Posts from July, 2008

An Office of Technology Assessment Archive

The Federation of American Scientists is offering a new online collection of resources pertaining to the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), the congressional advisory organization that produced an enduring body of science policy literature before it was terminated by Congress in 1995.

“The OTA was an invaluable resource that informed Congress about an incredibly broad range of science and technology issues,” said Henry Kelly, President of the Federation of American Scientists and a former OTA staff member. “Numerous reports, on subjects such as transportation, energy, health care, and information technology remain relevant more than 10 years after OTA issued its final report.”

The new archive includes all of the official OTA publications, which have also been published online by Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, as well as various previously unreleased documents and memoranda, interviews, and related materials.

GAO on Information Sharing

The complexities and limited successes of government efforts to improve the sharing of terrorism-related information were examined in a new report from the Government Accountability Office published today. See “Information Sharing Environment: Definition of the Results to Be Achieved in Improving Terrorism-Related Information Sharing Is Needed to Guide Implementation and Assess Progress” (pdf), June 2008.

The report was summarized in GAO testimony presented today (pdf) to the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) and the House Oversight Committee, introduced and marked up two bills to limit the use of dissemination controls on unclassified information and to reduce overclassification. The bills, drafted in comparative secrecy with limited external review, had not been publicly released at the middle of the day. Statements by Rep. Waxman describing the intended purpose of the bills are here (pdf) and here (pdf).

Aircraft Recovery Operations

A new U.S. Army field manual presents guidance on Army aircraft recovery operations (pdf).

“Aircraft recovery missions include the assessment, repair, and retrieval, if possible, of aircraft forced down due to component malfunction, accident, or combat-related damage that prevents the continued safe flight or operation of the aircraft,” the manual explains.

“The aircraft recovery mission is complete upon the return of all personnel and either: The return of the aircraft through self-recovery or dedicated recovery utilizing aerial or surface recovery methods and techniques; [or] the selective cannibalization and destruction or abandonment of the aircraft.”

See “Aircraft Recovery Operations,” U.S. Army Field Manual 3-04.513, July 2008.

A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber crashed near Guam on July 21.

Intel Official Blasts NYT Disclosure of CIA Interrogator’s Name

When the New York Times published the name of a Central Intelligence Agency interrogator last month, it potentially placed him in jeopardy for no valid reason, wrote Joel Brenner, the ODNI National Counterintelligence Executive, in a letter to the New York Times Public Editor that was distributed by the ODNI last week.

“Journalists face difficult decisions every day about the prudence of publishing private information,” Mr. Brenner wrote. “But in this case the decision to out the individual had nothing to do with the media’s responsibility to inform the public about important government policies or actions.”

In a ground-breaking story by reporter Scott Shane on June 22, the Times described how a CIA interrogator had successfully managed the interrogation of 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheikh Mohammed using legal, non-coercive means. But over the objections of the CIA and the interrogator himself, the Times chose to disclose his name.

An editor’s note accompanying the story noted that the interrogator had never worked under cover and asserted that publication of his name “was necessary for the credibility and completeness of the article.”

In a July 6 article, the New York Times public editor, Clark Hoyt, investigated the decision to publish the name and concurred with it. To withhold such information, he wrote, “especially in this age of increasing government secrecy, would leave news organizations hobbled when trying to tell the public about some of the government’s most important and controversial actions.”

That’s “nonsense,” responded Joel Brenner, the ODNI official. Disclosure of the individual’s name “had nothing to do with the media’s responsibility to inform the public about important government policies or actions,” he wrote. “The Times was going to tell the public about these interrogations whether the interrogator’s name was used or not.”

According to Clark Hoyt, Times executive editor Bill Keller said that he had discounted a request from CIA director Michael Hayden to withhold the name because the CIA could not cite a specific threat to the interrogator. “I had this impression that he [Hayden] was doing it out of respect for [the interrogator]‘s and his family’s concerns more than a concern the C.I.A. had.”

Mr. Brenner wrote that the Times “trivialized the risk to the man by putting him to the impossible burden of showing with near certainty that he would be harmed. This was morally confused.”

One might also argue against Mr. Keller that the concerns of the interrogator and his family were entitled to more consideration than those of the CIA, not less, since it was his privacy and his security that were at stake. But that was not the Times’ view, nor that of most other reporters and columnists who have commented on the subject.

The Times has previously been criticized not only for disclosing classified information but also for withholding it from publication. Although Times reporters learned of the Bush Administration’s warrantless electronic surveillance program in 2004, it was not reported in the newspaper until December 2005. In effect, critics said, the Times helped the Administration for more than a year to conceal the classified program despite its probable illegality.

U.S. intelligence officials, meanwhile, are poorly positioned to offer rational criticism of press disclosure practices since their own secrecy practices are so manifestly irrational.

For example, although the 2007 budget for the National Intelligence Program was officially declassified and published last year ($43.5 billion), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said last month (pdf) that the 2006 budget figure will remain classified.

Protecting “Critical Program Information” Within DoD

The Department of Defense last week issued new guidelines (pdf) for protecting “critical program information” (CPI), a term that refers to the most sensitive technology information in DoD research, development and acquisition programs.

CPI consists of those program elements “that, if compromised, could cause significant degradation in mission effectiveness; shorten the expected combat-effective life of the system; reduce technological advantage; significantly alter program direction; or enable an adversary to defeat, counter, copy, or reverse engineer the technology or capability.”

CPI “includes technology that would reduce the US technological advantage if it came under foreign control.”

