Posts from March, 2007

Bill Seeks Intelligence Estimate on Climate Change

Global climate change “represents a clear and present danger to the security and economy of the United States,” according to a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate yesterday, and it therefore warrants the focused attention of U.S. intelligence agencies.

“For years, many of us have examined global warming as an environmental or economic issue,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). “We also need to consider it as a security concern. Our bill begins this process by requiring a National Intelligence Estimate to assess the strategic challenges presented by the world’s changing climate.”

“In this legislation, we ask for the intelligence community to provide a strategic estimate of the risks posed by global climate change for countries or regions that are of particular economic or military significance to the United States or that are at serious risk of humanitarian suffering,” Senator Durbin said. “This NIE will assess the political, social, agricultural, and economic challenges for countries and their likely impact.”

The new bill is jointly sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

“Senator Durbin and I differ on policy initiatives designed to reduce the impact of climate change,” said Sen. Hagel. “We do agree, however, on the need to assess potential impacts of the changing climate on U.S. national security interests so that our Nation can develop responsible, forward-thinking policies that ensure the continued safety and prosperity of the American people.”

See their March 28 introductory statements and the text of the new bill (S. 1018) here.

Among the eleven “policy coordinating committees” at the National Security Council that were established by President Bush’s National Security Presidential Directive 1 in February 2001 is one on “Global Environment.” But this NSC committee has left no identifiable public trace on U.S. policy.

Geospatial Intelligence Support to Joint Operations

A newly updated doctrinal publication (pdf) from the Joint Chiefs of Staff describes the various types of geospatial intelligence products produced by U.S. intelligence agencies and their role in the conduct of joint military operations.

Geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) includes imagery, maps and other data that characterize a target or area of intelligence interest.

The new publication “covers the foundation and evolution of GEOINT; discusses GEOINT support to operations; provides a complete discussion of the roles and responsibilities for GEOINT; discusses GEOINT in terms of the intelligence process;” and more.

See “Geospatial Intelligence Support to Joint Operations,” Joint Publication 2-03, 22 March 2007 (135 pages, 2.3. MB PDF).

Honey Bee Population Drops Sharply, and More From CRS

A “sharp decline” in the U.S. population of honey bees is examined in a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.

“This phenomenon first became apparent among commercial migratory beekeepers along the East Coast during the last few months of 2006, and has since been reported nationwide,” the CRS report said.

Various potential causes have been postulated, including parasites, pathogens, chemical contaminants, poor nutrition, and “stress.”

The declining bee population is the subject of a hearing today before the House Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture.

See “Recent Honey Bee Colony Declines,” Congressional Research Service, March 26, 2007.

Despite the best efforts of CRS management to impede public access to CRS products, the following CRS reports were obtained by Secrecy News (all pdf).

“Federal Advisory Committees: A Primer,” updated March 20, 2007.

“Critical Infrastructures: Background, Policy and Implementation,” updated March 13, 2007.

“Defense Acquisition: Use of Lead System Integrators (LSIs) — Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress,” March 26, 2007.

Embattled CRS Director Speaks Out on Earmarks

A Wall Street Journal column on March 26 reported that the Congressional Research Service “will no longer respond to requests from members of Congress on the size, number of background of [budget] earmarks.” The new CRS policy, the Journal article alleged, “is helping its masters hide wasteful spending.”

“The article is replete with mischaracterizations of CRS work and policies,” wrote CRS Director Daniel P. Mulhollan in a memo to all CRS staff (pdf). “Such attacks on our independence cannot go unanswered.”

Mr. Mulhollan defended his agency in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, circulated with his March 26 memo. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

The Journal article “gratuitously alludes to issues related to public access to CRS work,” Mr. Mulhollan wrote in his letter. “The restriction on publication of CRS work was established long ago by Congress. CRS internal policies regarding distribution of its products ensure compliance with congressional directives. We leave to Members and committees the discretion to share CRS products how and when they wish.”

“CRS has recently been subjected to much scrutiny because we have not shied away from analysis of controversial issues,” Director Mulhollan told CRS staff.

AIPAC Court Considers “Silent Witness” Procedure

The forthcoming trial of two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who are charged with mishandling classified information “won’t be a closed trial,” said Judge T.S. Ellis III at a March 15 hearing (pdf), notwithstanding some “hyperbolic” suggestions to the contrary.

