Posts from August, 2006

MANPADS Report Withdrawn from FAS Web Site

A July 31 Department of Homeland Security report to Congress on the status of defenses against shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles was removed from the Federation of American Scientists web site after DHS objected (pdf) to its publication.

DHS urged that the unclassified report, marked “For Official Use Only,” be taken offline and, upon consideration, we agreed to do so.

“The Report has never been released by DHS to the public because it contains sensitive information such as the transition of military technology for potential civil use, systems performance of the prototype systems being developed by DHS and its partners, and the reliability of such prototype systems,” wrote DHS deputy associate general counsel William H. Anderson.

“Due to the sensitive nature of the Report, I request that your organization immediately remove the Report from its website.”

“If the Report is not removed from your website within 2 business days, we will consider further appropriate actions necessary to protect the information contained in the Report,” Mr. Anderson wrote in an August 9 letter.

“You took it offline? I’m surprised,” said one Congressional staffer who obtained the DHS report to Congress via FAS.

He said that executive branch restrictions on unclassified information had become a growing hindrance to Congressional oversight. If the document is really sensitive, he suggested, “it should be classified.”

Our intention is to review the document in light of the concerns expressed by DHS. Following such review, the document or portions of it may be restored to our web site.

A Postscript on Mobile Iraqi BW Labs

Did U.S. intelligence analysts actually “replicate” the mobile biological weapons laboratories that were supposedly deployed by Saddam Hussein, as stated in the Silberman-Robb Commission report?

Arms control expert Milton Leitenberg of the University of Maryland posed this question earlier this year.

Based on his own investigations, he has now concluded that there was no such replication of the supposed mobile BW labs.

“No mock-up containing the pieces of equipment shown in the drawings appears to have been produced, and no biological agent or simulant was produced.”

“Apparently the drawings [used in Secretary Powell's 2003 UN presentation] were all that was ever prepared.”

“These self-conceived and self-imagined illustrations were all the ‘evidence’ that the United States government had to give to Secretary of State Powell to place before the United Nations and the world to support the claim that Iraq had mobile biological weapon production platforms…,” Dr. Leitenberg wrote.

See “Further Information Regarding US Government Attribution of a Mobile Biological Production Capacity by Iraq” by Milton Leitenberg, August 2006.

Nasrallah: A Self-Portrait

“I have been reading [former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon’s biography for a while now, and I am going to read the book again.”

So said Hizbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah in an autobiographical note published last week in a Tehran magazine.

In a discussion of his political objectives, he seemed to exclude the possibility of establishing an Islamic Republic in Lebanon.

“Establishing an Islamic Republic is not possible with force and resistance. It requires a national referendum. A referendum that wins 51 percent of the vote is still not the solution. What it needs is a referendum for which 90 percent of the people vote.”

But about 40% of the Lebanese population is Christian.

“Hence, with this assumption, and in view of the status quo, establishing an Islamic Republic system in Lebanon is not possible at the present time,” he said.

See “Seyyed Hasan Nasrallah’s Autobiography,” Ya Lesarat Ol-Hoseyn (Tehran), translated by the DNI Open Source Center, August 10.

In a recent U.S. Treasury Department tabulation of hundreds of terrorist and criminal organizations and individuals, Nasrallah is listed with his passport number and date of birth — August 31. But for some reason his year of birth is given variously as 1953, 1955, 1958 or 1960 (noticed by Amir Oren of Haaretz).

Most news accounts indicate that his year of birth is 1960, though some suggest, probably incorrectly, that he has already turned 46.

Recipients of “Leaks” May Be Prosecuted, Court Rules

In a momentous expansion of the government’s authority to regulate public disclosure of national security information, a federal court ruled that even private citizens who do not hold security clearances can be prosecuted for unauthorized receipt and disclosure of classified information.

The ruling (pdf) by Judge T.S. Ellis, III, denied a motion to dismiss the case of two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who were charged under the Espionage Act with illegally receiving and transmitting classified information.

The decision is a major interpretation of the Espionage Act with implications that extend far beyond this particular case.

The Judge ruled that any First Amendment concerns regarding freedom of speech involving national defense information can be superseded by national security considerations.

“Although the question whether the government’s interest in preserving its national defense secrets is sufficient to trump the First Amendment rights of those not in a position of trust with the government [i.e. not holding security clearances] is a more difficult question, and although the authority addressing this issue is sparse, both common sense and the relevant precedent point persuasively to the conclusion that the government can punish those outside of the government for the unauthorized receipt and deliberate retransmission of information relating to the national defense,” Judge Ellis wrote (p. 53).

The provisions of the Espionage Act are not impermissibly overbroad or unconstitutional, the Judge ruled, because they are limited by the requirements that the prohibited behavior be both knowing and willful.

“The government must… prove that the person alleged to have violated these provisions knew the [restricted] nature of the information, knew that the person with whom they were communicating was not entitled to the information, and knew that such communication was illegal, but proceeded nonetheless.”

“Finally, with respect only to intangible information [as opposed to documents], the government must prove that the defendant had a reason to believe that the disclosure of the information could harm the United States or aid a foreign nation….”

“So construed, the statute is narrowly and sensibly tailored to serve the government’s legitimate interest in protecting the national security, and its effect on First Amendment freedoms is neither real nor substantial as judged in relation to this legitimate sweep,” Judge Ellis wrote (p. 63).

Others will disagree.

For example, the classified 2004 report of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison clearly fit the court’s description of national defense information that is closely held by the government. Moreover, its unauthorized disclosure was likely to, and did in fact, harm the United States. And yet that disclosure also served an important national purpose in prompting a public debate over U.S. policy on prisoner detention and interrogation.

