Posts from June, 2008

Open Source Center Views Animal Pox Virus Research

Dozens of countries are conducting research involving animal pox viruses, according to a descriptive survey (pdf) performed for the U.S. intelligence community’s Open Source Center.

There are various potential public health and security concerns associated with pox viruses (such as smallpox), the OSC report says in a background discussion.

“Naturally occurring smallpox disease was eliminated worldwide in 1977. Routine vaccination of US civilians against smallpox was discontinued in 1971, but allowed for travelers to endemic regions until the late 1970s. In most other countries, vaccination of the general population ended by 1982. As a result of this halt in vaccination, most of the US population could now become ill with smallpox disease should it be reintroduced by accident or intentionally.”

“In addition, humans are susceptible to several naturally occurring viruses related to smallpox, one of which could become a serious disease risk through natural evolution. Routine smallpox vaccination previously protected against these viruses. Finally, there is concern about the potential creation of a genetically engineered poxvirus that might be markedly pathogenic for humans.”

Like most finished intelligence products from the Open Source Center, the report on animal pox viruses has not been approved for public release. But a copy was obtained independently by Secrecy News.

See “Recent Worldwide Research on Animal Pox Viruses,” MITRE Corporation, January 2008.

DoD: Detainees Are to be Treated Humanely, No Exceptions

Not even a valid intelligence requirement can be used to justify cruel treatment of a detained enemy combatant, according to Defense Department doctrine on “detainee operations” (pdf).

The Joint Chiefs of Staff last week issued a slightly revised version of that DoD doctrine on detainees (the second revision this year).

The document reaffirms that all detainees must be treated humanely.

“Inhumane treatment of detainees is prohibited by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, domestic and international law, and DOD policy. There is no exception to this humane treatment requirement.”

“Accordingly, the stress of combat operations, the need for intelligence, or deep provocation by captured and/or detained personnel does not justify deviation from this obligation.”

See Joint Publication 3-63, “Detainee Operations,” 30 May 2008.

Fusion Centers Face “Insufficient” Terrorist Activity

Fusion centers are collaborative law enforcement and intelligence organizations that were established all over the country after 9/11 to share intelligence and counterterrorism information. But in the absence of a widespread domestic terrorist threat, they have not consistently demonstrated their value, according to a recent study.

“Fusion centers emerged almost spontaneously in response to a need by state and local law enforcement for useful and usable intelligence related to the evolving terrorist threat,” observed Milton Nenneman, a Sacramento police officer, in a master’s thesis (pdf) based on a survey of California fusion centers.

But the terrorist threat has turned out to be “insufficient” to justify or sustain the new fusion centers.

“There is, more often than not, insufficient purely ‘terrorist’ activity to support a multi-jurisdictional and multi-governmental level fusion center that exclusively processes terrorist activity,” Lt. Nenneman wrote.

As a result, “Fusion centers must consider analyzing or processing other criminal activity, in addition to terrorist activity, in order to maintain the skills and interest of the analysts, as well as the participation and data collection of the emergency responder community.”

Basic questions regarding who the fusion centers are supposed to serve and exactly what they are supposed to produce often lack satisfactory answers, Lt. Nenneman reported.

While there is little consensus about the precise mission or function of fusion centers, which vary widely, “the majority of fusion centers operate exclusively in an analytical capacity rather than as having any response or operational capacity.”

“It would seem prudent to make a concerted effort to seek out the emergency responder administrators and elected officials to given them regular threat assessments and situational awareness briefings to demonstrate the value and capability of the unit,” he suggested.

See “An Examination of State and Local Fusion Centers and Data Collection Methods” by Milton W. Nenneman, Naval Postgraduate School, March 2008.

Related issues were examined by the Congressional Research Service in “Fusion Centers: Issues and Options for Congress” (pdf), updated January 18, 2008.

See also “Homeland Security: Federal Efforts Are Helping to Alleviate Some Challenges Encountered by State and Local Information Fusion Centers” (pdf), Government Accountability Office Report No. GAO-08-35, October 2007.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center recently won disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act of records documenting federal efforts to curtail public disclosure of fusion center information in the state of Virginia.

Air Force Grapples with Nuclear Weapons Security

The U.S. Air Force last week issued revised procedures (pdf) for nuclear weapons maintenance and accounting. Meanwhile, the Air Force continues to suffer serious lapses in nuclear weapons security.

The new procedures include increased supervision and auditing requirements for weapon storage, handling and transport.

“Nuclear weapons require special consideration because of their political and military importance, destructive power, cost, and potential consequences of an accident or unauthorized act,” the Air Force reiterated.

See Air Force Instruction 21-204, Supplement 1, “Nuclear Weapons Maintenance Procedures,” updated 28 May 2008.

Recurring defects in nuclear weapons security were identified in a recent inspection at Minot Air Force Base, Air Force Times reported last week. Security “broke down on multiple levels during simulated attacks across the base, including against nuclear weapons storage areas,” the paper said, citing an undisclosed inspection report from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. See “5th Bomb Wing flunks nuclear inspection” by Michael Hoffman, Air Force Times, May 30.

More on U.S. SIGINT and the Vietnam War

The National Security Agency has released some additional declassified passages from its major historical study of Vietnam-era signals intelligence, “Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War, 1945-1975.”

The large bulk of the 500-page report was declassified last December. But in response to a mandatory declassification review appeal from researcher Michael Ravnitzky, further declassifications on 90 pages (large pdf) were released last month, including disclosures authorized by “other government agencies.”

Most of the new disclosures appear to be insignificant, not to say tiresome. For example, several previously redacted references to the term “COMINT” (i.e., “communications intelligence”) have been approved for release. Numerous allusions to the French war in Indochina have been okayed too. And several mentions of the year 1959, which had been censored for reasons that are hard to fathom, have been restored.

Other newly declassified lines include these:

“With the deaths of Kennedy and Diem, the struggle in the South entered a period of enormous flux and instability. A plan developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under guidance from the Kennedy administration, to reduce American forces in Vietnam by the end of 1965 to one-quarter the 1963 level (25,000), was quietly scrapped.” (p. 171).

“There had always been a suspicion going back to the 1950s about the integrity of South Vietnamese security.” (page 463).

“Westmoreland called the battle in Kontum Province the ‘beginning of a great defeat of the enemy’.” (page 317).

“As for the Tet Offensive, despite official and personal claims, SIGINT did not deliver an adequate warning in January 1968.” (p. 465).

Perhaps most substantive is the brief discussion of a 1968 report of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board on the performance of intelligence in Vietnam (pp. 340-41).

The 90 pages that include newly declassified material are posted here.

The previously released body of the report (not yet including the newly disclosed passages) can be found here.