But there is an open question as to whether the prosecution may employ something called the “silent witness” rule. That refers to the practice of providing evidence to the defense and to the jury, but withholding it from the public.

Such a procedure would amount to “closing” the courtroom in effect, the defense argued, “because, once inside, the public and press would not, in any meaningful sense, actually hear the central evidence in the case.”

The government proposal is “unworkable, prejudicial and fundamentally unfair,” the defense stated in a March 21 motion (pdf). It “will not only make meaningful cross-examination of critical government witnesses impossible, but will send a continuous message to the jury that the information at issue is [national defense information] deserving of protection — the very issue that the jury must itself decide.”

“I have to resolve this significant issue about whether this is really constitutional,” Judge Ellis said on March 15. He ordered additional briefs on the subject from both parties. The defense brief, filed March 21, is here. The government brief, due March 28, is not yet available. The transcript of the March 15 hearing is here.

The closely-watched trial is scheduled to begin on June 4.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that “the FBI was considering expanding its investigation into AIPAC and classified information leaks in early 2005 when the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse fired two staffers already under scrutiny.” See “Defense: Feds eyeballed AIPAC until it cut off Rosen, Weissman” by Ron Kampeas, March 27.

Medical Certification for Unmanned Aircraft Pilots

Though it may sound like one hand clapping, an unmanned aircraft must have a pilot — just not on the plane. And someone has to worry what may happen if the pilot becomes incapacitated.

“Although the term ‘unmanned aircraft’ suggests the absence of human interaction, the human operator/pilot is still a critical element in the success of any unmanned aircraft operation,” according to a new study (pdf) from the Federal Aviation Administration. “For many UA systems, a contributing factor to a substantial proportion of accidents is human error.”

“Regarding the risk of pilot incapacitation, at least a few factors distinguish this risk from manned aircraft,” the study noted. Since the pilot is on the ground, the effects of changes in air pressure can be ignored. Also, many advanced UA systems have procedures for communications failures or “lost data link,” which is “functionally equivalent to pilot incapacitation.” The most advanced systems, such as Global Hawk, “will continue normal flight whether a pilot is present or not.”

The study therefore recommended adoption of a minimal medical certification for pilots, including a waiver process that would also permit handicapped persons to be certified. “This process gives individuals who might not be able to fly manned aircraft an opportunity to receive medical certification for flying an unmanned aircraft.”

See “Unmanned Aircraft Pilot Medical Certification Requirements,” Federal Aviation Administration, February 2007.

Forum: Congressional Access to Classified Info

The ability of Congress to gain access to classified executive branch information, which is the enabling condition for legislative oversight of national security activities, will be discussed at a public forum on March 30.

“What options does Congress have when the executive branch refuses to provide the information it requests? When is it appropriate for Congress to make national security information available to the public and the press?”

These and related questions will be discussed in a keynote address by Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who is now chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence.

Her talk will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Mark Agrast of the Center for American Progress and featuring Eleanor Hill, former staff director of the congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11; Suzanne Spaulding, former minority staff director of the House Intelligence Committee; Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times; and myself.

The event, which is open to the public, will be held at the Center for American Progress, which is co-sponsoring the program along with OpenTheGovernment.org.

A convenient analysis of the underlying issues was provided in “Congressional Access to Executive Branch Information: Legislative Tools” (pdf), Congressional Research Service, May 17, 2001.

Awards of Attorneys’ Fees, and More from CRS

Last year a federal court ruled (pdf) in favor of the Federation of American Scientists in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, finding that the National Reconnaissance Office had unlawfully withheld certain unclassified budget records from disclosure.

Although we won the lawsuit and finally got the records (pdf) this year, we were not entitled to recovery of attorneys’ fees, since we litigated the case without an attorney. Which makes sense. Instead, the government was obliged to reimburse our costs, particularly the $250 filing fee to bring the lawsuit. A check is supposed to be in the mail.

Anyway, the legal practices and procedures governing the award of attorneys’ fees in legal proceedings of all kinds are fairly complicated, with numerous exceptions and qualifications.

A newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service presents what seems to be a comprehensive treatment of the subject (in 123 pages). See “Awards of Attorneys’ Fees by Federal Courts and Federal Agencies” (pdf), updated March 1, 2007.

Some other noteworthy CRS products that are not readily available in other public collections include these.

“Intelligence Issues for Congress” (pdf), updated February 27, 2007.

“China-U.S. Aircraft Collision Incident of April 2001: Assessments and Policy Implications” (pdf), updated October 10, 2001.

Various Resources

In the last quarter, the Department of Energy (DOE) reviewed over 690,000 pages of publicly available records at the National Archives and found 590 pages containing classified nuclear weapons information that it said should not have been disclosed, according to a newly released report to Congress (pdf).

At Congressional direction, DOE has proceeded on the assumption that absolutely no disclosure of classified nuclear information is tolerable, no matter how old or obsolete it may be. This is a poor premise for security policy and it ensures that scarce resources will be diverted from their optimal use.

See the Twenty-Fourth Report to Congress on Inadvertent Disclosures of Restricted Data and Formerly Restricted Data, February 2007 (redacted version released March 2007).

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The U.S. Navy is seeking to expedite its technology development and acquisition practices to meet “urgent capability needs” arising from the “global war on terrorism.”

“The GWOT” — the expansive Bush Administration term for everything from the pursuit of al Qaeda to the attempted suppression of violent sectarian disputes in Iraq — “has generated rapidly evolving military needs that require responsive materiel solutions,” according to a new Navy Notice (pdf).

The March 8, 2007 Notice from the Secretary of the Navy specifies that the Naval Innovation Laboratory (NaIL), a virtual organization, “will bring together, on demand, multidisciplinary teams to develop and deliver rapid, innovative solutions to [an urgent capability need] and will …develop, integrate, test and deliver fieldable prototypes for use by the warfighter.”

See SECNAV Note 5000, “Rapid Development and Deployment Response to Urgent Global War on Terrorism Needs.”

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Recently published hearing records from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence include the following.

“Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States,” February 2, 2006.

“Confirmation Hearing of Kenneth L. Wainstein to be Assistant Attorney General for National Security,” May 16, 2006.

“Confirmation Hearing of General Michael V. Hayden to be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency,” May 18, 2006.

CRS Clamps Down on Public Distribution

In what is being characterized by subordinates as an act of “managerial dementia,” the Director of the Congressional Research Service this week prohibited all public distribution of CRS products without prior approval from senior agency officials.

“I have concluded that prior approval should now be required at the division or office level before products are distributed to members of the public,” wrote CRS Director Daniel P. Mullohan in a memo to all CRS staff (pdf). “This policy is effective immediately.”

While CRS has long refused (with Congressional concurrence) to make its electronic database of reports available to the public online, it has still been possible for members of the press, other researchers, and other government officials to request specific reports from the congressional support agency.

But now, “to avoid inconsistencies and to increase accountability, CRS policy requires prior approval at the division level before products can be disseminated to non-congressionals,” Director Mullohan wrote.

The new policy demonstrates that “this is an organization in freefall,” according to one CRS analyst. “We are now indeed working for Captain Queeg.”

“We’re all sort of shaking,” another CRS staffer told Secrecy News. “I can’t do my work.”

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t talk to someone in another agency, another organization, or someone else outside of Congress and we share information,” the staffer said. “Now I can’t do that?”

A copy of the March 20 memorandum from Director Mullohan, entitled “Distribution of CRS Products to Non-Congressionals,” was obtained by Secrecy News.

It was also reported by Elizabeth Williamson in the Washington Post today.

None of the CRS personnel contacted by Secrecy News was able to explain exactly what prompted CRS Director Mulhollan to issue the policy memorandum this week.

While other parts of government strive to eliminate unnecessary obstacles to information sharing, the new CRS policy may be seen as an experiment in what happens when barriers to information sharing are arbitrarily increased. It probably won’t be good.

With some frequency, CRS analysts contact FAS with requests for information or documents. (A recent CRS report on Chinese naval modernization (pdf) reprinted a large excerpt of an analysis of Chinese submarine patrols by FAS analyst Hans Kristensen.) We haven’t been shy about requesting information or documents in return. And both sides seem to have benefitted.

“More important, Congress has benefitted,” a staffer said. But now such working relationships may be jeopardized.