Posts from June, 2008

DHS Invites Public Comment on Infrastructure Protection

In a noteworthy contrast with the secrecy that prevails in much of government and often within its own ranks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is soliciting public comment on revisions to the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP), which is the framework for defending essential infrastructure, ranging from agriculture to transportation, against attack or natural disaster.

The request for comment places DHS in the rather unfamiliar posture — for a national security agency — of actively seeking to engage public interest and to invite public feedback on a matter of broad public policy.

“We’re hoping to get inputs from across the country,” said Larry L. May of the DHS NIPP Program Management Office in an interview today, “and from everyone concerned with critical infrastructure protection.”

Some of the NIPP policies that are under review are trivial, such as changes in terminology. But others are profound, such as the relative emphasis in the Plan on “protection rather than resiliency.” Where “protection” seeks to anticipate, deter and defend against particular threats that are intrinsically uncertain, “resilience” focuses on capabilities needed for rapid response and recovery from a broad range of hazards. They imply vastly different strategies, including public information disclosure strategies.

Are there significant numbers of Americans who care enough about such issues to express their views to DHS? Apparently so.

Mr. May said that the last time DHS conducted a review of the NIPP in 2006, some 10,000 comments were submitted.

Why does DHS care what the public thinks? Basically, Mr. May said, “all of us are in this together, if you will.”

Additional information on the NIPP, including the most recent 2006 iteration, may be found here.

Cost of Secrecy System Reaches Record High

The cost of implementing the national security classification system in government and industry reached an all-time high of $9.91 billion last year, according to the latest annual report (pdf) from the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO).

The 2007 classification cost figure, which includes physical security, computer security and other aspects of classified information security, was a 4.6 percent increase over the year before and is the highest amount ever reported by the ISOO.

Is that too much? Not enough? The right amount? The new report doesn’t venture an opinion. Instead, it suggests that “the annual rate of growth for total security costs is declining.” That is not strictly true, since the rate of growth actually increased from 2006 to 2007, though it is now lower than it was in the immediate post-2001 period.

The ISOO annual report each year presents a unique snapshot of classification and declassification activity throughout the executive branch, though the data provided are often of uncertain significance and are cited with exaggerated precision.

The number of new secrets (“original classification decisions”) increased by 1% in 2007 to 233,639, ISOO reported. Meanwhile, “derivative” classification decisions, referring to the restatement of previously classified information in a new form or a new document, increased sharply by 12.5 percent for a combined total of 23,102,257 classification actions (original and derivative) in 2007. Again, no judgment on the quality or propriety of these classifications is offered.

Of 59.7 million pages reviewed for declassification last year, 37.2 million pages were declassified government-wide, a decrease both in the number reviewed and the number declassified but an increase in the rate of declassification. (At the Central Intelligence Agency, the situation was reversed: There was a 138 percent increase in the number of pages reviewed and a slight increase in the number declassified, but “a significant decrease” in the proportion of reviewed pages that were declassified.)

The Department of Transportation reviewed 380,000 pages but declassified none of them because they all had to be referred to other agencies for further processing. The President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (recently renamed the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board) reviewed 130 pages and declassified 40 of them.

ISOO reported uneven compliance with basic classification system rules and regulations at several agencies.

“Disappointingly, we continued to find deficiencies at multiple agencies relating to basic requirements concerning implementing regulations, security education and training, self-inspections, classification, and document markings,” the report stated.

One interesting data point that does not appear in the report is the number of classification challenges filed by authorized holders of particular information who believe that it is improperly classified. (Section 1.8 of Executive Order 12958, as amended, authorizes and encourages such classification challenges.)

In response to an inquiry from Secrecy News, ISOO indicated that there were 275 classification challenges filed by cleared personnel in FY 2007. The number of challenges that were actually accepted or approved by the originating agencies was not available.

The “2007 Report to the President” from the Information Security Oversight Office, which is the first issued by the new ISOO director William J. Bosanko, was transmitted to the White House on May 30 and made public today.

The new report makes no mention of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and its continuing refusal to cooperate with ISOO’s reporting requirements on classification and declassification activity. That refusal, highlighted by a complaint filed by the Federation of American Scientists in 2006, led to a confrontation between the OVP and ISOO’s former director J. William Leonard last year, and the issue remains technically unresolved.

JASON on Wind Farms and Radar

Wind farms that use spinning blades and turbines to generate electricity have the undesirable side effect of disrupting the operation of radar systems. The JASON defense science advisory group was asked to consider the problem and to propose solutions.

“Wind farms interfere with the radar tracking of airplanes and weather. The velocity of the blade tips can reach 170 mph, causing significant Doppler clutter. This creates problems and issues for several stake holders, including DHS, DOD, FAA and NOAA,” the JASONs said in a report (pdf) to the Department of Homeland Security earlier this year.

“Examples of issues include: a wind farm located close to a border might create a dead zone for detecting intruding aircraft; current weather radar software could misinterpret the high apparent shear between blade tips as a tornado; current air traffic control software could temporarily lose the tracks of aircraft flying over wind farms.”

To address the problem Defense Department officials proposed a strategy of “non-technical mitigation,” by which they mean simply eliminating wind farms that interfere with DoD assets.

But the JASONs suggested several alternative approaches that in many cases would permit continued operation of wind farms in proximity to radar installations.

See “Wind Farms and Radar,” JASON, January 2008.

