Intelligence Oversight: An Insider’s Perspective

Colonel Mike Angley

I’ve been hearing the language of Intelligence Oversight (IO) bandied about lately in the media, mostly associated with President Donald Trump and whether the Obama Intelligence Community (IC) spied on him during the campaign. Terms like ‘US Person,’ ‘Incidental Collection,’ and ‘Unmasking’ an identity are being tossed around more than an intern in a Clinton White House. I thought I’d offer some perspective as a former, senior member of the IC about what it all means.

The IO program is a series of guidelines for the IC that span many different aspects of what the community does and help provide a balance between respecting the rights of Americans while ensuring the IC has the tools necessary to do its job. It came about via Executive Order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1980.

During the Vietnam War, in particular, the IC engaged in a variety of collection efforts targeting American citizens who were lawfully exercising their Constitutional rights (free speech, assembly, etc.). The Church Commission, among other panels, recommended changes. President Reagan became that change agent, and his EO is still in effect to this day, having been reaffirmed by all US presidents since.

The term US Person is specifically defined in the EO, and it includes, among others, US citizens, US corporations, and permanent resident aliens. Great care is taken (theoretically) in the IC to ensure that any information collected on US Persons is necessary to the accomplishment of a valid IC mission, that it meets rigid criteria for its collection, and that the least intrusive means necessary is used for that collection.

The latter point is important since it now appears the Obama IC may have conducted electronic eavesdropping of some kind to collect intelligence on the Trump family and campaign. Least intrusive generally means the IC must use publicly available information first, long before it uses other clandestine techniques like wiretaps, electronic snooping, or surreptitious entry. There are laws guiding the methods by which the IC must gain permission to use increasingly intrusive means, and the most intrusive means require court orders (such as a FISA Court warrant).

What is collected, arguably, consumes the most time in IC operations as practitioners seek to ensure they are in compliance with the different criteria that are allowed. The list isn’t terribly exhaustive, but too much for this article. Intentional collection of information about US Persons gets the most scrutiny, so the demands for compliance are high. Incidental collection (where the US Person was not the target but was caught up in the process) gets more forgiveness in the evaluation process.

Regardless of whether the collection of information on US Persons was intentional or incidental, certain procedures must be observed with respect to how long the information is maintained, in what form (masked vs. unmasked identity), and to whom and how it is disseminated.

The general rule – and this is a foot stomp for the Democrat Party’s Propaganda Arm (AKA mainstream media) – information is maintained only for as long as it is necessary to evaluate whether it is a valid collection, masked so as not to disclose US Person identities, and then disseminated only to those with an authorized mission and need to know.

Once information is determined to fail the requirements of IO collection, retention or dissemination, it MUST be destroyed, even if such determination happens before any temporary retention determination date. In other words, information about US Persons is usually retained for no more than 90 days. If on day two or three of its collection, it’s determined it was not an authorized collection, then it’s destroyed on day two or three.

Masked identities are RARELY unmasked since the spirit of IO is to protect the rights of individuals, and casually sharing identities runs counter to that spirit as well as the letter of the EO.

I not only worked programs in the IC where we collected information on US Persons (intentional and incidental), I was in charge of the IO program at the Headquarters of a US IC agency in the 1980s. I am well-versed in the rules and procedures and I’ve been through many oversight inspections by not only the Department of Defense but by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, as well. I offer some perspective as an insider in this process.

From press reporting, it appears there were many, persistent, intrusive violations of IO procedures and EO 12333. It’s one thing to incidentally collect intelligence on a US Person, like Candidate Trump and his family, but it’s another to retain such intelligence beyond its approved (SHORT) shelf life. There also appear to have been numerous violations of the rules for unmasking identities and with how and to whom intelligence was disseminated.

If there had been intentional collection, then the challenge is there for the IC to show that it met the rigid criteria the EO demands. I sincerely doubt it did. I cannot underscore this point enough: I would be shocked if the IC met any valid intentional collection criteria with respect to the Trump family and campaign. Not a single one.

The irony in this is not lost on me either. Consider that the IO rules we have now came about because the IC once spied upon Americans exercising their rights during Vietnam. Today, the IC may have violated these same rules and once again spied upon Americans exercising their rights.

Running for office, giving speeches, holding rallies and the like are all protected by the Constitution. So is forming a Tea Party non-profit organization, but Obama weaponized the IRS to disenfranchise his political opponents and then lied about doing so. Violating the law and EO 12333 doesn’t seem like much of a stretch in light of this.

I hope President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions quickly and decisively get to the bottom of any violations of the EO as well as potentially US laws. Fire all offenders and prosecute accordingly. President Trump was ridiculed for casting aspersions against the IC during the campaign. Perhaps his instincts were spot on. As usual.


Colonel Michael (“Mike”) Angley is retired from the United States Air Force, a published thriller author, and a conservative writer who fashions himself as Attila the Hun with a laptop. Mike wrote for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government and Big Peace blogs before the Breitbart consolidation, receiving superb feedback and kudos for typically weaving in pop culture references with his far right perspectives. He enjoys writing about military affairs, national security issues, and politics and is an avid Second Amendment advocate. When he’s not writing, he’s busy annoying liberals with FaceBook posts and Twitter tweets that point out the obvious flaws and fallacies of the left.

During his 26-year USAF career, the Colonel was a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). The OSI is a sister agency to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and has an identical mission that includes felony-level criminal, fraud, and narcotics investigations as well as counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations. His USAF experiences spanned multiple regions around the globe with five command assignments and duties at foreign, regional, theater and national levels.

He is a seasoned counterintelligence and counterespionage officer from the Cold War era, and if you ask him he’ll tell you the spy-vs-spy days were indeed the heady, glory era of espionage. During the latter half of his career he focused on counterterrorism missions in the Middle East and the Far East and operationalized many of today’s concepts for this unique arena while working the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and a few other “choice” locations. When Colonel Angley retired in 2007, he was a Senior Supervisory Special Agent and was in command of all worldwide OSI matters at Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, CO.

Mike Angley is also a published, award-winning author of three thriller novels in the “Child Finder” trilogy. His debut novel, “Child Finder,” received a glowing review from the Library Journal which placed it on its Summer Reading list in 2009. “Child Finder” and its companion sequel novels all won various awards from the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) and the Public Safety Writers Association. In 2012, Mike was named MWSA’s “Author of the Year,” largely for work on his third novel, “Child Finder: Revelation.”

As an avid user of social media, Mike can be found and friended on Facebook (mike.angley) and followed on Twitter (@MikeAngley). His website is www.mikeangley.com. Following his USAF retirement, Mike and his family stayed in Colorado Springs, CO where they enjoy daily, majestic views of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains.