Posts from October, 2006

The Stealth Satellite Mystery

The use of stealth techniques and technologies to reduce the signatures of intelligence or military satellites a subject that seems to be properly classified, for the most part. But it has also left discernable traces in the public domain.

Those traces were assembled by Allen Thomson in his Stealth Satellite Sourcebook (pdf), which has been recently updated (148 pages, 7 MB PDF file).

See also “Stealth satellites: Cold War myth or operational reality?” by John Croft, C4ISR Journal, October 4, 2006.


A newly enacted law requires the creation of a publicly searchable online database of government grants and contracts. The implications of that law and the challenges ahead were explored by the Congressional Research Service in a new report. See “The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act: Background, Overview, and Implementation Issues” (pdf), October 6, 2006.

An impressive prototype of such a public database,, was unveiled this week by the public interest group OMB Watch.

Also new from CRS is “Nuclear Weapons: Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty” (pdf), updated October 3, 2006 (prior to the North Korean nuclear test).

New Military Doctrine

The steady stream of new military doctrinal and other publications includes several items which will be of interest and importance to some Secrecy News readers.

“Counterland Operations” (pdf), Air Force Doctrine Document 2-1.3, 11 September 2006, refers to the use of U.S. air and space assets against enemy land-based forces.

Security for U.S. ships crossing the Panama Canal is the subject of a new Navy Instruction. “Vessels transiting the Panama Canal encounter situations in which they are isolated from any forces of the United States which could provide additional security if required. These instances provide an opportunity for unfriendly agents to harass or damage a vessel, or potentially embarrass the United States.” See “Definition and Security Requirements for High Value Transits of the Panama Canal” (pdf), OPNAV Instruction 3100.9A, October 2, 2006.

The U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s “Operational Law Handbook” (pdf) has recently been updated (August 2006). The Handbook “provides references and describes tactics and techniques for the practice of operational law….[and is intended to] help judge advocates recognize, analyze, and resolve the problems they will encounter in the operational context.”

New Military Dictionaries

“If you would converse with me,” Voltaire is supposed to have said, “define your terms!”

Several new military dictionaries make it easier to define elusive or obscure military terms.

The Department of Defense has updated (for the second time this year) its massive “Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms,” Joint Publication 1-02, through 17 September 2006 (752 pages, 2.2 MB PDF file).

It explains that a “blast wave,” for example, is “a sharply defined wave of increased pressure rapidly propagated through a surrounding medium from a center of detonation or similar disturbance.”

But what is it in French?

For that one must turn to another new dictionary prepared by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which not only defines thousands of military terms (“blowback,” “laser guided weapon,” etc.) but also provides translations into Voltaire’s language.

So, one learns, “blast wave” is “onde de souffle.”

See “NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions (English and French),” North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 2006 (344 pages, 3.5 MB).

And for good measure there is also a new “NATO Glossary of Abbreviations Used in NATO Documents and Publications,” 2006 (432 pages, 1.4 MB).

An Assertive New National Space Policy

Updated Below

The Bush Administration has issued a new National Space Policy that stresses unilateral American freedom of action in space. The new policy is intended to “enable unhindered U.S. operations in and through space to defend our interests there.”

The policy affirms “the use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity.”

But it declares that the United States will “take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests.”

The policy, which supersedes a 1996 Presidential Decision Directive, was almost certainly promulgated in a National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD), which has not been publicly disclosed. Instead, a ten page unclassified summary was released late last week.

In large part, the new policy tracks closely with the previous Clinton policy. But it also departs from it in significant and surprising ways.

The previous policy prudently reserved judgment “on the feasibility and desirability of conducting further human exploration activities” beyond the International Space Station in Earth orbit.

But in a rhetorical flight of fancy, the new Bush policy purports to adopt a new national “objective of extending human presence across the solar system,” no less.

Like the earlier policy, the new policy continues to authorize the sometimes controversial use of nuclear power sources in space, but it also goes on to prescribe approval procedures for the extremely improbable scenario of “non-government spacecraft utilizing nuclear power sources.”

The 1996 policy stated that “Space nuclear reactors will not be used in Earth orbit without specific approval by the President or his designee.” This provision seemed to embrace a 1989 proposal by the Federation of American Scientists and others to ban nuclear reactors in orbit as a means of forestalling deployment of high-power orbital space weapons.

The new policy rejects that or any other infringement on unilateral U.S. freedom of action.

“The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space,” the Bush policy warns.

The new policy also addresses the problem of space debris, and the classification and declassification of space-related defense and intelligence information, among other important topics.

The text of the 1996 National Space Policy may be found here.

A September 26 NASA Notice on the development of Advanced Radioisotope Power Systems may be found here.

