The Intelligence Science Board (ISB), an advisory panel established to ensure independent scientific advice to the US Director of National intelligence (DNI), is being abolished. The abolition raises concerns about a possible loss of independent advice to government on topics ranging from nuclear physics to forensics to the psychology involved in interrogation practices.
Although many of its recommendations are secret, the ISB is best known for a 2006 report which found that there was no evidence supporting the use of “coercive interrogation” or torture. The report showed “independent judgment as well as immediate policy relevance,” says the Federation of American Scientists Secrecy blog, run by Steven Aftergood, which first reported on the ISB’s disbandment.
The abolition appears to be part of an efficiency sweep by newly appointed DNI James Clapper, who was sworn in August. The philosophy behind the sweep is inspired by the findings of the 9-11 Commission, which concluded that the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 were not prevented in part because the US intelligence community was divided into multiple, competing agencies that ought to be better integrated. In a transcript of remarks made by Clapper on October 6th, Clapper described a programme of sweeping intelligence reform but was short on specifics: “when I think about the state of total intelligence reform I’m focusing on integration, the merging of collection and analysis – particularly at the ODNI level – analytic transformation, analytic integrity, acquisition reform, counterintelligence, which is big on my agenda – and information sharing, of course.”
According to additional reporting by Nature, Budget constraints may also be playing a role in a move to cut back on advisory boards in the military and intelligence communities, even though human advice is actually relatively inexpensive when compared with military hardware.
An important question will be how Clapper intends to balance his desire for a more streamlined operation with the need for independent scientific advice. Nature has a request for comment on that issue pending with his office.
Image: James Clapper’s Speech of Oct 6th / DNI Office