Posts from February, 2008

Justice Sees No Misconduct in Conflict Between VP and ISOO

The Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility has declined to open an investigation into allegations that Justice Department attorneys improperly refused to respond to the Information Security Oversight Office when it challenged the Office of the Vice President’s failure to cooperate with ISOO’s oversight of the classification system.

In a January 2, 2008 complaint, the Federation of American Scientists had argued that, under the terms of the President’s executive order, the Justice Department was obliged to render an opinion on the executive order’s applicability to the Office of the Vice President when ISOO asked for it. Yet Justice attorneys at the Office of Legal Counsel refused to do so.

The Office of Professional Responsibility was not persuaded.

“We have concluded that the facts do not raise an issue of attorney misconduct that requires an investigation by this office,” wrote H. Marshall Jarrett, OPR Counsel in a February 14 letter to FAS (pdf).

“This matter does not involve an allegation of affirmative malfeasance, but rather, the alleged improper failure to perform an act,” he wrote.

Furthermore, the Justice Department’s handling of the matter appeared to be consistent with the support of the Vice President’s position against oversight that was expressed by the White House counsel, Mr. Jarrett said.

Finally, he suggested, if there are still questions of interpretation of the executive order that remain unresolved, “the ISOO may request an opinion from the Department clarifying the matter.”

The Department’s prior refusal to render such an opinion was the basis of the original complaint.

U.S. Armed Forces Abroad, 1978-2007, and More from CRS

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

“Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2007,” updated January 14, 2008.

“The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” updated February 8, 2008.

“Defense: FY2008 Authorization and Appropriations,” updated January 23, 2008.

“U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT): Overview and Application to Interrogation Techniques,” updated January 25, 2008.

“Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons,” updated January 16, 2008.

“Securing General Aviation,” updated January 24, 2008.

Court Issues Injunction Against Wikileaks.org

A federal court on Friday issued an injunction (pdf) disabling the internet domain name of Wikileaks.org, the anti-censorship web site devoted to publication of leaks and other unauthorized disclosures of information.

The move followed a complaint by Bank Julius Baer, a Swiss bank, that Wikileaks had published confidential bank records that are protected by law. The offending documents were itemized in a temporary restraining order (pdf) also issued by the court on February 15.

Those documents are whistleblower records that reveal “trust structures allegedly used for tax evasion, asset hiding and money laundering by the ultra rich,” according to Wikileak’s Julian Assange, who protested what he said was an “unconstitutional” blockage of the wikileaks domain name.

Wikileaks is intended to provide “an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking and public analysis,” according to the web site, and its often controversial contents have been mirrored by dozens of other sites around the world, which remain operational.

“Anti-censorship servers operating in foreign jurisdictions have kicked in successfully,” wrote Mr. Assange after the court issued its order, “but ‘wikileaks.org’ has been forcibly deleted from the domain name system.”

Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Northern District of California scheduled a hearing on the matter for February 29.

It is too early to say who has won or lost more in this confrontation. Wikileaks has demonstrated the willingness and the ability to sustain a robust publication capability in defiance of legal authority, though it may have lost its domain name for the foreseeable future. Bank Julius Baer, whom most people would have never heard of, will now be permanently linked in many minds with vague allegations of financial misconduct.

But the disclosure restrictions that wikileaks managed to defeat were not exactly those of a tyrannical government bent on censorship. They were banking secrecy laws that protect ordinary people as well as corporate malefactors. And by providing the occasion for the court’s extraordinary action, Wikileaks has helped set an unfortunate precedent that may make the next court injunction against a public web site that much easier to obtain.

Additional details on the case are available from cryptome.org and wikileak.org (without the “s”). See also the stories at TPM Muckraker, Discourse.net, and Wired Threat Level, among others.

Oversight of a U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following (all pdf).

“Congressional Oversight and Related Issues Concerning the Prospective Security Agreement Between the United States and Iraq,” February 7, 2008.

“How Large is China’s Economy? Does it Matter?,” February 13, 2008.

“FY2009 Appropriations for State and Local Homeland Security,” February 7, 2008.

“The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and All-Hazard Warnings,” updated January 28, 2008.

JASON on Shocks to Ships

A new report (pdf) from the JASON defense science advisory panel examines the feasibility of modeling explosive shocks to naval vessels to assess their vulnerability.

“Underwater mines have long been a major threat to ships. The most probable threats are non-contact explosions, where a high pressure wave is launched towards the ship.”

“During World War II, it was discovered that although such ‘near miss’ explosions do not cause serious hull or superstructure damage, the shock and vibrations associated with the blast nonetheless incapacitate the ship, by knocking out critical components and systems. This discovery led the Navy to implement a rigorous shock hardening test procedure. The shock hardening testing culminates in a Full Ship Shock Trial (FSST), in which an underwater explosive charge is set off near an operational ship, and system and component failures are documented.”

