While Congress prepares to debate what future role the nation's spy agencies should fill, an intelligence official acknowledges the CIA occasionally waived a rule barring agents from posing as journalists.
On Capitol Hill the House and Senate Intelligence committees are expected to quickly take up measures looking at the post-Cold War mission of the CIA and related agencies and at the possibility of making the billions these organizations spend more visible to the public.Already the preliminary work is beginning to surface.
On Thursday the Council on Foreign Relations made public its study of the U.S. intelligence systems. Among the group's recommendations: make the overall intelligence budget figure public; broaden the authority of the director of central intelligence; don't count on an "intelligence dividend" due to the end of the Cold War - these agencies still have much to do.
The council also recommended taking "a fresh look" at a 1977 regulation that bars CIA agents from posing as American journalists, priests and Peace Corps volunteers, or recruiting people in those posts to serve as spies.
But The Washington Post, quoting an unnamed intelligence source, reported Friday that the CIA has occasionally waived the regulation over the last 19 years.
"Exceptions have been made in extraordinarily rare circumstances," the official told the Post. No specific cases were disclosed.
While most government budgets are open to inspection line by line, even the bottom-line budgets of agencies such as the CIA and the National Reconnaissance Office remain classified - a point of ongoing controversy.
"Annual funding for the intelligence community should be declassified, as should information on basic elements of the intelligence program," the council concluded.
But in a speech Thursday before the American Bar Association, Martin Faga, former head of the NRO, defended continued concealment of the reconnaissance office's budget.
Adversaries who know how much an intelligence agency spends, and how spending changes, gain important insights, said Faga, senior vice president of MITRE Corp.'s intelligence systems division. He headed the NRO, the agency that operates the nation's spy satellites, from 1989 to 1993.
"How big that activity is, whether it's actually going up or down, can yield valuable information to others," Faga said.