Posts from March, 2007

A Memoir of Chemical Weapons Research

Beginning in the mid-1950s, the U.S. Army conducted research involving thousands of human subjects on various chemical agents, including LSD, BZ and marijuana derivatives, to assess their utility for chemical warfare applications.

Now one of the leading participants in that enterprise, Dr. James S. Ketchum, has published a memoir entitled “Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten.”

“It is a detailed autobiographical reconstruction of the Edgewood Arsenal program of evaluating possible incapacitating agents in human volunteers (enlisted men) during the 1960s,” he told Secrecy News. “It reveals facts buried in restricted archives for many years and includes a voluminous appendix of research data acquired, much of which has not previously been released to the public.”

The self-published volume is a candid, not entirely flattering, sometimes morbidly amusing account of a little-documented aspect of Army research.

“I had early misgivings that my [manuscript] might raise some red flags in [the Army] Security Office, but was pleasantly surprised when none appeared,” he writes.

Among other things, Dr. Ketchum co-authored the chapter on incapacitating agents in the CBW volume of Textbook of Military Medicine.

“Definitely someone to take seriously,” a colleague of Secrecy News wrote. “Although I expect to disagree with much of his opinion, the historical information will be very useful, much of it not available elsewhere.”

Further background and book order information is available here.

Evaluating Classified Biodefense Research

“Classified research constitutes a much smaller portion of the U.S. biodefense program than many might suspect,” according to Gerald L. Epstein, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Nevertheless, classified DHS biodefense research will constitute one of the most controversial parts of the U.S. biodefense program,” he observed in Congressional testimony (pdf) earlier this month.

“Even more so than in other areas of science, the biological sciences have enjoyed a tradition of openness and international collaboration–and this heavy presumption of openness should continue. Since disease continues to kill millions of people around the world each year, any restrictions on relevant scientific knowledge could have serious consequences,” he told a House Science Subcommittee.

“Yet the existence of hostile, witting adversaries that are determined to wreak devastation and that are known to be interested in biological weapons mandates that this openness not be absolute.”

In March 8 testimony (at pp. 6-8), Dr. Epstein presented his views on how to reconcile these conflicting imperatives.

The Wikipedia Factor in U.S. Intelligence

The collaboratively written online encyclopedia Wikipedia, created in 2001, has steadily grown in popularity, credibility and influence to the point that it is now used and referenced in U.S. Government intelligence products.

A March 19 profile of Indian Congress Party Leader Rahul Gandhi prepared by the Open Source Center (OSC) of the Office of Director of National Intelligence is explicitly derived from “various internet sources including wikipedia.org.” A March 21 OSC profile of Rajnath Singh, president of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party, is likewise “sourced from wikipedia.org.”

An OSC report last year on the leader of the terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Prabhakaran, noted that he and his wife “have two children, a girl and a boy. According to wikipedia.com, the boy is named Charles Anthony and the girl, Duwaraha.”

The relatively new attentiveness of U.S. intelligence agencies to Wikipedia and other unorthodox sources (including fas.org) seems like a healthy development. Of course, like any source and moreso than some, Wikipedia cannot be used uncritically.

Last December, according to another OSC report, a participant in an online jihadist forum posted a message entitled “Why Don’t We Invade Wikipedia?” in which “he called on other participants to consider writing articles and adding items to the online Wikipedia encyclopedia…. and in this way, and through an Islamic lobby, apply pressure on the encyclopedia’s material.”

For various topics related to space physics, “Wikipedia was the most complete source of information” compared to other highly ranked web sites, according to an article in the American Geophysical Union’s Eos magazine (13 March 07) by Mark B. Moldwin, et al. But some Wikipedia entries on space physics, the authors found, also contained mistaken use of terminology, factual errors and omissions.

“Wikipedia lets anyone write or edit it, which of course makes it vulnerable to vandalism–as when a picture of the evil Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars briefly adorned the entry for the new Pope [Benedict],” notes Eric Rauchway in The New Republic Online (March 21).

Congressional Testimony of Presidential Advisers (CRS)

The suggestion that it would be inherently inappropriate for presidential advisers to testify under oath before Congress regarding the firing of U.S. attorneys was swiftly batted down with numerous references to a 2004 Congressional Research Service report (pdf) on the subject.

CRS analyst Harold C. Relyea identified dozens of cases in which presidential advisers had been summoned to testify to Congress, and did so. See “Presidential Advisers’ Testimony Before Congressional Committees: A Brief Overview,” April 14, 2004.

Various Resources

The Office of Naval Intelligence has published an unclassified assessment of Chinese naval forces, which have been modernizing and growing in capability over the past decade. See “China’s Navy 2007″ (pdf), March 2007. Update: The new ONI report was analyzed by Hans Kristensen of FAS over at the Strategic Security Blog.

The National Intelligence Council released an April 2006 “Annual Report to Congress on the Safety and Security of Russian Nuclear Facilities and Military Forces.”

U.S. Army space operations in the 2015-2024 timeframe are considered in a recent Concept Capability Plan from U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. See “Space Operations: 2015-2024,” 15 November 2006 (pdf).

Military doctrine to support joint operations with foreign military forces is addressed in a new Joint Chiefs of Staff publication. See “Multinational Operations,” Joint Publication JP 3-16, 7 March 2007 (pdf).

