Thu, Mar 28, 2002 - Page 8 News List

NSB funds need to be monitored

By Shen Fu-hsiung 沈富雄

The controversy over the secret National Security Bureau (NSB) accounts, triggered by the alleged embezzlement of funds by former NSB chief cashier Liu Kuan-chun (劉冠軍) is snowballing. The prosecutors' treatment of coverage on the matter by Next magazine as a leak of classified information and their search of the magazine's offices have complicated matters further.

It is true that the matter centers around whether the law has been broken. Any legal issues of course have to be clarified, and there is absolutely no need for the DPP to cover up any legal mistakes.

Some legislators have entered into a selfish game with the media, leaking confidential documents and possibly harming national security.

The whole incident has exposed the lack of a system for monitoring intelligence budgets. The root cause of this is that, even after the NSB's existence was acknowledged and formalized, budget allocation and management continued to follow the procedures established during the authoritarian era, making legislative supervision difficult.

There are two ways to strengthen the supervision of intelligence activities. One way is to strengthen external supervision, and the other is to improve internal control and management procedures. A strengthening of external supervision by means of laws regulating the protection of state secrets and the oversight of state intelligence is being widely discussed, as are both the setting up of a group for supervising classified budgets under the auspices of the National Defense and the Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Committees, and the establishment of an intelligence supervisory committee. This committee would have the powers to review allocations for each classified budget item. Legislators will be given further supervisory responsibilities, and once a leak of classified information occurs, they will be accountable under criminal law.

Members of the National Defense Committee, however, already review the NSB budget annually at a confidential meeting, but it is still difficult to get a full picture of classified parts of the budget. Difficulties in monitoring secret intelligence budgets have much to do with legislators' lack of expertise. If the legislature establishes an intelligence committee, it will still be fumbling in the dark, just as it does annually in the current confidential meetings. The consequence of this is that it ends up simply providing legal protection for inappropriate classified budgets. Furthermore, legislators have no interest in reviewing the budget-closing process. They have not done so for over a decade and it is therefore impossible to monitor budget execution. If the expertise of legislators is not improved, and if the habit of not reviewing the budget-closing process persists, an intelligence committee will have about as much success rooting out budgetary malpractices as it would trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

Classified intelligence budgets must remain classified because there are parts that cannot be exposed. The intelligence agencies will try to avoid making them public if they can, try to hide them from the legislature if they can, and generally try to deceive if they can. External supervision will only have a limited effect. In the US for example, which may have the world's healthiest supervision of intelligence activities, weapons could still be secretly sold to Iran without congressional approval and profits used to assist the Contras in Nicaragua. A legislative supervisory intelligence committee will still have only limited effects if the NSB and other intelligence agencies deliberately conceal information. The only possible way to reduce malpractice is therefore to strengthen internal control and management procedures. The DPP should show the public its determination for reform.

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