Reducing Controls on Unclassified Information

To reduce unnecessary restrictions on unclassified information, Congress should require agencies to publish more of their unclassified records, we suggested in a letter (pdf) to the House Intelligence Committee this week.

A White House policy announced last month to establish a government-wide standard for “controlled unclassified information” (CUI) may exacerbate existing barriers to public access, even sweeping up embargoed press releases into a formal control category.

Instead of facilitating broad information sharing, as intended, CUI could end up as the equivalent of a fourth level of classification that tends to prohibit public access to information that has not been specifically approved for release.

One way to avoid that outcome is to increase the routine disclosure of unclassified records of public interest.

“In parallel with the CUI process, Congress should mandate affirmative new disclosure requirements that will directly counteract the tendency to control information unnecessarily,” I wrote in a letter to Rep. Anna Eshoo of the House Intelligence Committee.

“Specifically, for example, I would urge legislation requiring the DNI Open Source Center to publish all or most of its unclassified analytical products.”

Rep. Eshoo had invited comments on the new CUI policy. Our June 16 reply is here.

A hearing was held last week on a bill introduced by Rep. Jane Harman to require the Department of Homeland Security by statute to adopt the new CUI policy. Witnesses included Meredith Fuchs of the National Security Archive, Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org and Caroline Fredrickson of the ACLU. Their prepared statements are available here.

Various Intelligence Hearings and Directives

Newly published hearing records and Pentagon directives concerning intelligence policy include the following.

A House Intelligence Subcommittee examined intelligence community personnel security policy in “Security Clearance Reform,” February 27, 2008.

“National Security Letters: The Need for Greater Accountability and Oversight” was the subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on April 23, 2008.

The Senate Intelligence Committee considered “Modernization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” in a May 1, 2007 hearing.

“DoD Implementation of the Joint Intelligence Community Duty Assignment (JDA) Program” is the response to a DNI policy to promote employee rotations throughout the intelligence bureaucracy. See DoD Instruction 1400.36 (pdf), June 2, 2008.

Another new DoD Instruction (3305.16) addresses “DoD Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) Training” (pdf), June 12, 2008.

Thanks to Stewart Mott

Stewart R. Mott, the political activist and philanthropist who died last week, was a consistent supporter of the FAS Project on Government Secrecy.

A man of many appetites, he seemed to derive pleasure from giving away money to support causes he believed in. Luckily for us, open and accountable government was one of those causes. For fifteen years, he sent us checks that helped anchor and sustain this Project and Secrecy News.

“The disadvantages of being wealthy are, in my experience, few,” he told Tim Weiner of the New York Times in a video interview from 2006.

A June 14 Times obituary, “Stewart R. Mott, 70, Offbeat Philanthropist, Dies,” by Douglas Martin, captures some of his eccentricities and his willful non-conformism.

But his capacity for kindness, not his flamboyance, was his most attractive quality. We are in his debt.

Secrecy News Purged from State Dept History Mailing List

Secrecy News was removed from the distribution list for the U.S. State Department history publication “Foreign Relations of the United States” (FRUS) after we reported on errors in several FRUS volumes on March 24 and 26, 2008.

A spokesman for the State Department Historian’s Office confirmed that officials had ordered the removal of Secrecy News from the FRUS mailing list in response to our critical coverage.

In an email message to the series editor yesterday, I asked the Historian’s Office (HO) to reconsider its action. To do so would serve the best interests of FRUS, I suggested.

“I know that a sizable fraction of my Secrecy News mailing list (which now exceeds 13,500 self-selected subscribers) has an interest in FRUS publications. Many of those subscribers are unlikely to be part of other existing networks of academics and historians through which news of FRUS is disseminated,” I wrote.

“I would also willingly publish any criticism of my own writing that HO personnel or HAC [Historical Advisory Committee] members felt was warranted,” I added.

The request to reinstate Secrecy News on the FRUS mailing list awaits a decision by the State Department Historian, Dr. Marc J. Susser.

A New DNI Directive on the National Intelligence Council

The Director of National Intelligence this week issued a new Intelligence Community Directive (pdf) that defines the structure and mission of the National Intelligence Council (NIC).

“The NIC consists of the senior-most intelligence analysts supporting the DNI in carrying out responsibilities as head of the IC and as the principal adviser to the President, the NSC, and the HSC for intelligence matters related to national security,” the directive explains.

“The NIC produces coordinated assessments of the IC’s views on critical national security issues. The NIC’s flagship product is the National Intelligence Estimate, which provides the authoritative written judgments of the IC on national security issues for the United States Government.”

See Intelligence Community Directive ICD-207, “National Intelligence Council,” June 9, 2008.

The most recent unclassified product of the NIC that has been publicly disclosed is “Disruptive Civil Technologies: Six Technologies With Potential Impacts on US Interests Out to 2025″ (pdf), Conference Report, April 2008.

Tuberculosis and More from CRS

Some new reports from the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).

“Tsunami Detection and Warnings for the United States,” May 28, 2008.

“Nanotechnology: A Policy Primer,” May 20, 2008.

“Nanotechnology and U.S. Competitiveness: Issues and Options,” May 15, 2008.

“The Army’s M-4 Carbine: Background and Issues for Congress,” May 30, 2008.

“Tuberculosis: International Efforts and Issues for Congress,” updated May 1, 2008.

“Russia’s Economic Performance and Policies and Their Implications for the United States,” May 30, 2008.