Posts from December, 2007

New Army Doctrine on WMD Civil Support Teams

The U.S. Army has issued a new field manual (pdf) on the use of National Guard units known as “civil support teams” (CST) to respond to domestic terrorist or other incidents involving weapons of mass destruction.

“The mission of the WMD-CST is to support civil authorities at domestic CBRNE [chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive] incident sites by identifying CBRNE agents and substances, assessing current and projected consequences, advising on response measures, and assisting with appropriate requests for additional support.”

The new manual describes the origins, capabilities, organization, and operations of the civil support teams. The Army approved the document for public release.

See “Weapons of Mass Destruction – Civil Support Team Operations,” U.S. Army Field Manual FM 3-11.22, December 10, 2007.

China’s Space Program, and More From CRS

Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News include the following (all pdf).

“China’s Space Program: Options for U.S.-China Cooperation,” December 14, 2007.

“U.S.-China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress,” updated December 12, 2007.

“Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses,” updated December 5, 2007.

“Iraq and Al Qaeda,” updated December 7, 2007.

“Venezuela: Political Conditions and U.S. Policy,” updated November 26, 2007.

“Entering the Executive Branch of Government: Potential Conflicts of Interest With Previous Employments and Affiliations,” updated December 11, 2007.

Intel Agencies to Withhold Contract Info from Public Database

Several defense intelligence agencies will withhold unclassified information about their contracts from a new public database of government spending.

The new database at USAspending.gov is intended to provide increased transparency regarding most government contracts.

But when it comes to intelligence spending, there will actually be a net loss of public information because categories of intelligence contracting data that were previously disclosed will now be withheld.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) argued that online disclosure of their unclassified contracts could present an operational security vulnerability.

“I appreciate your concerns that reporting these actions to the publicly accessible website could provide unacceptable risk of insight to your individual missions and budgets,” wrote Shay D. Assad of the Under Secretary of Defense in a December 7 memorandum (pdf).

“As such, I concur with your waiver requests to not report your unclassified actions to FPDS-NG [Federal Procurement Data System - Next Generation] at this time,” he wrote.

The new waiver, which was first reported by Daniel G. Dupont in InsideDefense.com, applies to unclassified contract data for FY 2007 and 2008, and must be renewed each year thereafter.

But it does not apply retroactively, so it is possible to examine detailed contracting information for thousands of intelligence contracts with DIA and NGA from FY2005-2006, ranging in amounts from tens of dollars to hundreds of millions of dollars. (Prior contract information for CIFA is not currently available.) Those intelligence agencies’ past contracts can be examined using the drop-down menu for contracting agency on this page.

The sharp growth in intelligence agency contracting has prompted new concern in Congress and elsewhere. The latest intelligence authorization act (section 307) requires a “comprehensive report on intelligence community contractors.”

But while intelligence contracting is going up, public accountability is going down.

U.S. Intelligence Seen “Retreating into Greater Secrecy”

The U.S. intelligence community is reverting to old patterns of cold war secrecy, warned the former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), to the detriment of U.S. intelligence.

“The reality that I see is an Intelligence Community that is retreating into greater secrecy and old cultural habits, even in the short time since I left the NIC in early 2005,” said Amb. Robert L. Hutchings in recent testimony (pdf).

“Try to get a CIA analyst to go on the record at an academic conference, or participate in an interactive website or blog with experts from outside government or other countries, and you will see how deeply ingrained are the old Cold War cultural habits and mind-sets,” he said.

“What this means, additionally, is that the Intelligence Community is not attracting the ‘best and brightest’ into their ranks. They go elsewhere.”

See his prepared testimony from a December 6 hearing of the House Intelligence Committee here.

One of the aspects of the trend towards increasing secrecy is what appears to be a newly restrictive approach to pre-publication review of writings by current or former intelligence employees.

Earlier this year, the Central Intelligence Agency refused to permit former intelligence officer and author Valerie Plame Wilson to publish certain information about her career that had already been disclosed in the Congressional Record.

The publishers of Ms. Wilson’s memoir devised a novel and effective solution: They hired journalist Laura Rozen to write an afterword, based entirely on information gathered in the public domain, filling in many of the missing details of Ms. Wilson’s account. Laura Rozen, who writes for Mother Jones and for the War and Piece blog, tells the story here.

NARA Seeks to Speed Processing of Presidential Records

The National Archives says it is exploring new methods to accelerate the disclosure of records at Presidential libraries.

Archivists “decided to undertake an in-house study in the spring of 2007 to review ways to achieve faster processing of Presidential records,” stated Emily Robison, acting director of the Clinton Presidential Library, in an October 2 declaration (pdf) that was filed in a lawsuit brought against NARA by Judicial Watch.

“As a result of this study, a one-year pilot project was initiated to implement the most promising proposals,” she said (at p. 15). The pilot project was first reported by Josh Gerstein in the New York Sun on October 4.

In response to a request for further information about the project, NARA released a list of procedural changes (pdf) it is using or considering to expedite processing of records. These include “cease routine referral of classified items… for classification review” and “halt printing e-mail attachments that do not easily open.”

An extensive interview with Sharon Fawcett, assistant archivist for presidential libraries, explores the role of President Clinton and Senator Clinton in the processing of records at the Clinton Library, the genesis of President Bush’s executive order on presidential records, and the procedural and resource constraints under which the Presidential records review process operates. See “Inside the Clinton Archives” by Alexis Simendinger, National Journal, December 17.

