Posts from July, 2007

Various DoD Resources

Classification guides are used by government agencies and program managers to translate top-level national security classification policy into specific guidance on what information is to be classified and at what level. There are innumerable such guides, many of which are themselves classified. One recent (unclassified) example that provides a notion of the entire class of documents is an Air Force Classification Guide for the Global Broadcast System (pdf), issued in April 2007.

The potential role of nanotechnology for defense and military applications was assessed in unclassified format in a recent report issued by the Director, Defense Research and Engineering. See “Defense Nanotechnology Research and Development Program” (pdf), April 27, 2007.

“Command and control of air and space power is an Air Force-provided asymmetric capability that no other Service or nation provides,” according to a new U.S. Air Force publication on the subject. See “Command and Control” (pdf), Air Force Doctrine Document 2-8, June 1, 2007.

Fewer New Secrets, But More Classified Documents in 2006

For the second year in a row, the number of new national security secrets created by government officials declined, according to a new report to the President (pdf) from the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO).

At the same time, however, the number of new classified records incorporating previously classified information increased sharply, ISOO found.

While “original classifications” declined by 10%, “derivative classifications” increased by 45%. As a result, combined classification activity grew from 14.2 million classification actions in 2005 to 20.5 million classification actions in 2006.

Meanwhile, the financial costs of protecting classified information in government and industry also grew to a new record high of $9.5 billion in 2006.

Significantly, reviewers reported a “high error rate” in the documents that they examined for compliance with classification procedures.

The finding underscores the need for additional oversight.

“ISOO found a high percentage of documents with an unknown basis for classification, as these documents failed to indicate the authority or basis for classification, thereby calling into question the propriety of their classification.”

More positively, ISOO found that declassification activity increased to meet the December 31, 2006 deadline for automatic declassification of most 25 year old classified documents.

“While a detailed analysis of the final results is still underway, it appears that all Executive branch agencies have succeeded in meeting their obligations toward automatic declassification,” ISOO director J. William Leonard wrote to President Bush.

More than 1.33 billion pages of classified historical records have been declassified since 1995 (including 37 million pages in 2006, a one year increase of 27 percent). Of these, only around 460 million pages are publicly available at the National Archives. Another 400 million pages await processing at the Archives prior to public release, while the remainder are still in agency custody.

“A task that at times appeared to be unattainable has been brought to a satisfactory culmination,” Mr. Leonard wrote.

But the task is not over, he noted, since each year millions more additional records become 25 years old and subject to automatic declassification.

A copy of the 2006 Information Security Oversight Office Report to the President is here.

Once again, the Office of the Vice President declined to cooperate with ISOO last year and to provide data on its classification and declassification activity. It last reported to ISOO in 2002.

Various Resources

An exceptionally interesting July 12 House Intelligence Subcommittee hearing on national security classification policy, featuring William Leonard of the Information Security Oversight Office, Meredith Fuchs of the National Security Archive, and myself, was recorded by C-SPAN and may be viewed online, at least temporarily, here.

In accordance with new legislative transparency provisions, the Senate Intelligence Committee identified three funding “earmarks” in the pending intelligence authorization bill for FY 2008. See these July 9 remarks of Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

The record of a January 2007 hearing on presidential signing statements that was held by the House Judiciary Committee has now been published.

A 1942 U.S. military intelligence document describes “German tactical doctrine” (pdf), based on the accounts of four American officers who were allowed to study at the German General Staff School from 1935-1939. “From their illuminating reports it is possible to learn the trend of German methods and teachings up to Hitler’s attack on Poland,” according to the 1942 Foreword. Originally published in 1989, the document was recently made available online.

Hearing Advances Classification Reform Agenda

Updated below

There are several practical steps that could be taken to improve national security classification and declassification policy, a House Intelligence subcommittee was told yesterday.

In my testimony (pdf) at the July 12 hearing, chaired by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), I presented a menu of actionable proposals for the subcommittee to consider:

Agency inspectors general could be assigned to help oversee classification and declassification activity. A public database of declassified records could be created to enhance access to such records. A new format for National Intelligence Estimates could be adopted to permit broader dissemination of their contents.

The subcommittee members, including chairwoman Eshoo, ranking minority member Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), expressed satisfaction with the proposals. Several of the ideas, the members noted, could be quickly adopted, and would not require new appropriations or establishment of new organizations.

Additional insights into the current state of classification and declassification policy were provided at the hearing by Meredith Fuchs, general counsel at the National Security Archive, and J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office.

Mr. Leonard’s statement previewed some of the findings of the 2006 ISOO Annual Report to the President, which is due to be released later today or Monday.

Update: The hearing was recorded by C-SPAN and may be viewed here. The 2006 ISOO Annual Report is here (pdf).

Government Secrecy: Decisions Without Democracy

The expansion of official secrecy now poses a challenge to basic democratic processes, argues a new report (pdf) from and People for the American Way.

In a highly readable account, the report explains why openness is a virtue, explores how secrecy impedes public deliberation, and considers what can be done about it.

