On his first day in office, President Barack Obama signed a memorandum on transparency and open government, and subsequently issued an unprecedented directive requiring federal agencies to take specific steps to achieve key milestones in transparency, participation and collaboration. In 2013, President Obama further directed the Intelligence Community (IC) to declassify and make public as much information as possible about certain U.S. Government surveillance programs while protecting sensitive classified intelligence and national security information.
In recent years, the IC has made major strides toward enhancing transparency. These include establishing the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) IC on the Record, a repository for declassified documents, official statements, speeches and testimony on the Tumblr blogging platform. To date, more than 5,000 pages of officially released documents have been published on IC on the Record.
In coordination with IC elements, ODNI published a detailed report that included links to IC elements’ policies specifying how they will safeguard personal information collected via SIGINT activities. The IC has also facilitated oversight by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board by conducting intensive classification and declassification reviews of sensitive information to support the board in publishing comprehensive descriptions of intelligence activities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Many IC officials, including Director National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office (NMIO) and Commander Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) Rear Adm. Elizabeth Train, participate in a wide range of public engagements, including speeches, media interviews, panel discussions and meetings with civil society and other external stakeholders. Additionally, IC offices review and respond to FOIA requests and conduct pre-publication reviews of official information, all resulting in the authorized release of substantial volumes of information.
In February 2015, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, approved the Principles of Intelligence Transparency for the Intelligence Community to guide the effort to make information publicly available that enhances public understanding of intelligence activities while continuing to protect information when disclosure would harm national security. The principles do not modify or supersede applicable laws, executive orders, and directives. Instead, these principles articulate the general norms that elements of the IC should follow in implementing authorities and requirements.
The IC Transparency Principles, along with the Principles of Professional Ethics for the Intelligence Community, reflect the core American values that guide the IC’s conduct and serve to further inspire public trust.
In May, ODNI released Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf, a sizeable tranche of documents recovered during the raid on the compound used to hide Usama bin Ladin. The release, which followed a rigorous interagency review, aligns with the President’s call for increased transparency—consistent with national security prerogatives—and the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act, which required ODNI to conduct a review of the documents for release. Hundreds more documents will be reviewed in the future for possible declassification and release. All documents whose publication will not hurt ongoing operations against al-Qaida or its affiliates will be released.
In September, CIA Director John Brennan released daily intelligence briefings known as the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) at a symposium at the LBJ Presidential Library and on the website www.foia.cia.gov. The PDBs, which contain intelligence analysis on crucial national security concerns, date from June 1961 in the early years of the Kennedy administration through the end of President Johnson’s term in January 1969. Only the president, vice president, and a small group of officials designated by the president received the daily briefing. They included an update on actions inside countries, and provided analysis, observations, and details of foreign propaganda campaigns.
The U.S. Navy, as one of the 17 members of the IC, fully supports the Director’s transparency principles and goals:
• Provide appropriate transparency to enhance public understanding about the IC’s mission; what the IC does to accomplish it; and about the laws, directives, authorities and policies that govern IC activities.
• Be proactive and clear in making information publically available through authorized channels, including taking affirmative steps to provide timely transparency on matters of public interest.
• Prepare information so that it is readily understandable and make it available through a range of communications channels.
• As necessary, describe why some information cannot be made public.
• In protecting information about intelligence sources, methods, and activities from unauthorized disclosure, ensure that IC professionals consistently and diligently execute their responsibilities, which include an awareness of counterintelligence concerns.
• Align IC roles, resources, processes and policies to support robust implementation of these principles, consistent with applicable laws, executive orders, and directives. Transparency decisions are complicated and typically involve professionals in the offices of general counsel, civil liberties and privacy, information management, FOIA, and public affairs, as well as coordination with IC counterparts.
The Navy’s Intelligence Transparency initiative will make available information that enhances public understanding of the Navy’s intelligence mission and activities. Compliance and oversight mechanisms are in place to ensure these activities are lawful and that intelligence sources and methods will continue to be protected.
In addition to these IC principles, the Navy complies with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and responded to 8,765 FOIA requests in 2014. The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) responded to 67 FOIA requests in 2014; of these, only four were denied to protect intelligence sources and methods.
ODNI has now published the Transparency Implementation Plan, which sets IC priorities for transparency and translates the principles into concrete, measurable initiatives. This plan is intended to be a starting point for institutionalizing a new way of conducting business throughout the Intelligence Community. The first priority is to make more information available about the IC governance framework.
During a recent speech announcing the plan, Director Clapper said “We believe transparency is worth the cost. Because if people don’t understand what we are doing, why it’s important and how we’re protecting their privacy and civil liberties, we will lose their confidence and that will affect our ability to perform our mission—which ultimately serves them.”