“JASON was asked by the Navy to examine the potential role of Modeling and Simulation for certifying ship hardness, with the potential goal of FSST replacement.”

A copy of the unclassified JASON report was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “Navy Ship Underwater Shock Prediction and Testing Capability Study,” JSR-07-200, October 2007.

Army Blocks Public Access to Digital Library

Public access to the Reimer Digital Library, which is the largest online collection of U.S. Army doctrinal publications, has been blocked by the Army, which last week moved the collection behind a password-protected firewall.

But today the Federation of American Scientists filed a Freedom of Information Act request (pdf) asking the Army to provide a copy of the entire unclassified Library so that it could be posted on the FAS web site.

The Army move on February 6 marks the latest step in an ongoing withdrawal of government records from the public domain.

“It was a policy decision to put it behind the AKO [Army Knowledge Online] firewall and to restrict public access,” said Don Gough of the system development division at the Army Training Support Center at Fort Eustis, Virginia, which operates the Reimer Digital Library.

The move came as a surprise since only unclassified and non-sensitive records had ever been made available at the Library site.

Isn’t it true, Secrecy News asked, that the only documents that had been accessible to the public were those that had been specifically… “‘Approved for public release,’ yes,” said Mr. Gough, completing our sentence. “I understand your concern,” he added.

The FAS Freedom of Information Act request is intended to reverse the Army action.

“We hope to restore public access to the Reimer Digital Library by obtaining all of its publicly releasable contents and posting that material on our own website,” the FAS request explained. “Furthermore, in order to preserve the status quo, we expect to file regular FOIA requests for updates to the RDL two or three times a month, so that we may add them to our mirror site.”

“Alternatively, if the Army were to restore the prior level of public access to the RDL, that would fulfill this request and make future requests unnecessary,” the FAS request stated.

Among the many thousands of documents that were formerly available to the public on the Reimer Digital Library, two of the latest additions are these.

“The Modular Force” (pdf), Field Manual Interim FMI 3-0.1, January 2008.

“Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and High Yield Explosives Operational Headquarters” (pdf), Field Manual Interim FMI 3-90.10, January 2008.

Interdiction of Aircraft Involved in Drug Smuggling

The U.S. Government supported the interdiction of over 80 flights over Colombia last year as well as an undisclosed number of other flights over Brazil that were suspected of involvement in drug trafficking, according to a new White House report to Congress (pdf).

The report describes the procedures used, and the results that followed.

See “Report Relating to the Interdiction of Aircraft Involved in Illicit Drug Trafficking,” communication from the President of the United States, February 6.

Iranian Nuclear Science Research

The scale of Iranian research in nuclear science and technology is evident from a new bibliography of published research by Iranian scientists.

The bibliography, prepared by Mark Gorwitz, a private nonproliferation researcher, includes titles on nuclear physics, reactor safety, isotope separation and more.

See “Iranian Nuclear Science Bibliography: Open Literature References,” by Mark Gorwitz, February 2008.

The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Priscilla J. McMillan, author of the well-received 2006 book “The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Birth of the Modern Arms Race,” has opened up some of her personal archives relating to Oppenheimer and posted them online.

Dozens of primary source documents that were uncovered by Ms. McMillan in the course of her research on Oppenheimer, along with related resources, can now be found on this site.

The author has a new blog here.

DoD on Detainee Operations

The Department of Defense has released the final version of its controversial doctrine on “detainee operations” (pdf) which defines the class of unlawful enemy combatants and prescribes their treatment.

“US forces must be prepared to properly control, maintain, protect, and account for all categories of detainees in accordance with applicable domestic law, international law, and policy,” the new publication explains.

Among the categories of detainees are those designated as “unlawful enemy combatants” who, the DoD states, do not enjoy the ordinary protections of lawful combatants.

“Unlawful ECs are persons not entitled to combatant immunity, who engage in acts against the United States or its coalition partners in violation of the laws and customs of war during an armed conflict or who support such acts. For purposes of the war on terrorism, the term unlawful EC is defined to include, but is not limited to, an individual who is or was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”

At the same time, however, even unlawful enemy combatants must be treated humanely, the document says, and to do otherwise is a war crime.

“Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, as construed and applied by US law, establishes minimum standards for the humane treatment of all persons detained by the United States and coalition and allied forces. It is a war crime to undercut or violate these standards. Common Article 3 prohibits at any time and in any place: ‘violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; taking of hostages; outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’.”

See “Detainee Operations,” Joint Publication JP 3-63, February 6, 2008.