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The War on Oversight

Documenting the government’s too-often successful attempts to minimize, evade or even eliminate government oversight.

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Well into the '80s, the CIA was still using polygraphs to root out gay employees

Well into the ‘80s, the CIA was still using polygraphs to root out gay employees

In a 1995 executive order, President Bill Clinton declared that “No inference concerning standards [for government employment] may be raised solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the employee.” Leading up to the decision, the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies had a long history of discrimination against gay employees, viewing their homosexuality as a gateway to blackmail, extortion, and treason.

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How KGB cowboys and a fictional plot against Reagan helped the CIA's war on oversight

How KGB cowboys and a fictional plot against Reagan helped the CIA’s war on oversight

For years, accusations of KGB penetration of the Government Accountability Office helped further the Central Intelligence Agency’s ‘s efforts to pit the Congressional committees against GAO. In the early 1980s, an opportunity presented itself that would deepen these divides without any action from CIA - a conspiracy against President Reagan involving a Soviet diplomat with a penchant for ten gallon hats.

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CIA’s 60 year war with the Government Accountability Office: the conclusion

CIA’s 60 year war with the Government Accountability Office: the conclusion

Since 1949, for 68 of Central Intelligence Agency’s 70 years, the Agency has waged a war against the Government Accountability Office and what CIA described as its “army of auditors.” Not until 2010 was Congress ready to grant GAO that authority, though the provision was dropped under threat of a veto from President Obama. The end result is a hard line that meant the Agency would almost certainly refuse to cooperate at all with any probe that they felt was oversight related. This interactive timeline offers a blow-by-blow of the last seven decades, explaining how and why things got to where they are today.

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CIA’s 60 year war with the Government Accountability Office: the new millennium Part 2

CIA’s 60 year war with the Government Accountability Office: the new millennium Part 2

As a result of the failure by the Senate Intelligence Committee to restore the GAO’s authority to audit or review the Central Intelligence Agency, by the next year that immunity had spread to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which had assumed some of the Agency’s responsibilities in coordinating the Intelligence Community. Like CIA, the ODNI cited a legally dubious position in a 1988 letter from the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel stating that the GAO had no authority to look at anything relating to “intelligence activities.” Also like CIA, the ODNI used a such a broad definition of intelligence activities so that “by definition” they were categorically exempt.

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CIA’s 60 year war with the Government Accountability Office: the new millennium Part 1

CIA’s 60 year war with the Government Accountability Office: the new millennium Part 1

While the 25-year declassification review program hasn’t reached the new millennium yet, contemporary public records still provide some insight into the GAO’s efforts to audit the Intelligence Community in general and Central Intelligence Agency in particular. After its creation and taking on some of the duties that had previously laid with CIA, the ODNI would pay lip service to the GAO and seem to cooperate on some issues. At the same time, it manifested the same problems, ignoring its own guidance and, like the Agency, claim that almost anything was protected as an intelligence source or method.

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