Archivists Divided Over Handling of Govt Financial Records

Behind closed doors at the National Archives, an acrimonious debate has unfolded over whether and how to dispose of records generated by Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) at executive branch agencies.

What is at stake is the proper identification and preservation of historically significant government financial records, some of which have already been lost.

A proposed “General Records Schedule” (GRS) that would authorize the disposal and destruction of various CFO records is “fundamentally flawed,” wrote one Archives analyst last year.

“I really cannot say anything positive about this proposed GRS,” wrote another analyst, in internal comments. “It is flawed, troubling, and misleading.” It is “unimplementable” and “will lead to the destruction of permanent records.”

“This proposal is ill-considered, ill-conceived, and should be terminated with extreme prejudice,” said a third.

But another Archives official said the “extremely aggressive tone to the argument” shows that those critics’ judgment has been “clouded” because they were not consulted in advance.

As a general matter, no one doubts that the overwhelming majority of government records lack permanent historical value and are properly destroyed. What is at issue in this dispute is whether the proposed schedule for destruction of financial records properly recognizes the enduring value of some CFO records.

The functions of agency Chief Financial Officers “are not routine, administrative, housekeeping operations traditionally covered by a [General Records Schedule],” one internal NARA critic insisted. “Prima facie, it is doubtful that there should be a GRS for the office of Chief Financial Officer.”

But the proposal is nevertheless moving forward.

In a February 22 Federal Register notice, NARA announced the availability for public comment of a disposition schedule for CFO records. A copy is here (pdf).

As a result of the debate of the past several months, the revised proposal adds several new caveats. It acknowledges that some CFO records are permanent, not temporary, and that they must be preserved; it specifies that the proposed schedule would apply to certain types of CFO components and not to others; and it notes that some CFO records are already subject to existing schedules that take precedence over the new proposal.

Under the circumstances, then, the remaining question is whether the proposed schedule will provide increased clarity and flexibility, as intended, or whether it will generate new confusion and inadvertent loss of historically valuable records.

A cross-section of internal NARA comments on the proposed schedule as of September 2006, only some of which were resolved by the latest draft, is posted here (pdf).

Some basic financial records of the United States Government have already been lost to history.

“We are unable to locate a document containing, or a series of documents from which we may deduce, the aggregate U.S. intelligence budget figure for Fiscal Year 1947 [or Fiscal Year 1948],” wrote the CIA’s Kathryn I. Dyer in 2003 in response to a Federation of American Scientists lawsuit.

Selected CRS Reports

Some noteworthy recent products of the Congressional Research Service include the following (all pdf).

“The Whistleblower Protection Act: An Overview,” March 12, 2007.

“China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress,” updated February 7, 2007.

“Data Security Breaches: Context and Incident Summaries,” updated January 29, 2007.

“Bolivia: Political and Economic Developments and Implications for U.S. Policy,” updated January 26, 2007.

“The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS),”
updated January 25, 2007.

Document Denied: DHS Boosts Cooperation with Russian Intel

Two new U.S. Secret Service agents are to be stationed in Moscow this year, in accordance with a secret memorandum of understanding between the Department of Homeland Security and Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), one of that country’s foreign intelligence agencies. (Correction: The FSB focuses primarily on internal security. Russia’s principal foreign intelligence agency is the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki or SVR.)

The four-page memorandum of understanding was signed in November 2006 by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and the FSB Director.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists, DHS denied (pdf) the release of any portion of the document, citing FOIA exemption (7)(E) which protects law enforcement information.

The denial is being appealed. DHS officials have independently disclosed some of the contents of the memorandum.

Information about the document was first reported last December by Russia’s Tass News Agency. The DHS-FSB memorandum “envisages the exchange of information between the two sides on border control and related matters,” according to a Tass report.

DHS Acting Assistant Secretary Paul Rosenzweig described the agreement in a December 20, 2006 briefing.

“One of the products of [the new memorandum] is that either already or within the new year there will be two new Secret Service agents stationed in Moscow. [The Secret Service is now a DHS component -- SN] That’s a return to a post that has been vacant for quite some time which we’re very pleased about. There remain several other DHS people there already.”

“With Russia in particular, there’s been some very strong positive movement in the past six months, as reflected by the signing of this agreement,” Mr. Rosenzweig said.

House Adopts Open Govt Bills

The House of Representatives yesterday adopted a slate of open government bills by large, veto-proof majorities in the face of sharp opposition from the Bush White House.

“Today, Congress took an important step towards restoring openness and transparency in government,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, who expeditiously moved the bills through his Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“Over the past six years, the Bush Administration has done everything it can to operate in secret, to avoid public scrutiny, and to limit congressional oversight,” Rep. Waxman said. “I am pleased that Congress is reversing this course by passing four critically important good government bills with strong bipartisan support.”

The vote coincided with Sunshine Week, a national campaign by media organizations and others to promote values of openness and accountability.

The House debate on amendments to the Freedom of Information Act, adopted by a vote of 308-117, is here. The White House statement of opposition is here (pdf).

The debate on provisions to strengthen whistleblower protections (adopted 331-94) is here. The White House opposition is here (pdf).

The House debate on amendments to the Presidential Records Act which, among other things, would nullify President Bush’s executive order on the subject (adopted 333-93) is here. And the White House statement of opposition is here (pdf).

A fourth bill adopted by the House would require increased disclosure of donors to presidential libraries.