Posts from October, 2006

DoD Suppressed Data on Rising Research Lab Demand

In a report to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission last year, Department of Defense officials selectively withheld data showing that demand for certain DoD research laboratory facilities was likely to increase, not decrease, in coming years.

The suppression of this information on “future excess capacity” appears to have significantly distorted the decision-making process regarding military base closures.

“The [suppressed] data would have made for an awkward situation were it not expunged because it showed that excess capacity will vanish without any BRAC actions taken,” according to a sharply critical November 2005 memorandum (pdf) prepared by Don J. DeYoung, a member of an internal BRAC study group.

A copy of the DeYoung memo as well as the suppressed data on “future excess capacity” at DoD laboratories were independently obtained by Secrecy News.

“It was unethical to expunge critical data from the official process, and then withhold it from the public and the affected DoD workforces,” Mr. DeYoung wrote in his internal memorandum. It may also have been illegal, given a statutory requirement to provide all relevant information to Congress and the BRAC Commission.

Any decision to preserve or to shut down a particular facility is a judgment call that involves consideration of numerous factors.

But because relevant data were withheld, the resulting decisions “lacked integrity,” wrote Mr. DeYoung. “A necessary and appropriate public debate was thereby eliminated.”

The BRAC decision-making process also produced some results that are questionable from a public policy point of view. For example, a decision was made to close a research facility at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey even though it is a leading developer of countermeasures against Improvised Explosive Devices, which are a major threat to U.S. troops in Iraq.

A more detailed account of the DoD suppression of BRAC data on “future excess capacity” is presented in this synopsis.

For links (pdf) to the uncensored version of the report including data on “future excess capacity,” the censored BRAC report as presented to the Commission, the November 2005 DeYoung critique of the process, and a DoD email message suggesting that the suppressed data be classified, see this page.

Resources on Space Policy

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has produced a revised edition of its “basic doctrine” which generally “explains what geospatial intelligence–or GEOINT–is, how it has evolved and how it contributes to our nation’s security.” See “Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) Basic Doctrine,” Publication 1-0, September 2006 (6.2 MB PDF).

The U.S. Air Force watches the skies by means of the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) system. An introduction to GEODSS, its structure, history and contributions, was prepared by Allen Thomson in A GEODSS Sourcebook (4.2 MB PDF).

This week the People’s Republic of China successfully launched two satellites into orbit. Earlier this month, China issued a white paper on “China’s Space Activities in 2006″ (pdf).

Argentina, Arsenic and More from CRS

Some recent reports of the Congressional Research Service which have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).

“The War Crimes Act: Current Issues,” updated October 2, 2006.

“Honduras: Political and Economic Situation and U.S. Relations,” updated October 13, 2006.

“Argentina: Political Conditions and U.S. Relations,” updated October 12, 2006.

“Arsenic in Drinking Water: Regulatory Developments and Issues,” updated October 5, 2006.

“Defense: FY2007 Authorization and Appropriations,” updated September 5, 2006.

“North Korea: Terrorism List Removal?,” updated August 12, 2004.

“Chemical Facility Security,” updated August 2, 2006.

Cultivating Military Leadership in a Democracy

A new U.S. Army Field Manual (pdf) presents a vision of excellence in military leadership and articulates principles by which such excellence may be achieved.

“It is critical that Army leaders be agile, multiskilled pentathletes who have strong moral character, broad knowledge, and keen intellect.”

But in America, the “warrior ethos” is not an independent value, the Army manual explains. Rather, the value of military leadership derives from the constitutional order that it serves and supports.

“The Army’s military and civilian leaders are instruments of the people of the United States.”

Furthermore, the effectiveness of Army leadership is dependent on the quality and wisdom of the elected leaders of the country.

“The elected government commits forces only after due consideration and in compliance with our national laws and values,” the manual says. “Understanding this process gives our Army moral strength and unwavering confidence when committed to war.”

The 200 page manual presents extensive theoretical as well as inspirational material and a bibliography for further study.

See U.S. Army Field Manual FM 6-22, “Army Leadership: Competent, Confident, and Agile,” October 12, 2006 (4.4 MB PDF).

CRS on Arms Sales and Proliferation

Several recently updated reports from the Congressional Research Service, not readily available to the public, provide an introduction to the subject of conventional arms sales and the proliferation of weapons technology (all pdf).

“International Small Arms and Light Weapons Transfers: U.S. Policy,” updated October 2, 2006.

“Military Technology and Conventional Weapons Export Controls: The Wassenaar Arrangement,” updated September 29, 2006.

“Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan: Effects and Countermeasures,” updated September 25, 2006.

“Arms Sales: Congressional Review Process,” December 20, 2002.

Still More from CRS

Some more reports from the Congressional Research Service on diverse topics include the following (all pdf).

“Freedom of Information Act Amendments: 109th Congress,” updated September 22, 2006.

“The Endangered Species Act and ‘Sound Science’,” updated October 5, 2006.

“Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2007,” updated October 10, 2006.

“Globalizing Cooperative Threat Reduction: A Survey of Options,” updated October 5, 2006.

“Iran’s Influence in Iraq,” updated September 29, 2006.

“Project BioShield,” updated September 27, 2006.

ODNI Plan Seeks to Foster Intelligence Community Integration

The U.S. intelligence community can and should form a more integrated whole without its member agencies sacrificing their individual character, according to a Five Year Strategic Human Capital Plan (pdf) from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

“A truly integrated IC is the only answer to the myriad threats that we face,” the newly disclosed June 2006 Plan states.

