Central Intelligence Agency:

Observations on GAO Access to Information on CIA Programs and Activities

GAO-01-975T: Published: Jul 18, 2001. Publicly Released: Jul 18, 2001.

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Henry L. Hinton, Jr
(202) 512-4300


Office of Public Affairs
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Oversight of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) generally comes from two select committees of Congress and the CIA's Inspector General. GAO has broad authority to evaluate CIA programs. In reality, however, GAO faces both legal and practical limitations on its ability to review these programs. For example, it has no access to some CIA "unvouchered" accounts and cannot compel its access to foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information. In addition, as a practical matter, GAO is limited by the CIA's level of cooperation, which has varied through the years. GAO has not actively audited the CIA since the early 1960s, when it discontinued such work because CIA was not providing it with enough access to information to allow GAO to do its job. The issue has arisen since then from time to time as GAO's work has required some level of access to CIA programs and information. However, given a lack of requests from Congress for GAO to do specific work at the CIA and its limited resources, GAO made a decision not to pursue the issue further. Today, GAO's dealings with the CIA are mostly limited to information requests that relate either to governmentwide reviews or analyses of threats to U.S. national security on which the CIA might have some information. The CIA provides GAO with the requested information, provides the information with some restrictions, or does not provide the information at all. In general, GAO is most successful in obtaining CIA information when it requests threat assignments and when the CIA does not perceive GAO's audits as oversight of its activities.

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