Posts from October, 2007

Wanted: ISOO Director

It’s an impossible job, and perhaps it was meant to be.

The Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) has “responsibility for security classification, safeguarding and declassification policy and oversight throughout the Executive Branch of the United States Government.” Ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound is preferred but not required.

Except for the last part, that is the job description that was posted online yesterday as the search for a new ISOO Director commenced in earnest.

Bill Leonard, the highly regarded current Director, announced his retirement last month, to the surprise and dismay of many.

See the Job Announcement for the position of ISOO Director.

Classification Clash Over Iraqi Corruption

“It is an abuse of the classification process to withhold from Congress and the people of the United States broad assessments of the extent of corruption in the Iraqi Government.”

Remarkably, that complaint was endorsed Tuesday by a large majority of the House of Representatives, which voted 395-21 to condemn the Administration’s restrictions on disclosure of information about Iraqi corruption.

The resolution condemning the restrictions, sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman, emerged from the conflict between his Oversight Committee and the State Department over access to and disclosure of government records on this topic. See the October 16 floor debate on House Resolution 734.

One of the assessments of Iraqi corruption that was retroactively classified after Rep. Waxman’s committee requested it has been made widely available (pdf) on the Federation of American Scientists web site.

State Department official David Satterfield disputed allegations that the Department had improperly withheld information in an October 16 conference call.

Post Office Box 1142

A resolution has been introduced in the House of Representatives to honor the participants in “Post Office Box 1142,” a military intelligence interrogation program from World War II.

“In advancing the Nation’s interests and uncovering vital secrets, the interrogators at P.O. Box 1142 never resorted to tactics such as sleep deprivation, electrical shock, or waterboarding. Their captives were never sexually abused, humiliated, or tortured. They never resorted to the methods that have recently branded our Nation so negatively,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA).

See also “Fort Hunt’s Quiet Men Break Silence on WWII” by Petula Dvorak, Washington Post, October 6.

Chuck Hansen’s Swords of Armageddon

The late Chuck Hansen, a relentless and resourceful researcher, worked for decades to document the history, technology, design and development of nuclear weapons. His findings helped nurture a continuing wave of scholarship and historical reflection on nuclear policy and technology.

An extensive new collection of his most valuable and important acquisitions has recently been published on compact disk under the title Swords of Armageddon, Version 2. It is a veritable encyclopedia of nuclear weapons history.

More details about the collection and ordering information can be found here.

Abraham Lincoln and the Jews

In a remarkable episode from the Civil War that is not as widely known as it might be, General Ulysses S. Grant issued Order No. 11 on December 17, 1862 expelling all Jews from those portions of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi where his forces had taken the field.

Equally remarkable, President Lincoln did not say he would “stand by” his generals or that “we must give the military the tools it needs” to accomplish its mission. Instead, he rescinded the Order.

A century-old account of General Grant’s short-lived ban on Jews has recently been published online.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln repeatedly suspended habeas corpus and authorized other serious infringements on civil liberties. But there are some things that are not done in America, it appears, even when the survival of the nation is at stake. This was one of them.

General Grant’s action was not entirely irrational and prejudice-driven. An estimated 25,000 of the nation’s 150,000 Jews lived in the South and were loyal to the Confederacy, according to a 2005 Library of Congress exhibition. And some Jewish merchants would “roam through the country contrary to government regulations,” Grant complained.

“The President has no objection to your expelling traitors and Jew peddlers which I suppose was the object of your order,” wrote Gen. Henry Halleck to Gen. Grant, somewhat inelegantly. “But as it in terms proscribed an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks, the President deems it necessary to revoke it.”

The story received only cursory, two-sentence treatment in the preeminent Lincoln biography (“Lincoln”) by David Herbert Donald, which mistakenly attributed Halleck’s “Jew peddler” phrase to Grant (p. 409).

And Grant himself did not mention Order No. 11 in his Memoirs. He deliberately omitted it, his son explained in a 1907 letter, because “that was a matter long past and best not referred to.”

To the contrary, however, this principled exercise of restraint by the President in time of war seems well worth remembering and pondering today, when basic civil liberties are again in dispute. (At his confirmation hearing today, Attorney General-nominee Michael Mukasey was unable or unwilling to categorically reject the possibility of indefinite detention of an American citizen without trial.)

The most detailed account of the origins and aftermath of General Grant’s Order No. 11 expelling the Jews from the areas under his control seems to be a 1909 book entitled “Abraham Lincoln and the Jews,” self-published by author Isaac Markens (pp. 10-17). That book, long out of print, was recently digitized and published by Google Books and is now freely available.

In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant was an honored guest at the dedication of Adas Israel, which is now the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington, DC.