But “a national intelligence ‘service’ does not depend on or require a monolithic, homogeneous institutional culture, or a one-size-fits-all set of personnel rules and procedures (although some uniformity will undoubtedly be necessary).”

“I absolutely respect the cultures and traditions of the individual agencies,” Ron Sanders, the ODNI Chief Human Capital Officer told Secrecy News. “But this is one team, one fight. We have to come together in an integrated way.”

The 47 page Human Capital Plan accordingly outlines an approach to achieving what it calls “unity without uniformity.”

The term “human capital” (now used in place of “human resources”) encompasses all aspects of personnel management, from recruitment, hiring, salary and benefits, to training, promotion and termination. While it is not an intelligence function per se, it cuts to the core of the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy.

The Plan also provides new insight into a host of challenging intelligence community personnel matters, including workforce diversity, competition with the commercial sector, “generation gaps” within the intelligence community and security clearance policy.

A copy was released today in response to a request from Secrecy News.

See “The US Intelligence Community’s Five Year Strategic Human Capital Plan,” June 22, 2006 (released October 18, 2006).

Patent Office Reports on Invention Secrecy

Under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, the government may impose a secrecy order on patent applications submitted to the Patent Office whenever the disclosure of the inventions described in such applications “might be detrimental to the national security.”

At the end of Fiscal Year 2006, there were 4,942 secrecy orders in effect, a slight increase from the previous year’s total of 4,915, according to data provided to Secrecy News by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office under the Freedom of Information Act (and very promptly, too).

During 2006 itself, 108 new invention secrecy orders were imposed, while 81 were rescinded. The precise character of the inventions that were subjected to new controls could not be ascertained, which is the whole point. However, it should be possible, if logistically challenging, to identify inventions that were formerly subject to a secrecy order but are no longer. We haven’t tried to do so lately. But they typically involve technologies that have specific military applications.

The large majority of invention secrecy orders are imposed on patent applications in which the government has a property interest, perhaps having funded the development of the invention. But each year, there are also so-called “John Doe” secrecy orders which prohibit the disclosure of inventions created by private inventors or businesses where the government has no property interest, thereby raising thorny First Amendment issues. In 2006, there were 29 new “John Doe” invention secrecy orders.

The latest statistics and other background on invention secrecy can be found here.

Attorney General Reports on FOIA

Executive Branch agencies have implemented President Bush’s December 2005 executive order 13392 on improving the processing of Freedom of Information Act requests “in a vigorous manner fully commensurate with the importance of this unprecedented Presidential initiative,” according to an enthusiastic new report to the President (pdf) from the Attorney General.

The President’s order “has had an immediate and widespread positive effect on the operations of the Federal agencies that administer the FOIA,” the report states.

“All 91 federal agencies subject to the FOIA have prepared improvement plans, have refined them wherever necessary, and have posted them on their Web sites for public review,” according to the Justice Department. These and related steps “already have yielded significant results.”

From a public access point of view, however, the results seem less significant, particularly since the executive order did not alter disclosure policy or standards at all. Instead, it sought to improve processing and productivity under the existing disclosure standards, while reducing backlogs.

As a result, some of the reforms of which the new report boasts may loom large within the government, but still appear inconsequential from the outside.

For example, using post cards to acknowledge receipt of FOIA requests instead of more formal letters is a “novel idea,” the Attorney General says in his new report. It “holds great potential for improving the process.” It is “an outstanding idea,” the report strangely insists. “The simple use of postcards rather than standard written letters … could save countless hours.”

Unfortunately, this won’t do. Efficiency, while welcome, is not the same as productivity. And the executive order does little to improve productivity.

So, for example, the Federation of American Scientists sued the National Reconnaissance Office last year to compel that agency to provide unclassified budget data under the FOIA, and Judge Reggie B. Walton of the D.C. District Court ruled in our favor last July and ordered the NRO to process our request.

But although the NRO and its Justice Department representatives were unfailingly “courteous,” as required by President Bush’s executive order, the requested documents have still not been provided. Instead, the Justice Department is now seeking to overturn Judge Walton’s order on appeal. More rudeness would be preferable if it were accompanied by more records.

Even by the yardstick of efficiency, the current FOIA regime shows a certain lack of imagination.

Perhaps the single most important step that agencies could take would be to routinely post FOIA responses on agency web sites. A number of agencies have long archived their FOIA releases in their reading rooms, where they can be manually searched. Other agencies post frequently requested records on their web sites on occasion. But routinely posting such documentary releases, instead of simply providing them to the individual requester, would magnify the utility of the product and enrich the FOIA process. It could be even better than post cards.

See “Attorney General’s Report to the President Pursuant to Executive Order 13,392, Entitled ‘Improving Agency Disclosure of Information’,” October 16, 2006 (1.2 MB PDF).

How Do Editors Decide to Publish Classified Info?

Actual or purported national security secrets are routinely published not only by mainstream news organizations and best-selling authors but also by journals of opinion on the political left and right and the occasional blog. The ability to freely traverse the boundaries of classified government information, with only rare and isolated limitations, is practically a defining characteristic of American journalism.

But how do reporters and editors decide to publish classified information? How do they assess and respond to the concerns of government officials? What are the consequences?

These questions are explored in depth in a long article in the latest issue of American Journalism Review.

See “Judgment Calls” by Rachel Smolkin, AJR, October/November 2006.