The Department of the Navy has updated its “Records Management Manual” with considerable detail on the various categories of Navy records and how they are to be handled. See SECNAV Manual 5210.1, November 2007 (473 pages, 5 MB PDF file).

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Obama: New Web Site Will Help Challenge “Nation of Secrets”

Senator Barack Obama praised the launch of a new government website yesterday that tracks federal contract awards.

The new website — USAspending.gov — constitutes “an important milestone on the path to greater openness and transparency in the Federal Government,” he said.

“I have been very troubled by the extent to which America has become a nation of government secrets,” said Senator Obama. “More and more information is kept secret or made intolerably complicated and inaccessible. More and more decisions are made behind closed doors with access limited to insiders and lobbyists.”

“USAspending.gov along with watchdog groups will give us all tools to help buck that trend,” he said.

The new website resulted from legislation enacted last year, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, that was sponsored by Sen. Obama and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).

The Office of Management and Budget developed the website with technical support from the non-profit OMB Watch, along with advocacy support from the Sunlight Foundation and other organizations.

The web site does not include information on classified spending and contracting.

Deliberating the Intelligence Budget in France

Although last year’s budget for national intelligence was disclosed, current year spending remains classified, reflecting a judgment by the Bush Administration that its disclosure would cause serious damage to national security.

So it is interesting to see that current intelligence spending is treated matter-of-factly in some other countries, and publicly disclosed without any fanfare at all.

In France, for example, the intelligence budget is addressed as part of the normal deliberative process.

The latest parliamentary budget report notes the precise staff levels of each of the French intelligence services, their individual budgets, and the total amount of spending on intelligence for the coming year: 743.5 million euros, with a total of 9,500 employees.

Not only that, but the parliament notes that French intelligence resources compare unfavorably with those of key allies such as the United Kingdom (3.3 billion euros, with 13,400 staff) and Germany (16,500 employees, budget not given).

This disparity could become a problem, the report notes candidly, because intelligence sharing with foreign partners is predicated on the ability of each side to provide useful information to the other.

(“En matière de renseignement, la capacité à obtenir des informations de la part de partenaires étrangers repose sur la possibilité d’en fournir en échange. Avec des services français de qualité mais dont la taille et les budgets sont sensiblement inférieurs à ceux des deux autres principaux acteurs dans le domaine en Europe, c’est la possibilité même de travailler sur un plan d’égalité qui finira par être remise en question.”)

See the French parliamentary discussion of intelligence spending here.

While current intelligence spending remains classified in the United States (though it must be disclosed by the end of next October), the Federation of American Scientists this week asked the Director of National Intelligence to declassify past intelligence spending levels dating back to the beginning of the National Foreign Intelligence Program.

Last October, Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said (pdf) he is “hopeful that the top line numbers for previous fiscal years will be declassified so the public can get a full accounting of the government’s priorities over the last two decades.”

U.S. Africa Command, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made available to the public online include the following (all pdf).

“Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa,” updated December 7, 2007.

“China’s Currency: Economic Issues and Options for U.S. Trade Policy,” updated November 29, 2007.

“Belarus: Background and U.S. Policy Concerns,” updated November 29, 2007.

“Strategic Airlift Modernization: Analysis of C-5 Modernization and C-17 Acquisition Issues,” November 28, 2007.

“Nonproliferation and Threat Reduction Assistance: U.S. Programs in the Former Soviet Union,” updated November 28, 2007.

“Terrorism and Security Issues Facing the Water Infrastructure Sector,” updated November 16, 2007.

Did CIA Violate the Federal Records Act?

Even if the videotapes of interrogation sessions that were destroyed by the Central Intelligence Agency showed nothing illegal or untoward, their destruction could still be a violation of the federal law which requires the preservation of official records, suggested Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) yesterday.

Rep. Waxman asked Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein to render a judgment as to whether the destruction of the videotapes was consistent with the law.

“I would like your opinion on whether the CIA’s destruction of these videotapes was in accordance with the Federal Records Act and your implementing regulations,” Waxman wrote (pdf) on December 11.

CIA’s records management failures, including inadequate preservation of audiovisual records, are a longstanding
concern of the National Archives and Records Administration.

“Videos stored in the ARC [CIA Agency Records Center] are in danger of catastrophic loss due to tape binder failure and/or fungal contamination,” the Archives found in a 2000 audit of CIA records management practices.

And some CIA employees seemed oblivious to the laws governing record preservation, NARA reported.

“Some of the agency personnel who create and maintain special media do not recognize them as federal records that may be disposed only in accordance with NARA-approved schedules,” the Archives audit found.

The 2000 audit of “Records Management in the Central Intelligence Agency,” cited in Rep. Waxman’s letter, was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) yesterday asked the White House to explicitly confirm that a White House directive to preserve records related to the destruction of CIA videotapes encompassed all White House records.

“In light of the Office of the Vice President’s record of fatuous arguments that it is not subject to the authority of the President, please also confirm that the directive included the Office of the Vice President and that the Office of the Vice President intends to comply,” Sen. Biden wrote.

Sen. Biden was apparently referring to the Vice President’s position, recently endorsed by the Justice Department, that his Office is not an “executive branch entity” for purposes of classification oversight.