Senate Moves to Hide Our Secret Government

A few weeks ago, the fact that there are now 4.8 million people in the US with security clearances got a fair amount of attention. 1.5% of our country has access to at least information classified as secret. The job security of most of those people depends on maintaining good standing in the somewhat arbitrary world of security clearance.

The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to make sure we don’t learn that number anymore.

In the Intelligence Authorization, it just eliminated the requirement for that report.

(3) REPEAL OF REPORTING REQUIREMENTS REGARDING SECURITY CLEARANCES.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—Section 506H of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 415a–10) is repealed.

(B) TABLE OF CONTENTS AMENDMENT.— The National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 401 et seq.) is amended in the table of contents in the first section by striking the item relating to section 506H.

The language this bill would repeal reads, in part,

(b) Report on Security Clearance Determinations.–

(1) Not later than February 1 of each year, the President shall submit to Congress a report on the security clearance process. Such report shall include, for each security clearance level–

(A) the number of employees of the United States Government who–

(i) held a security clearance at such level as of October 1 of the preceding year; and

(ii) were approved for a security clearance at such level during the preceding fiscal year;

(B) the number of contractors to the United States Government who–

(i) held a security clearance at such level as of October 1 of the preceding year; and

(ii) were approved for a security clearance at such level during the preceding fiscal year;

When ODNI requested the elimination of this report in June, arguing that since the government has caught up on the backlog approving security clearances, it suggested there is no more reason to track this information. If Congress still cares how big our secret government has gotten, ODNI says, they can get briefings.

Justification: Section 506H includes two enduring reporting requirements. The requirement for a quadrennial audit of positions requiring security clearances should be repealed because the National Counterintelligence Executive, in partnership with other agencies with similar responsibilities, examines the manner in which security clearance requirements are determined more frequently than once every four years. Rather than submit a report regarding a quadrennial activity, the executive branch can provide more frequent briefings, as requested, if congressional interest persists.
With regard to the annual reporting requirement on security clearance determinations, the Executive Branch as a whole has made significant progress in expediting and streamlining the security clearance process since the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, thus reducing the saliency of this report. This reporting requirement should be replaced by briefings, as requested, if congressional interest persists.

I guess “giving citizens a hint of the size of their secret government” has nothing to do with why this report was considered salient.

This is crazy. As our secret government continues to metastasize, and as those who hold clearances are subjected to an increasingly arbitrary system of control (which I’ll discuss in a later report), the Senate Intelligence Committee has moved to hide the one report that gives us a sense of how big the secret government really is (and how much of our secret government consists of contractors).

 

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.

10 replies
  1. peasantparty says:

    Oh well. So much for oversight!

    The more I think about this the more it occurs to me that members of congress and the nat. security committee that do not push against these actions will never know if they are themselves targeted. Obama’s hit list may even contain members of congress.

    Who Knows?

  2. BSbafflesbrains says:

    The Gulag Archipelago is forming; just wait til the next purge. I’m guessing it will involve anyone in Government who doesn’t agree with Panetta re MIC spending. At least McCain will be safe.

  3. Frank33 says:

    Little George Little has threatened journalists. Georgie will monitor them except he and his KGB type goons have been monitoring journalists for ten years. This latest threat is intimidation, scaring them with possible COINTELPRO Ops against them. There have been many failures of our war leaders with many more to come. There needs to be premediated suppression.

    America’s KGB spies on journalists all the time and follows their every move. Someone in the secret government was following the Iraki journalists who were assassinated in “Collateral Murder”. The exceptional American war corruption is so massive that the four million member secret army would assassinate more journalists to protect the Never Ending War On Terror.

    Give the Pentagon some credit. The Information War against the American people has been their only success in the last ten years.

    By the way, keeping Classified information secure, on a computer network, is a delusion.

    “The unauthorized disclosure of classified information jeopardizes national security and is a violation of department regulation, policy, and, in certain cases, a criminal act that should be prosecuted,” the Pentagon’s press secretary George Little said in the statement announcing the changes

    “To ensure greater accountability and tracking of unauthorized disclosures, Secretary Panetta is directing a new “top down” approach as well,” Little said. “The Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, in consultation with the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, will monitor all major, national level media reporting for unauthorized disclosures of defense department classified information. The Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence will ensure that the appropriate component of the department has been tasked with investigating leaks and initiates the process for appropriate referrals to the Department of Justice.”