But under Judge Ellis’ new interpretation, those reporters and others who communicated this information to the public could apparently be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

Judge Ellis concluded his opinion by noting that the provisions of the Espionage Act “have remained largely unchanged since the administration of William Howard Taft.”

Technological and other changes over the past century “should suggest to even the most casual observer that the time is ripe for Congress to engage in a thorough review and revision of these provisions to ensure that they reflect both these changes, and contemporary views about the appropriate balance between our nation’s security and our citizens’ ability to engage in public debate about the United States’ conduct in the society of nations.”

Air Force Lab Will Not Fund Controversial FOIA Study

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) said this week that it will not administer a grant to a San Antonio, Texas law school to study state freedom of information laws.

In a story that prompted new concerns about official secrecy, USA Today reported last month that the government was going to pay St. Mary’s University School of Law $1 million to reevaluate state freedom of information laws in light of the threat of terrorism.

But the proposed freedom of information study “doesn’t fit with the information research and development that we do,” said Dan Emlin of the AFRL Information Directorate in Rome, New York.

That AFRL Directorate focuses on information technology — including C4I, artificial intelligence, and surveillance technology — but not information policy.

The freedom of information study “was more of a [policy] ‘project’ than bona fide research,” Mr. Emlin told Secrecy News, and “so the [AFRL] Director decided ‘We’re not going to do it’.”

Based on news reports and public statements, the proposed freedom of information study seemed oriented towards new limitations on public disclosure of information.

So, for example, St. Mary’s law school professor Jeffrey Addicott, the lead investigator, told USA Today that “There’s the public’s right to know, but how much?”

“There’s too much stuff that’s easy to get that shouldn’t be,” he added.

(“And plenty of stuff that should be easy to get that isn’t,” the Detroit Free Press objected in a July 26 editorial criticizing the program.)

But Senator John Cornyn, who sponsored the defense budget earmark of funds for the St. Mary’s project, said its purpose was not to increase secrecy.

“In fact, the exact opposite is true. The research will make certain that free flow of information is not unnecessarily hindered by security-driven laws approved by states after Sept. 11, 2001,” he said in a statement on the St. Mary’s web site.

“The study is not designed to assist the Department of Defense, Pentagon or individual States to weaken either State or Federal Freedom of Information Act laws,” according to another statement from the University.

Since the $1 million grant has already been appropriated by Congress in the FY 2006 defense appropriations bill, it is possible that another agency will step forward to administer the award. But with AFRL’s refusal to participate it is not immediately clear which agency that might be.

Defense Intelligence on the Lookout for MANPADS Components

The Defense Intelligence Agency has prepared an illustrated briefing (pdf) on the components of a MANPADS shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile briefing to assist security personnel in identifying such weapons and apprehending those who possess them without authorization.

“An individual cannot legally possess a MANPADS [man-portable air defense system] under federal law,” the DIA briefing notes.

“If you encounter an individual in possession of a piece of equipment that resembles any of the attached photos… please hold and notify the On-Call Intelligence agent.”

The briefing was produced for the Transportation Security Administration by the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center.

See “MANPADS Components,” Defense Intelligence Agency, undated (2002).

A PowerPoint version of the same briefing is available here.

Ethiopia Ratifies Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Ethiopia this week became the 135th country to ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty (CTBT), which prohibits the explosive testing of nuclear weapons.

To enter into force, the CTBT must be ratified by 44 States listed in Annex 2 of the Treaty. So far, 34 of those States have done so.

See “Ethiopia ratifies Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty,” CTBT Organization news release, August 9.

Background, history and current status of the proposed test ban may be found in “Nuclear Weapons: Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty” (pdf), Congressional Research Service, updated June 21, 2006.

Sen. Bond’s Anti-Leak Bill Draws Fire at Home

“Sen. Kit Bond has gone way too far in an effort to curtail the public’s right to information on government operations,” according to one of the leading newspapers in his home state of Missouri.

The Kansas City Star objected to a bill introduced this week by Senator Bond that would outlaw “leaks” or unauthorized disclosures of classified information. A similar provision was vetoed by President Clinton in 2000.

Opponents of such measures argue that the ability of the press to uncover and report on misconduct in classified programs often depends on leaks of classified information, and that reporting on such leaks serves a larger national interest.

So, for example, the fact that “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted” on detainees at Abu Ghraib prison was classified “Secret” when it was first reported by the press. The unauthorized disclosure of these findings, in a leaked copy of a classified report by Army General Antonio Taguba, triggered a series of investigations and continuing public controversy.

“Bond should withdraw his proposal immediately,” the Kansas City Star editorialized today. “It obviously is not well thought out.”

See “Law Would Go Against Ideals of Free Society,” Kansas City Star, August 4 (free but intrusive registration required).

“Over the past few years, we have seen unauthorized disclosures of classified information at an alarming rate,” said Senator Bond on the Senate floor on August 2.

“Each one of the leaks gravely increases the threat to our national security and makes it easier for our enemies to achieve their murderous and destructive plans. Each leak is a window of opportunity for terrorists to discover our sources and methods. Each violation of trust guarantees chaos and violence in the world.”

See the introduction of his bill to prohibit unauthorized disclosures as well as the text of the bill (S. 3774).

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Information Operations in Iraq — What Went Wrong?

Information operations that are designed to influence the perceptions and conduct of enemy combatants and non-combatants can be a highly effective adjunct to military force, but they were not effectively executed by the U.S. military in Iraq, a new U.S. Army monograph (pdf) reports.

Information operations can include military deception, psychological operations, operations security, and electronic warfare.

The Army monograph investigates the role of information operations in Iraq and presents recommendations for changes in doctrine, training, resources and intelligence support.

See “Information Operations in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom — What Went Wrong?” by Major Joseph L. Cox, US Army School of Advanced Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, May 2006 (134 pages, 3.6 MB PDF).