“As Congress and the White House clash over this administration’s unprecedented secrecy, Americans need to know the full scope of the problem,” said Patrice McDermott, director of “It is up to us, with and through our elected officials, to preserve our heritage of open and accountable government.”

See “Government Secrecy: Decisions without Democracy,” written by David Banisar, July 2007.

Legacy of Ashes

Upon publication this month, “Legacy of Ashes” by Tim Weiner of the New York Times has all at once become the best single source on the history of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The book synthesizes entire shelves of prior studies, and surpasses them with the fruits of deep archival research and two decades of on-the-record interviews. The detailed endnotes provide pointers for further investigation.

Somewhat oddly, the book is framed as a “warning.”

“It describes how the most powerful country in the history of Western civilization has failed to create a first-rate spy service. That failure constitutes a danger to the national security of the United States,” Mr. Weiner writes.

The implication here is that the standard for excellence has been set by another intelligence agency, one that unlike CIA is “first rate.” If so, it would be interesting to know which agency that is. (Not the KGB, certainly, nor the SIS or Mossad.)

If not, and if there is no consistently “first rate” intelligence service, then the problem may lie in an exaggerated expectation that any secret intelligence service can reliably “see things as they are in the world.”

Durbin Moves to Cut Funding for Vice President

A pending Senate bill would suspend funding for the Office of Vice President next year unless Vice President Cheney agrees to comply with the oversight provisions of the executive order on classification, something he claims he is not obliged to do.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services, included language in the pending appropriations bill to suspend the funding after the Vice President failed to respond to the Senator’s June 25 letter (pdf) urging compliance with the executive order.

A similar measure to cut funding for the Office of Vice President, introduced in the House last month by Rep. Rahm Emanuel, was narrowly defeated on June 28 by a vote of 209-217.

J. William Leonard, the Information Security Oversight Office director whose oversight activities were rebuffed by the Office of Vice President, will testify tomorrow, July 12, at a House Intelligence Subcommittee hearing on classification policy. I will also be among the witnesses at the 1 PM hearing in Rayburn 2216.

SSCI Warns Against Clearances for Ex-Convicts

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence endorsed a statutory prohibition that prevents the Department of Defense from granting security clearances to former convicts who have served a year or more in jail, individuals who are mentally incompetent, are drug addicts, or have been dishonorably discharged from the military.

The Pentagon had requested a repeal of that provision, first enacted in 2000, and the request was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“The [Intelligence] Committee understands DoD’s desire to have more flexibility to give clearances to otherwise qualified individuals who are currently barred from receiving or renewing their security clearances.”

“Because of the extremely sensitive nature of DoD’s military and intelligence activities, however, the Committee is concerned that a blanket repeal of section 986 could lead to unintended compromises or mishandling of classified information. Further, the Committee believes that the waiver authority that is currently provided in section 986 is sufficient to give DoD the flexibility and discretion it needs in handling cases involving convictions or dishonorable discharges.”

In a dissenting view (favoring the Pentagon proposal to repeal), Committee Chairman Rockefeller and Senators Wyden and Feingold said they had “no reason to question the adequacy of the security clearance process established under presidential order, nor to question the joint assessment of DoD and the Armed Services Committee that national security can be protected without this one DoD-specific statute.”

See the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the FY 2008 Defense Authorization Act, Senate Report 110-125, June 29.

The dispute was first reported in “Ex-convicts and addicts may get DoD clearance” by Elana Schor and Roxana Tiron, The Hill, July 10.

Writing in the Danger Room blog, Sharon Weinberger correctly noted that someone like Scooter Libby (mentioned by me in The Hill article) would not technically be subject to the statutory prohibition since he is not going to spend a year or more in jail.

Appeals Court Hears Arguments on President’s Daily Briefs

A federal appeals court yesterday heard oral arguments in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking disclosure of two Vietnam-era editions of the President’s Daily Brief.

The Central Intelligence Agency refused to disclose the two PDBs to University of California professor Larry Berman, who filed the lawsuit in cooperation with the lawfirm Davis Wright Tremaine and the National Security Archive.

The July 10 hearing was reported in “Federal Court Skeptical of CIA Bid for Secrecy” by Josh Gerstein, New York Sun, July 11.

An audio recording of the fairly technical court session can be downloaded from this site. Click on “Audio Files” on the left side of the page and then enter case number 05-16820.

Additional background on the case is available from the National Security Archive.

CRS on Navy Acquisition, Force Structure

Recent Congressional Research Service reports on Navy acquisition programs and related topics include these (all pdf).

“Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress,” updated June 12, 2007.

“Navy DDG-1000 (DD(X)) and CG(X) Ship Acquisition Programs: Oversight Issues and Options for Congress,” updated June 11, 2007.

“Navy CG(X) Cruiser Design Options: Background and Oversight Issues for Congress,” updated June 13, 2007.

“Navy Attack Submarine Force-Level Goal and Procurement Rate: Background and Issues for Congress,” updated June 11, 2007.

“Navy-Marine Corps Amphibious and Maritime Prepositioning Ship Programs: Background and Oversight Issues for Congress,” updated June 12, 2007.