Posts from September, 2007

ISOO Director Leonard to Step Down

J. William Leonard, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office, is resigning from that position effective January 2008, leaving a significant void in the fragile mechanism for overseeing the government’s national security classification system.

The move was announced today in a National Archives news release. Mr. Leonard’s letter of resignation is here (pdf).

Since becoming ISOO director in 2002, Mr. Leonard has been the preeminent official spokesman for a credible classification policy, which means he has also been an outspoken critic of classification practice as it actually exists.

“To be effective, the classification process is a tool that must be wielded with precision,” Mr. Leonard said last year (pdf).

Despite this fact, he added, “few, if any, both within and outside Government, would deny that too much of the information produced by our agencies is classified.”

“The integrity of the security classification program is essential to our nation’s continued well-being. The consequences of failure are too high.”

In pursuit of that integrity earlier this year, Mr. Leonard famously challenged the Office of the Vice President, which decided in 2003 that it would no longer submit to longstanding classification oversight procedures.

After the Federation of American Scientists filed a formal complaint concerning the OVP’s non-compliance, Mr. Leonard urged Cheney aide David Addington to reconsider its position. When Addington ignored the request, Mr. Leonard exercised his authority to raise the issue with the Attorney General, who is obliged by the executive order on classification to render an interpretation of the order’s requirements.

Although no response from the Attorney General was forthcoming, the episode turned the Vice President and his unchecked secrecy into an object of public ridicule. (See “Vice President Makes Secrecy Policy a Joke (Literally),” Secrecy News, June 26, 2007).

Mr. Leonard’s unexpected resignation naturally invites speculation that the friction between him and the Office of Vice President was a factor in his departure. However, his associates say there is no specific evidence of that.

As a career security professional, Mr. Leonard has been immune to bluster and to bogus national security claims. He could not be intimidated by the cult of secrecy, since he was practically a founding member of it. As ISOO director, he conducted himself with dignity and with respect for the citizens and the national security that he served. It’s hard to imagine who will replace him.

Some CRS Reports on Defense Policy

Recent publications of the Congressional Research Service on defense policy and related topics include these (all pdf).

“Navy CG(X) Cruiser Program: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress,” September 20, 2007.

“The FY2008 National Defense Authorization Act: Selected Military Personnel Policy Issues,” updated September 17, 2007.

“Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-76: Implications for the Future,” August 21, 2007.

“Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies: FY2008 Appropriations,” updated August 2, 2007.

Knight Foundation Seeks Innovative Ideas for News

If you have a bold new idea for improving the production and delivery of news and information, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation wants to hear about it.

The Knight Foundation, a backbone of American philanthropy in journalism and First Amendment causes (and a supporter of Secrecy News), has millions of dollars to give to help nurture new ideas for the future of news.

“Whether you’re a high school student, a college professor, a truck driver, a brain surgeon, a stay-at-home parent, a journalist, an entrepreneur, a nonprofit organizer or anything else, anywhere in the world: If we like your idea, we will give you money to make it happen.”

The deadline for proposals is October 15. See the Knight Foundation News Challenge.

State Dept Classifies Report on Iraqi Corruption

Updated below

After a congressional committee requested a copy of an unclassified internal State Department report on corruption in the Iraqi government (pdf), the Department classified the report and declined to provide it. But the document is in the public domain and widely accessible.

“The State Department initially informed Committee staff that the reports were designated ‘sensitive but unclassified’,’ wrote Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the House Oversight Committee, in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (pdf).

“After receiving the Committee’s inquiry, however, the State Department retroactively classified the documents and refused to provide them voluntarily to the Committee.”

“The Committee subpoenaed the documents last week, but they still have not been provided to the Committee in either classified or unclassified form,” Mr. Waxman complained.

The primary document at issue is an assessment of Iraqi corruption that was prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The document was first reported in The Nation magazine last month, and it was published last week on the Federation of American Scientists web site.

“Obviously, the State Department’s position on this matter is ludicrous,” wrote Rep. Waxman.

“If there is widespread corruption within the Maliki government, this is information that both Congress and the public are entitled to know.”

But according to State Department officials, “any information about corruption within the Maliki government must be treated as classified because public discussions could undermine U.S. relations with the Maliki government.”

Update: The story is picked up by Justin Rood of ABC News in ‘Classified’ Iraq Corruption Report Posted Online.

In Print: Enemies of Intelligence

In his new book “Enemies of Intelligence,” Columbia University political scientist Richard K. Betts warns that ambitious attempts to correct failures in U.S. intelligence may cause more damage than they repair.

“The awful truth is that the best of intelligence systems will have big failures,” he writes. Eliminating failure altogether is therefore not a reasonable or achievable goal.

Nor can any one component or function of intelligence be optimized without incurring damage to others. So prudent reformers, he says, will seek incremental changes, not radical ones.

Betts hedges his account with a series of paradoxes that underlie his skepticism about the feasibility of reform.

“Experts usually are better predictors than those who know less about a question, but in unusual situations the nonexpert may do better.”

“Bureaucratization is both the great weakness and the great strength of the U.S. intelligence community.”

Centralization and decentralization of intelligence each has advantages. “But because it is necessary to exploit both forms does not mean that it is possible to do so.”

And while the paramount policy recommendation following September 11 was to improve information sharing, Betts recalls that a decade earlier, after the Aldrich Ames espionage case, overseers urged new restrictions on dissemination of information relating to clandestine operations.

