For more than 30 years, our country has struggled to delineate the boundaries of domestic intelligence operations. Americans tend to regard those government components exercising national security powers within the borders of the United States (whether under clear authority or not) with an inherent suspicion bolstered by historical experience.
We tolerate the existence of such components but insist that they be highly regulated, particularly with respect to any activities that impinge upon civil society. Historical circumstances influence, but never erase, this regulatory imperative. Despite this imperative, components may occasionally escape regulation – at least for a time – because they are unknown, their missions remain mysterious or only partially understood, or because (intentionally or not) a convincing illusion of sufficient regulation is presented to the examining eye.
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (the “Act”) effected one of the most significant changes since 1947 in the organization of the intelligence community. Title III of the Act reorganized the entire national security clearance system, although the subject received practically no attention in public discussion during the 9/11 Commission hearings. Because this change was not fully explored in either the House or Senate hearings or during floor debate, Title III includes contradictory provisions concerning the assignment of responsibilities for security clearance policies and procedures.
Breakthrough science can lead both to great good and to great evil. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the anthrax letter attacks that followed highlight the fact that our enemies may use our own advanced science and technology against us. When the dissemination of scientific information might jeopardize national security, the federal government’s primary response has always been to try to control the spread of that information. In a variety of ways, the government has long restricted public access to scientific information in the government’s possession. Since September 11, the government has further tightened access to its own information, withholding from public view not just classified data but also so-called “sensitive” information, the release of which it says could pose a danger to national security.