Inside the IOSS

One of the least-known components of the American intelligence community is the Interagency OPSEC Support Staff, or IOSS for short. They provide training, guidance, and a variety of publications to federal agencies, the military, state and local authorities, corporate interests, government and defense contractors… just about everyone, really. Except the general public.

Two of their flagship products are the Intelligence Threat Handbook and the Terrorism Threat Handbook, unclassified reference volumes on OPSEC matters at home and abroad.

A reader of this site some time ago tried to request these two interesting-sounding publications through the FOIA. Actually, he says, he first tried to buy them, but wasn’t “qualified”. After a number of emails, he eventually determined that the NSA is the point of contact for FOIA requests to the IOSS, and sent the appropriately-worded response their way.

I, of course, have had some moderately nice things to say about the NSA’s handling of FOIA and Privacy Act requests in the past, but this reader was less lucky – the NSA, after a couple months, recently denied the request outright (PDF file). The galling part is that, in addition to citing the “exemption” of the NSA Act, which says by law they cannot be compelled to disclose information about their operation, et cetera, they cite as well FOIA exemption (b)(2) – the “internal personnel rules and practices” clause, saying “This exemption has been held to apply to matters that are ‘predominantly internal,’ the release of which would ‘significantly risk circumvention of agency regulations or statutes.'”

Worst of all, perhaps, is that of the (guessing here) six-hundred pages or so, the NSA asserts that “no portion of the information is reasonably segregable,” a claim I am just very slightly skeptical of. Not one page, not one paragraph, is releasable? Wow, those must be some amazing handbooks, right?

Well, it so happens that my Google-fu is strong – or at least stronger than that of my reader, who wasn’t aware – as perhaps the NSA weren’t, either – that the Intelligence Threat Handbook was posted online two years ago by Secrecy News. Thus it is, dear readers, that you and I can all read this “Unclassified – For Official Use Only” publication, wasting our time searching (in vain!) for “internal personnel rules and practices” of the NSA therein. Too, this fortuitous disclosure allows me to present the following paragraph from the introduction to the Handbook, which makes the NSA’s withholding of the document seem all the more ridiculous:

emphasis mine

Unclassified…threat information…drawn entirely from open source reference material and…may be disseminated to the largest possible audience.” (emphasis mine, again.)

One has to wonder whether the FOIA staff even bothered to look at the documents they chose to withhold, or if their infamous historical disposition to release absolutely nothing got the better of them. I’m told that an appeal of this decision is underway, but remain skeptical that the Agency will reverse their initial decision.

Published in: General, Security | on August 27th, 2007| Comments Off on Inside the IOSS

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