The new book has some significant flaws, beginning with its title and conceptual framework.

The term “Enemies of Intelligence” refers not only to those adversaries who seek to defeat intelligence, but to anything that imposes restraints on intelligence and curtails its efficacy, from laws to physiological limits on human perception and memory. Thus, the U.S. Constitution would be an “enemy of intelligence,” an absurd conclusion that nevertheless flows directly from Betts’s odd definition, which he admits is not “normal.”

Betts distances himself from a strict civil libertarian viewpoint, which is fine, but proceeds to make startling assertions like this: “Without security, few Americans would be grateful for liberty,” he writes.

This would turn Patrick Henry’s revolutionary slogan “give me liberty or give me death!” upside down into a pusillanimous “take my liberties but don’t hurt me!” After years of fearmongering by government officials, this may turn out to be an accurate reflection of American character today. But Betts offers no data to justify such an appalling claim.

Betts makes the interesting assertion that not all liberties are equally fundamental. Due process under law, he argues, is more important than personal privacy. “Having one’s phone tapped without proper cause is not as damaging as being imprisoned for years without trial.”

Consequently, he sides with those who favor increased intelligence surveillance of the private sphere and contends that liberty can best be assured by strictly limiting the use of domestic surveillance data to counterterrorism purposes, with severe penalties for any deviations.

He has no corresponding suggestions for strengthening due process and the rule of law, which he admits have been under assault. (Granting a full pardon for Jose Padilla would be one way to punctuate the end of the Bush era, and to repudiate one of its most egregious abuses.)

Betts is a stimulating writer and his new book provides plenty of food for thought about intelligence policy.

“National security strategy is not like a chess game. For diplomats it is more like poker, and for soldiers and intelligence professionals it is more like Kriegspiel — a chesslike game in which the players are unable to see their opponent’s pieces or their moves.”

See more information on “Enemies of Intelligence” by Richard K. Betts here.

Syrian Nuclear Science Bibliography

A newly updated bibliography (pdf) of published Syrian research in nuclear science and technology shows that country’s limited but persistent activity in various aspects of the field.

Along with reactor technology, nuclear physics and nuclear safety studies, the open literature also shows traces of Syrian interest in the use of lasers for isotope separation. The new bibliography was compiled by researcher Mark Gorwitz.

See “Syrian Nuclear Science Bibliography: Open Literature Citations,” September 2007.

Selected CRS Reports

Noteworthy new products of the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).

“Defense: FY2008 Authorization and Appropriations,” updated September 17, 2007.

“Presidential Claims of Executive Privilege: History, Law, Practice and Recent Developments,” updated September 17, 2007.

“Arms Sales: Congressional Review Process,” updated September 12, 2007.

“Afghanistan: Post-War Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy,” updated September 10, 2007.

“Extraterritorial Application of American Criminal Law,” updated September 10, 2007.

US Embassy in Baghdad Sees Widespread Iraqi Corruption

“Currently, Iraq is not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anticorruption laws,” according to a confidential draft assessment prepared by the United States Embassy in Baghdad.

As a result, corruption has become “the norm in many [Iraqi government] ministries.”

“All indications point to corruption as undermining the support of the population for Iraq’s government.”

The new report (pdf) presents the detailed findings of an Embassy review of corruption cases in major Iraqi government ministries and the ineffectiveness of the anti-corruption Commission on Public Integrity.

The Maliki government is an enabler of the spreading corruption, the report said.

“The Prime Minister’s Office has demonstrated an open hostility to the concept of an independent agency to investigate or prosecute corruption cases.”

“The Iraqi Government has been withholding basic support and resources” from the anticorruption Commission.

The 82-page document, which has not been approved for public release, is marked “Sensitive But Unclassified: Not for distribution to personnel outside of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad Iraq.”

It was first reported by David Corn in The Nation. See “Secret Report: Corruption is ‘Norm’ Within Iraqi Government,” August 30.

A copy of the Embassy report was obtained by Secrecy News and posted today on the Federation of American Scientists web site.

“Corruption is rampant,” according to the December 2006 Report of the Iraq Study Group (at page 20). “One senior Iraqi official estimated that official corruption costs Iraq $5 to 7 billion per year.”

Guidelines on FBI Confidential Sources

Late last year the Attorney General approved revised guidelines for the use of confidential informants by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (pdf).

The guidelines require that confidential human sources be subjected to a new validation process to help ensure that their information is reliable.

The guidelines also generally require that the FBI and prosecutors inform responsible law enforcement authorities if they discover that an FBI source is engaged in “unauthorized criminal activity.”

“The FBI does not have any authority to make any promise or commitment that would prevent the government from prosecuting a Confidential Human Source for criminal activity that is not authorized…..”

See “Attorney General Guidelines Regarding the Use of FBI Confidential Human Sources,” approved December 13, 2006.

The Guidelines were included in voluminous FBI answers to questions for the record of a recently published Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “FBI Oversight,” December 6, 2006 (14 MB PDF file).

FAS is Moving

Effective Monday, September 24, the new mailing address for the Federation of American Scientists (and Secrecy News) will be:

    Federation of American Scientists
    1725 DeSales St NW, 6th floor
    Washington, DC 20036

Telephone numbers and email addresses will be unchanged.