13 August 2019

The House of Representatives has authorized intelligence services’ budgets for 2020. Top priorities: the Russian threat, China, Iran, North Korea and…the 5G technology

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“Damon Paul Nelson and Matthew Young Pollard Intelligence Authorization Act” was recently approved by the US Congress’s Representatives House. The law, dedicated to funds’ authorization for 2020 fiscal year on intelligence services’ activities, refers to the information collection and requirements regarding the elaboration of assessments by the intelligence community’s member agencies.

Image source: Hepta

What’s a normative act, such as the Intelligence Authorization? It is a law which offers the Congress the authority to monitor the use of funds annually dedicated to intelligence community. This way, the Congress can refuse the funding of some operations, it can, for example, block CIA’s involvement in expensive operations. The Congress is also the main decision factor in terms of CIA’s undercover actions.

Concerned on the secrete character of the intelligence activity and, therefore, the possibility to develop improper actions, the Congress has created two monitoring committees for the intelligence field, one belonging to Senate, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the one to Representatives’ House, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, to make sure that no funds will ever be used by the agencies without an authorization.

During the last decades, each summer, both committees are expressing, within the Intelligence Authorization Act, their priority for the intelligence community, for the following fiscal year. As its chamber issues its law version, they can review project’s unclassified part to separate each body’s priorities before the bill gets approved.

The bill can also be rejected, which actually happened starting with 2017, the moment wherefrom no Intelligence Authorization-type law entered into force. In such cases, the key issues specific to intelligence are addressed in the National Defence Authorization Act, mainly focusing on the annual budget and the Defence Department’s costs.

The last debated project, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, referred, among others, to the foreign interferences in the US elections, the digital security policy enlargement and the cyber-space monitoring. The law project was asking the intelligence communities a report to examine the foreign influence campaigns over the elections and, particularly, to analyze Russia’s strategy. It was also asking for an assessment of different ways Russia wants to cover the illegal funds and funding.

Both Congress’s versions on last year's draft included important provisions on electoral security and Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election process, however, the draft presented by the Senate has emphasized the Russian threat more.

 In July, last year, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 received only House’s approval, given that the legislators did not agree, apparently, on a classified provision in the draft law and nor on the funds granted.

This year's Intelligence Authorization Act requires also the information services evaluation on the Russian influence operations. The project calls on the intelligence community director to present assessments on Russian leaders’ intentions, Kremlin's political leadership objectives, including the potential of Russian military operations against NATO.

Bill’s public side tries to get the intelligence agencies to look specifically at foreign influence campaigns carried out by Russia, but also by China. The normative act refers to the establishment of a structure within the information community to follow the illicit financing of espionage acts and influence operations targeting the United States.

The legislative initiative, covering hundreds of pages, prioritizes the intelligence activities targeting countries such as Iran and North Korea, while also directing information collection to counter terrorism and counter-proliferation. The bill also includes a provision designed to stimulate research over the use of artificial intelligence and 5G technology.

Another chapter of the bill asks the intelligence agencies to submit to Congress a report on the Chinese efforts to influence Taiwan's policy, mainly Taiwan's presidential elections, to take place next year. That assessment should provide, no later than 45 days after the elections, a comprehensive list of the involved Chinese governmental and non-governmental entities.

Between Senate’s Intelligence Authorization Act version and the one elaborated by Representatives House, there is a main difference, which is a provision introduced by the Chamber, supported by the Republican members, which creates an Advisory Council on Climate and Security.

 This structure would integrate the climate security issues presented in the information reports of different structures.

However, the content of the law that got the attention of the American media and raised comments is the one related to the extension of protection granted to government officials involved in classified activity with intelligence agencies both outside the country and in the United States, from 5 years to permanent.

In fact, the CIA, calling on cases such as WikiLeaks, proposes the extension of a 1982 law, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which protects, for five years, undercover officers who have operated abroad. According to agency's intention, the law would permanently apply to people who have connections in the intelligence community, and not only those who operate abroad, but also those in the US.  

Critics believe the new provision could be used against journalists and warnings. Media freedom’s supporters’ thinks that the CIA proposal seriously extends the criminal sanctions that could be applied to journalists (whistleblowers) and public interest organizations and leaves the way for abuse.

It is also claimed that the legislative proposal is elaborated, coincidentally, when defence attorneys from the Guantánamo Bay military commissions are trying to identify eyewitnesses from the CIA to ask them to testify about how CIA treats their clients, including in the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other prisoners charged for connection with the 9/11 attacks.

Also, the proposal comes when the Justice Department made an unprecedented decision, in May, to extend the criminal case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, charged with 17 allegations of breaking the anti-espionage law.

On the other hand, the intelligence agency apologizes: officers are permanently endangered during missions and regardless of the place they are, in or outside the United States, protecting their identity from foreign enemies is essential.

As a result of negotiation and compromise, the law is, according to some people, going to improve community's ability to collect and analyze information, "help the community adapt to an advanced technology environment and promote a culture within the community that ensures recruitment and highly qualified and diverse workforce retention" (Adam B. Schiff, Democratic member of the House of Representatives), "being crucial for the proper funding of the information community, while ensuring Congress’ monitoring over the most sensitive information programs" (Republican Devin Nunes ).

The Senate has, in its turn, its own version of the Intelligence Authorization Act, as part of the annual Defense Policy legislation, unanimously approved by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Therefore, congressmen from both chambers will attend a conference where they should agree on a compromise option for the bill, which means that this could be the first authorization bill for the intelligence activity, signed since 2017.

Translated by Andreea Soare