Posts from May, 2006

Civil Liberties as an Antidote to Violent Extremism

It is often asserted or assumed that American traditions of open government and civil liberties place the United States at a disadvantage in confronting terrorism. But the opposite may be closer to the truth.

“In an open society like ours… it is impossible to protect against every threat,” said President Bush in an August 24, 2005 speech. “That’s a fact we have to deal with. In a free society it is impossible to protect against every possible threat,” implying that it might be possible in a closed or unfree society.

Similarly, according to February 15 testimony (pdf) by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, “terrorists and criminals… would exploit our open society to do us harm.”

And “precious little can be done to prevent [terrorist attacks on soft targets] in a society like ours that rightly values personal liberty so highly,” wrote Clark Kent Ervin, former Homeland Security Inspector General, in a Washington Post opinion piece on May 7.

But a distinctly different perspective was offered by John C. Gannon, former CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

Among the reasons that there has not been another terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, he proposed, are precisely the openness and freedom that some others view with anxiety.

“I believe that the hard-won Constitutional freedoms enjoyed by Americans, along with our unparalleled commitment to civil liberties embedded in law, work against the development of domestic terrorist networks that could be exploited by foreigners,” testified Gannon, who is now a Vice President at BAE Systems Information Technology.

Secrecy News asked Dr. Gannon to elaborate on this point.

“Americans have unparalleled Constitutional and legal protections to express grievances and to openly criticize government at all levels,” he replied in a May 6 email message.

“This doesn’t mean that terrorists wouldn’t try to operate here. It means that the terrorists or other extremists would find less fertile ground to build networks in the US because local support would be harder to come by and because local opposition would be more certain.”

“In this sense, our liberties are a powerful antidote to violent extremism.”

“This is not an academic point for me. It is an observation from a career of watching the domestic consequences of repressive regimes elsewhere in the world–including US-friendly Islamic governments such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt,” Gannon wrote.

The question of whether openness and civil liberties tend to enhance national security or to undermine it is not a theoretical one. Much depends on which one of the two perspectives prevails.

If openness and the rule of law are sources of vulnerability, or viewed as such, then they will be quickly surrendered in the name of security. Torture may be redefined to permit non-lethal abuses, habeas corpus may be suspended, statutes regulating domestic surveillance may be disregarded.

Conversely, if civil liberties and the rule of law are a source of strength, it follows that they should be bolstered and scrupulously upheld even in the conduct of vital security operations.

Secrecy News asked Dr. Gannon whether his views on civil liberties could be reconciled with intelligence programs such as warrantless domestic surveillance.

“The NSA warrantless surveillance program–the details of which are mired in secrecy–should not be seen as a tradeoff between security and civil liberties. But, for this to be true, the program must be bound by law and subject to both judicial review and competent Congressional oversight–the latter now in short supply,” he explained.

“I believe our democracy has the instruments to advance security and protect civil liberties at the same time,” he said.

Rethinking Intelligence Analysis

A paper by Jeffrey R. Cooper on “Curing Analytical Pathologies” (pdf) that was withheld from the CIA web site but posted on the Federation of American Scientists web site last week has now been downloaded tens of thousands of times, suggesting that there is widespread interest in a critical assessment of intelligence analysis.

One of the analytical techniques cited favorably by Cooper (at pp. 48-49) is called “Analysis of Competing Hypotheses” (ACH).

More information about this structured, methodologically rigorous approach to intelligence analysis was presented in a January 2000 paper (pdf) by Air Force MSgt Robert D. Folker, Jr. that was published by the Joint Military Intelligence College. The author compared it with less formal approaches and found that it offered significant advantages.

“At the heart of this controversy is the question of whether intelligence analysis should be accepted as an art (depending largely on subjective, intuitive judgment) or a science (depending largely on structured, systematic analytic methods).”

“Resolving this question is necessary to provide direction and determine an efficient and effective approach to improve analysis,” wrote MSgt. Folker.

“If qualitative intelligence analysis is an art, then efforts to improve it should focus on measuring the accuracy of one’s intuition, selecting those analysts with the best track record, and educating them to become experts in a given field.”

“If, on the other hand, qualitative intelligence analysis is a science, then analysts should be trained to select the appropriate method for a given problem from a variety of scientific methodologies and exploit it to guide them through the analytical process,” he wrote.