The FAS proposal to ban nuclear reactors in Earth orbit was introduced in “Space Reactor Arms Control” (pdf) by Joel Primack, et al, in Science and Global Security, Volume 1 (1989).

Update: The goal of “extend[ing] human presence across the solar system” is not new to this National Space Policy, but has precursors in Reagan and Bush I Administration policies, several readers point out. And the identical language appeared in the 2004 Vision for Space Exploration, as noted by Jeff Foust in Space Politics.

DoD Issues Doctrine on Coping with WMD Attacks

With the failure to stop and reverse the spread of nuclear weapons, military planners do not have the luxury of ignoring the possibility that such weapons might be used against military or civilian targets, abroad or at home.

A new Department of Defense doctrinal publication (pdf) defines policies and procedures for managing “the consequences from all deliberate and inadvertent releases of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear agents or substances, and high-yield explosives with potential to cause mass casualties and large levels of destruction.”

See “Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High-Yield Explosives Consequence Management,” Joint Publication 3-41, Joint Chiefs of Staff, October 2, 2006.

Another new DoD policy addresses protection of military installations “against terrorist use of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high explosive weapons.” See “DoD AntiTerrorism Standards” (pdf), DoD Instruction 2000.16, October 2, 2006.

And a recent DoD Directive offers a new glimpse of the organization of U.S. nuclear command and control. See “U.S. Nuclear Command and Control System Support Staff” (pdf), DoD Directive 3150.06, August 25, 2006.

Intelligence Information Sharing Lags, Officials Say

Five years after September 11, the government’s capacity to share intelligence and threat information with state and local officials (not to mention the public) remains sub-optimal, some of those officials complain.

“Much of the needed intelligence information is locked away from those who need it in the field or on the scene because of outdated cold war mentalities regarding classification of intelligence information,” said Illinois State Police Col. Kenneth Bouche (pdf) at a September 7 hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee.

“Critical information must be unclassified and disseminated appropriately if it is to be of any use in preventing domestic terrorism,” he said.

“The federal government must work towards a goal of declassifying information to the maximum extent possible,” Col. Bouche urged.

The Democratic staff of the House Homeland Security Committee issued a report last week proposing seven initiatives aimed at “improving information sharing between the intelligence community and state, local, and tribal law enforcement.”

See “LEAP: A Law Enforcement Assistance and Partnership Strategy” (pdf), September 28.

Senate Bill Would Enable GAO to Aid Intelligence Oversight

A bill introduced by Congressional Democrats would empower the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to perform financial audits and other oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies, a function that those agencies have long resisted.

“Since 9/11, effective [intelligence] oversight is needed now more than ever,” said Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) in a September 28 floor statement.

“However, now the Congress cannot do its job properly, in part, because its key investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, is not given adequate access to the intelligence community.”

“Unfortunately, the intelligence community stonewalls the GAO when committees of jurisdiction request that GAO investigate problems,” Sen. Akaka said.

“If the GAO had been able to conduct basic auditing functions of the CIA, perhaps some of the problems that were so clearly exposed following the terrorist attacks in September 2001 would have been resolved. And yet, it is extraordinary that five years after 9-11 the same problems persist,” he said.

He introduced two related Congressional Research Service memoranda into the Congressional Record: one on “Congressional Oversight of Intelligence” and another on “Overview of ‘Classified’ and ‘Sensitive But Unclassified’ Information.”

See Sen. Akaka’s full September 28 statement on “The Intelligence Community Audit Act of 2006.”

If nothing else, the Akaka bill may provide a clue as to the direction of intelligence oversight in the future, if Democrats take control of Congress.

Under current leadership, intelligence oversight has fractured and decayed. For the second year in a row, Congress failed to pass an intelligence authorization bill this year.

Congress Imposes Limits on Sensitive Security Information

Congress adopted legislation that limits the ability of the Department of Homeland Security to withhold so-called “sensitive security information” (SSI), which is a category of restricted information related to transportation security.

The 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Act would, among other things, require “the release of certain SSI information that is three years old unless the Secretary makes a written determination that identifies a rational reason why the information must remain SSI.”

The measure was signed into law by the President on October 4.

Former Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R-Idaho), who died this week, once challenged an airport security official who wanted to pat her down before boarding an airliner. She demanded to see the regulation that authorized such an action. The official refused, indicating that it was SSI and could not be shared with a member of the public. Rep. Chenoweth declined to submit, and took a car instead.

I retold this story in “The Secrets of Flight,” Slate, November 18, 2004.

Whether the government can impose such “secret law” is a question that has recently been presented to the Supreme Court by John Gilmore, who was told that he could not have access to the regulation requiring him to show his identification at the airport.