contractors at the expense of everyone else, including the taxpayers…

    The AP ran a story including a report showing that the overall percentages and numbers of denials of FOIA requests over the past two years of the Obama Administration have increased in comparison to the Bush Administration…meaning the Obama Administration is being more secretive than the Bush Administration, than the BUSH ADMINISTRATION…open government and transparency my ass…this is just a continuation to allow billions in defense contracts to flow to the big contractors while excluding oversight…

  7. yellowsnapdragon says:

    Heh. Just tweeted:


    Brad Friedman

    Sigh… RT @markknoller Pres Obama was presented w openness in Govt award on Mon. At closed-door ceremony not posted on his pubic schedule.

    • lysias says:

      Gary Bass of OMB Watch has a posting up on his site now about that secret transparency award ceremony yesterday, A Face-to-Face with the President about Transparency, and it’s all bland praise, with never a word about the nontransparency of the meeting.

      At least, when the Nobel Prize Committee awarded its prize, it wasn’t that clear how ridiculous awarding the prize to Obama was.

  8. orionATL says:

    the career intelligence bureaucrat speaks:

    “oh the things we could have done in intelligence if those asshats at gao hadn’t kept getting in our way.”

    the career of a spyboy

    (as told by misswiki)

    James R. Clapper, Jr. (born March 14, 1941) is a retired lieutenant general in the United States Air Force and is currently the Director of National Intelligence. He was previously dual-hatted as the first Director of Defense Intelligence within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence alongside the position of Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.[1] Clapper has held several key positions within the United States Intelligence Community. He served as the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) from September 2001 until June 2006. Previously, he served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) from 1992 until 1995.

    On June 5, 2010 President Barack Obama nominated Clapper to replace Dennis C. Blair as United States Director of National Intelligence. Clapper was unanimously confirmed by the Senate for the position on August 5, 2010.[2][3]

    misswiki continues her tale of upward mobility among the power elite:

    AssignmentsMay 1963 – March 1964, student, Signal Intelligence Officers Course, Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas

    March 1964 – December 1965, analytic branch chief, Air Force Special Communications Center, Kelly Air Force Base, Texas

    December 1965 – December 1966, watch officer and air defense analyst, 2nd Air Division (later, 7th Air Force), Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam

    December 1966 – June 1970, aide to the commander and command briefer, Air Force Security Service, Kelly Air Force Base, Texas

    June 1970 – June 1971, commander, Detachment 3, 6994th Security Squadron, Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand

    June 1971 – August 1973, military assistant to the director, National Security Agency, Fort George G. Meade, Md.

    August 1973 – August 1974, aide to the commander and intelligence staff officer, Headquarters Air Force Systems Command, Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

    August 1974 – September 1975, distinguished graduate, Armed Forces Staff College, Norfolk, Va.

    September 1975 – June 1976, chief, signal intelligence branch, Headquarters U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii

    June 1976 – August 1978, chief, signal intelligence branch, J-23, Headquarters U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii

    August 1978 – June 1979, student, National War College, National Defense University, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.

    June 1979 – January 1980, Washington area representative for electronic security command, deputy commander, Fort George G. Meade, Md.

    February 1980 – April 1981, commander, 6940th Electronic Security Wing, Fort George G. Meade, Md.

    April 1981 – June 1984, director for intelligence plans and systems, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.

    June 1984 – May 1985, commander, Air Force Technical Applications Center, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.

    June 1985 – June 1987, assistant chief of staff for intelligence, U.S. Forces Korea, and deputy assistant chief of staff for intelligence, Republic of Korea and U.S. Combined Forces Command

    July 1987 – July 1989, director for intelligence, Headquarters U.S. Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii

    July 1989 – March 1990, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, Headquarters Strategic Air Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

    April 1990 – November 1991, assistant chief of staff for intelligence, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.

    November 1991–1995, director, Defense Intelligence Agency and General Defense Intelligence Program, Washington, D.C.

  9. JohnLopresti says:

    I think AICPA guidelines might cede to gao some areas of scrutiny beyond some encyclopedically defined array of thresholds demarcating the divides between bookkeeping systems maintained by civilian and noncivilian entities engaged in nonsecure commerce, contrasted with government contractor forms of accounting. I know of a civil engineering outfit*s networks which keep the government accounting workstation separate from the more mundane computers. The Iran Contra fiasco seemed to involve similar compartments, permissions, and maybe features that critics opined were actually bugs. I forget if senator Church published accounting information about that. I remember early in her senate career BBoxer somehow found out someone in government was purchasing something like platinum hammers and gold lavabo fixtures on taxpayer dollars; I wonder how she got access to those records; I doubt a senator would have had a true datamining capability in that era.