As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tussles with the White House over expanded intelligence oversight, the Department of Defense quietly and subtly offered Congress an olive branch last week, setting out a formal procedure for the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, to be granted access to special access programs, or SAPs. The change of policy, contained in a directive issued July 1, was first noticed by the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
SAPs exist to provide physical protection for information, operations, capabilities and programs that exceed the level of protection given to information that is classified at the appropriate level.
For example, a memorandum written by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to the White House last year about Afghanistan policy was classified Top Secret and was transmitted to the National Security Council via an encrypted e-mail system. But it wasn't as well protected as a SAP would have been. (It leaked.) Even information that is derived from sensitive intelligence collection techniques, known as Sensitive Compartmented Information, or SCI, are often "less" protected than SAPs, which individually require personnel to sign waivers acknowledging that they're "read in" to the particular program.