Based on empirical tests, the author found reasons to conclude that there is indeed a “scientific” dimension to intelligence analysis that has been neglected, and that intelligence analysis would benefit from more structured approaches.

See “Intelligence Analysis in Theater Joint Intelligence Centers: An Experiment in Applying Structured Methods” by MSgt Robert D. Folker, Jr. (USAF), Joint Military Intelligence College, January 2000.

Selected CRS Reports

Some recent reports of the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News that are not otherwise readily available in the public domain include the following.

“Federal Habeas Corpus: A Brief Legal Overview” (pdf), April 26, 2006.

“Federal Habeas Corpus: An Abridged Sketch” (pdf), April 28, 2006.

“High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) and High Power Microwave (HPM) Devices: Threat Assessments” (pdf), updated April 14, 2006.

“Direct Assaults Against Presidents, Presidents-Elect, and Candidates” (pdf), updated April 5, 2006.

Curing Analytic Pathologies

A new study published by the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence calls for a fundamental reconceptualization of the process of intelligence analysis in order to overcome the “pathologies” that have rendered it increasingly dysfunctional.

“Curing Analytic Pathologies” (pdf) by Jeffrey R. Cooper has been available up to now in limited circulation in hard copy only. Like several other recent studies critical of U.S. intelligence, it was withheld from the CIA web site. It has now been published on the Federation of American Scientists web site.

Author Cooper provides a thoughtful critique that notes the intrinsic difficulties of intelligence analysis and observes how current organizational practices have exacerbated them.

“The Intelligence Community presently lacks many of the scientific community’s self-correcting features,” he writes.

One major impediment to improving analysis is the hypertrophied secrecy practices that prevail in intelligence organizations.

“Unfortunately, the more that evidence and judgments are restricted in dissemination by compartmentation and distribution limitations, the more likely it is that questionable judgments will pass unchallenged.”

Fundamentally, the whole concept of the “intelligence cycle” — referring to the conventional sequence of collection, processing, analysis and dissemination — is misleading, Cooper argues, and should be jettisoned.

“With its industrial age antecedents, it usually conveys the notion of a self-contained ‘batch’ process rather than a continuous spiral of interactions.”

Taking Cooper’s thesis seriously, one could respectfully say that his new study embodies some of the defects in intelligence analysis that he writes about.

Thus, the study presents what is essentially one moment in an ongoing conversation and freezes it in a nicely produced but static document. This reflects the kind of spurious finality that Cooper dismisses as the “conceit of finished intelligence.”

And then the CIA, by disseminating the document in hardcopy only, sharply limited its audience and effectively precluded a “continuous spiral of interactions” regarding its contents.

That last part, at least, can be corrected.

See “Curing Analytic Pathologies: Pathways to Improved Intelligence Analysis” by Jeffrey R. Cooper, Center for the Study of Intelligence, December 2005 (5 MB PDF).

Author Cooper said he would welcome feedback from interested readers. Comments can be posted here on the Secrecy News blog. Alternatively, Cooper’s contact information can be obtained from Secrecy News.

JASON on Quantifications of Margins and Uncertainties

The latest study by the JASON scientific advisory panel to be approved for public release has the forbidding title “Quantifications of Margins and Uncertainties” (pdf).

The meaning of this term is somewhat elusive, as discussed in the report, but it involves a methodology for assessing the reliability of complex technical systems, and specifically the performance and safety of the U.S. nuclear stockpile in the absence of nuclear explosive testing.

After a lengthy review process, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration released the March 2005 report in its entirety in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists.

See “Quantifications of Margins and Uncertainties,” March 23, 2005.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) relied on the JASON report in a recent study on the nuclear weapons stockpile that also included a relatively clear description of QMU.

See “Nuclear Weapons: NNSA Needs to Refine and More Effectively Manage Its New Approach for Assessing and Certifying Nuclear Weapons” (pdf), GAO Report No. GAO-06-261, February 2006.

The somewhat mysterious JASON panel was the subject of Ann Finkbeiner’s well-received new book, “The JASONs: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite.”

CRS Reports That Begin With an “I”

Some notable recent reports of the Congressional Research Service include the following:

“Intelligence Issues for Congress” (pdf), updated April 10, 2006.

“Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses” (pdf), updated April 6, 2006.

“Israel: U.S. Foreign Assistance” (pdf), updated April 26, 2006.

“India-U.S. Relations” (pdf), updated April 6, 2006.

“Indonesia: Domestic Politics, Strategic Dynamics, and American Interests” (pdf), updated April 3, 2006.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Activity Rises Sharply

Electronic surveillance and physical searches conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reached a new record high in 2005, according to the latest annual report to Congress on FISA.

“During calendar year 2005, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approved 2,072 applications for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and physical search,” the new annual report stated.

“The FISC made substantive modifications to the Government’s proposed orders in 61 of those applications. The FISC did not deny, in whole or in part, any application filed by the Government during calendar year 2005.”

In 2004 (pdf), by comparison, there were 1,754 such authorizations.

By definition, these data do not reflect the controversial warrantless surveillance activities that the Bush Administration has conducted outside of the legal framework of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, in what is arguably a criminal violation of the law.

The new annual report to Congress for the first time included data on applications made by the Government for access to business records for foreign intelligence purposes; and on the use of National Security Letters to obtain information concerning United States persons.

See the FISA Annual Report for Calendar Year 2005, dated April 28, 2006.

DISCO Inferno: DSS Won’t Process Security Clearances

In the security policy equivalent of shutting down the government, the Defense Security Service announced Friday that it would no longer process applications from industry for new security clearances or reinvestigations of existing clearances.

“Owing to the overwhelming volume of requests for industry personnel security investigations and funding constraints, the Defense Security Service has discontinued accepting industry requests for new personnel security clearances and periodic reinvestigations effective immediately and until further notice,” DSS said in an “urgent notice” sent to cleared contractor organizations on April 28.

“The Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office [DISCO] will reject any requests that are submitted.”

There are an estimated 800,000 defense industry personnel that hold security clearances, and a steadily growing demand for more.

Three thousand new applications for security clearances have already been put on hold, the Washington Post reported on April 29.

Would-Be NSA Whistleblower Can’t Get Congress’ Attention

There is no excuse for unauthorized disclosures of classified information, it is argued, because whistleblowers who have legitimate complaints about classified government misconduct can use official channels to convey those concerns on a classified basis.

But as a practical matter, those channels are often blocked or ineffectual.

That is what former National Security Agency employee Russell D. Tice discovered when he attempted to initiate contact with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to report what he believed to be “probable illegal conduct” by the NSA.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) did not respond to Mr. Tice’s approach at all.

House Intelligence Committee staffers met with Mr. Tice but concluded that neither they nor any member of the Committee had the requisite security clearances to receive his complaint.

See several letters to Congress (pdf) sent by Mr. Tice last week, summarizing his conundrum.

In an astonishing letter (pdf) sent last January, the NSA itself advised Mr. Tice that the congressional intelligence committees were not cleared to receive his information, which involve Department of Defense Special Access Programs, and that he should not convey any classified information to them without prior coordination.

While affirming “unequivocally” that Mr. Tice has “every right to petition Congress” as “guaranteed to you by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the NSA proceeded to warn Mr. Tice not to contact the committees without first providing a statement of his complaint to the Department of Defense Inspector General or the NSA Inspector General.

Thereafter, the NSA said, he should follow the instruction of the Secretary of Defense “on how to contact the intelligence committees in accordance with appropriate security practices.”

Even More CRS Reports

Some notable recent reports of the Congressional Research Service that have not been readily available to the public include the following:

“China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues” (pdf), updated April 6, 2006.

“Protection of Classified Information by Congress: Practices and Proposals” (pdf), updated April 5, 2006.

“Navy Ship Propulsion Technologies: Options for Reducing Oil Use — Background for Congress” (pdf), April 12, 2006.

“FY2006 Supplemental Appropriations: Iraq and Other International Activities; Additional Katrina Hurricane Relief” (pdf), updated April 14, 2006.

“Immigration Enforcement Within the United States” (pdf), April 6, 2006.

“Patent Reform: Issues in the Biomedical and Software Industries” (pdf), April 7, 2006.

“Oil Shale: History, Incentives, and Policy” (pdf), April 13, 2006.