NSA SIGINT Seminars for the Press

In an attempt to convey to reporters the sensitivity of classified signals intelligence information and to discourage unnecessary disclosure of intelligence sources and methods, the National Security Agency held a series of by-invitation-only seminars for reporters and editors dubbed “SIGINT 101.”

The seminars, which were apparently held on several occasions between 2002 and 2004, were first reported by Josh Gerstein in the New York Sun. See “Spies Prep Reporters on Protecting Secrets,” September 27.

The course outline and supporting documents (pdf) that were first obtained by Mr. Gerstein under the Freedom of Information Act provide some additional insight into NSA concerns about the loss of SIGINT sources and the possibility of voluntary steps by the press to help protect them.

“We want to emphasize that we deplore ‘leaks’ or other unauthorized disclosures of properly classified material,” the NSA course module states.

However, given the fact of leaks, “we also want you to understand that in many instances, we believe that reporters can deal with the content of leaks in a way that does not expose intelligence sources and methods.”

“We ask that when intelligence information is reported, fragile intelligence source and method information, which is unnecessary to informed debate, not be disclosed along with it.”

See SIGINT 101 Seminar Course Module, National Security Agency (2002?).

Reporters’ Shield Bill Advances in the House

By an overwhelming majority, the House of Representatives voted yesterday to approve a limited federal shield law that would enable reporters to protect the confidentiality of their sources from compulsory disclosure under most circumstances. See the record of the October 16 House debate here.

The White House issued a strong statement of opposition and suggested the President would veto the reporter’s shield bill if adopted by Congress as written. “The legislation would make it extremely difficult to prosecute cases involving leaks of classified information and would hamper efforts to investigate and prosecute other serious crimes,” the October 16 statement said (pdf).

Various DoD Docs

Noteworthy legal, regulatory and other publications from the Department of Defense include the following (all pdf).

“Forged in the Fire: Legal Lessons Learned During Military Operations, 1994-2006,” Center for Law and Military Operations, September 2006 (439 pp, 28 MB PDF file).

“Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System (DCIPS),” DoD Directive 1400.35, September 24, 2007.

“Minimum Security Standards for Safeguarding Biological Select Agents and Toxins,” Air Force Instruction DODI 5210.89_AFI 10-3901, 24 September 2007.

“Limitation of Authority to Deputize DoD Uniformed Law Enforcement Personnel by State and Local Governments,”
DoD Instruction 5525.13, September 28, 2007.

Implementing Domestic Intelligence Surveillance

Upon lawful request and for a thousand dollars, Comcast, one of the nation’s leading telecommunications companies, will intercept its customers’ communications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The cost for performing any FISA surveillance “requiring deployment of an intercept device” is $1,000.00 for the “initial start-up fee (including the first month of intercept service),” according to a newly disclosed Comcast Handbook for Law Enforcement (pdf).

Thereafter, the surveillance fee goes down to “$750.00 per month for each subsequent month in which the original [FISA] order or any extensions of the original order are active.”

With respect to surveillance policy, the Comcast manual hews closely to the letter of the law, as one would hope and expect.

“If your [FISA intercept] request pertains to individuals outside the U.S., please be sure you have complied with all the requirements in 50 U.S.C. sections 105A and/or 105B,” the manual says, referring to provisions of the Protect America Act that was enacted last month. “Requests such as these can not be honored after one year and must be dated prior to February 5, 2008, unless extended by Congress.”

Comcast will also comply with disclosure demands presented in the form of National Security Letters. However, the manual says, “Attention must be paid to the various court proceedings in which the legal status of such requests is at issue.”

In short, “Comcast will assist law enforcement agencies in their investigations while protecting subscriber privacy as required by law and applicable privacy policies.”

At the same time, “Comcast reserves the right to respond or object to, or seek clarification of, any legal requests and treat legal requests for subscriber information in any manner consistent with applicable law.”

A copy of the manual was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Comcast Cable Law Enforcement Handbook,” September 2007.

The role of telecommunications companies in intelligence surveillance is under increased scrutiny as the Bush Administration seeks to shield the companies from any liability associated with their cooperation in what may be illegal warrantless surveillance.

Also, there are new indications that the unauthorized warrantless surveillance program pre-dated 9/11. The Rocky Mountain News, the Washington Post, and others reported allegations that the government may have penalized Qwest Communications for refusing to participate in a pre-9/11 National Security Agency surveillance program that the company believed might be illegal.

The Washington Post editorialized yesterday that the telecommunications companies should indeed be immunized against liability, as the Bush Administration desires. Even though it is not known exactly what the companies did, the Post said, they “seem to us to have been acting as patriotic corporate citizens in a difficult and uncharted environment.”

Writing in Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald disputed that view, arguing that patriotism lies in compliance with the law, not in mere obedience to executive authority.