    According to Little, Secretary Panetta noted that only the assistant secretary for public affairs may give information to the media, and that Congress must be notified of unauthorized disclosures.

    Little said additional recent reforms include improving the training on how classified information is handled and the security on classified computer networks. He said the department is also implementing President Obama’s Executive Order establishing an Insider Threat Task Force, and mandating the use of a department wide incident report system to track unauthorized disclosures.

  4. LM Lewis says:

    The average person thinks security clearances are requirements of working on defense and intelligence projects. They don’t realize that clearances are now required of federal officials working at the Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies that implement once-public domestic programs. At the Food Safety and Inspection Service, for example, every senior official was told to apply for a security clearance…BEFORE the 9/11 attacks. In 2002, the Bush administration gave USDA original authorization to classify information. But, privately, senior officials at FSIS confessed that they didn’t really need access to classified materials…even in the midst of a national security emergency. What’s going on? It appears that someone realized how useful security clearances can be for coercing employees in powerful positions to quietly go along with abusive practices lest they be subjected to the Soviet-style retaliation permitted under current security clearance adjudication procedures.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Hey, we’re a classless, meritocratic society. We don’t have an aristocracy of birth or wealth able to manipulate the system in order to enrich itself while immunizing itself from the negative consequences of its behavior.

    Ours is a rule of law, not wo-men. Everyone is equal before the law and the government that legislates, interprets and enforces it. That is true regardless of one’s ability to be fair, just, moral, or ethical, regardless of one’s intellectual or social intelligence, regardless of one’s being rich, connected, diligent, lazy, lucky or unlucky. We are a country in which political and civic rights exist above and beyond one’s ability to succeed or to make money or to endure the absence of both.

    Having exhausted the limits of the high school civics mythology, what are we really? We are a country in which “merit” is an attribute co-opted by the elite. Gaming the system is the system. That system relies on filters: elite undergraduate schools, more elite post-graduate programs are two. Obtaining and maintaining a security clearance is another.

    As in biological evolution, resources developed for one need are constantly being vetted for other purposes. A Social Security number keeps track of one’s pension contributions and rights. That now arcane use has been superseded by its use as a de facto national identifier for business, employment, health care, education, you name it. Cell phone gps is not for calling 911 any more (if it ever was). It and gps-free, precise tower triangulation are tracking devices used to locate us, particularly when we cross an area or “field” deemed protected.

    So, too, having a security clearance is now only partly an indication that one is unlikely to use the information in a way that threatens the legitimate security of one’s country. Having a clearance is having one’s ticket punched in the long line for the elite ride. It inspires conformity among everyone in line and most within their networks.

    The metastasizing growth of security clearances – and the industry, process and mindset that selects for obtaining and keeping them – divides us. Those with a clearance aren’t just employable by government and legions of defense and security contractors. They become an elect. We become Said’s “other”. We become different, less, not-yet-safe. Simply by demanding the rights of citizens, we become potential targets.

  6. What Constitution? says:

    @the enemy within: And people wonder why Bradley Manning received the kind of treatment he has gotten. The “official” assumption is that, given the Manning “example”, about 4.785+ million people probably aren’t likely to become “Wikileakers” any time soon, huh?

  7. BSbafflesbrains says:

    @What Constitution?: Can anyone remember when anything that had a chilling effect on free speech was a bad thing? Being a U.S. citizen doesn’t have the same cache` it used to have. The only people with “citizenship” equal to the 1% are the people the Sioux used to contemptuously call “hangers around the fort”

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @What Constitution?: And so with Mr. Obama’s dramatic, unprecedented war on whistleblowers, at least those whose leaks he hasn’t requested.

    Potential Bush-Cheney era whistleblowers who envisaged Mr. Obama as the light at the end of the tunnel, the hopey-changey executive who would reform their agencies – policy is personnel and personnel is policy – and make leaking unnecessary, found the end of the tunnel closed, the lights out.

    Of course, getting caught leaking would permanently end one’s access to a clearance. Unless, that is, one benefited from a presidential pardon, or leaked in order to boost a politician’s status rather than to expose criminal or wrongful conduct on the part of government officials.

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