“It is DoD policy… to provide uncompromised and secure military systems to the warfighter by performing comprehensive protection of CPI.”

The new CPI instruction, issued by James. R. Clapper, Jr., the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, updates and expands upon a prior directive (pdf) from 1997.

Among the interesting changes adopted in the new instruction is an increased role for security oversight by the DoD Inspector General, who is called upon to “develop a uniform system of periodic inspections” to ensure compliance with CPI protection requirements, and to “publish an annual report of significant findings, recommendations, and best practices.”

Though it is not specifically addressed in the new instruction, the use of agency inspectors general to conduct oversight of classification and declassification activity is the single most promising near-term option for augmenting oversight of the government secrecy system. Increased IG oversight of CPI may serve as a useful precedent for validating the IG’s capacity to perform that function and advancing its classification oversight role.

See “Critical Program Information (CPI) Protection Within the Department of Defense,” DoD Instruction 5200.39, July 16, 2008.

Reporter Bill Gertz Ordered to Testify on “Newsworthiness”

Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz has been ordered to appear (pdf) in a California court next week and to testify on the “newsworthiness” of his reporting in 2006 on a case involving alleged Chinese espionage.

Mr. Gertz was subpoenaed by the court on April 30 and ordered to reveal who disclosed restricted grand jury information to him. Mr. Gertz’s attorneys moved to quash the subpoena, arguing among other things that grand jury information had not in fact been revealed and that Mr. Gertz had a First Amendment interest in protecting his sources.

While the motion to quash is still pending, Mr. Gertz is nevertheless required to appear in court on July 24.

“Regardless of whether Mr. Gertz discloses his sources, the Court expects that Mr. Gertz will be prepared to testify regarding the newsworthiness of this case and, more particularly, the reasons why maintaining the confidentiality of his sources is critical to his ability to engage in investigative reporting,” wrote Judge Cormac J. Carney.

“If the Court is to properly evaluate Mr. Gertz’s First Amendment arguments [against disclosure of his sources], Mr. Gertz must particularize them to this case,” Judge Carney instructed in a Minute Order filed July 14.

Justice Department attorneys had sought to delay the proceedings, and had filed a sealed, ex parte declaration with the Court to justify their position. When Judge Carney indicated that he would unseal the declaration, the Justice Department asked him not to do so since it would reveal internal Department deliberations that apparently remain unresolved.

“The [sealed] declaration describes discussions that have occurred within DOJ regarding the position the government should take in response to the court’s subpoena of Mr. Gertz and explains that no decision on that issue has yet been made,” according to a government pleading (pdf) filed yesterday.

In any event, “The subpoena for Mr. Gertz was issued by the Court, not the Government,” Judge Carney wrote. “If the Government is unable to participate,… the hearing will nonetheless go forward.”

The latest developments in the case were first reported by Josh Gerstein in “Advocates Concerned About a Reporter’s Court Appearance,” New York Sun, July 17.

House Approves 2009 Intelligence Bill Despite Veto Threat

The House of Representatives yesterday overwhelmingly approved its version of the Fiscal Year 2009 intelligence authorization act, including new requirements that the executive branch provide more complete briefings for all members of the intelligence oversight committees. The White House threatened a veto if that and other provisions were enacted.

“This bill is about ensuring the proper oversight of our nation’s intelligence agencies and that the administration complies with the law requiring Congress be kept fully and currently informed,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI). “There may be concerns with the bill, but I am not sure they rise to the veto level unless the objection is to proper oversight.”

“I am very glad that 75 percent of the dollars for covert action have been fenced [until reporting requirements are fulfilled],” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). “In other words, no notification from the administration and from the intelligence community, no money. And that’s the way it should be.”

“As someone who sat through countless hours of Intelligence Committee hearings and briefings, I have been appalled by the unwillingness and outright stonewalling of the Bush Administration when Members have asked even the most basic of questions about our intelligence community policies and practices,” said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL).

“I think it would be sufficient to say that this administration has taken a cavalier attitude toward its legal obligations to keep the committees fully and currently informed,” said Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ).

The floor debate also addressed funding for space surveillance systems, said by some to be inadequate, and the role of contractors in intelligence activities.

Feasibility of Improved Information Sharing Assessed

A newly disclosed report to Congress explores the feasibility of eliminating the use of markings that restrict the sharing of information within the “information sharing environment” that encompasses federal agencies as well as state, local and tribal entities.

The March 2008 report (pdf) from the Program Manager of the Information Sharing Environment describes how agencies are grappling with conflicting imperatives to share and to secure information, while trying to reconcile inconsistent information handling policies. The process has not yet reached a resolution.

“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is currently evaluating the best solution for managing the goal of maximum interagency sharing of national security information with that of protecting the sources and methods on which the IC depends to gather such information,” the report says.

The report evaluates and rejects an approach that would simply permit access to information needed for any “authorized use,” since this would conflict with various statutory requirements and agency regulations that limit access based on privacy and other concerns. The alternative approach would not be feasible without “legislation making clear that this ‘authorized use standard’ supersedes any contravening privacy-related laws or regulations.”

The report also considers “anonymization” of information to obscure sensitive source or privacy-protected information, and it includes a brief discussion of the potential for unauthorized reversal of the anonymization process.

The previously undisclosed report was prepared in response to a requirement in section 504 of the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Feasibility Report,” Report for the Congress of the United States, prepared by the Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment, March 2008.

White House Threatens Veto of Intelligence Bill

The White House expressed strong opposition (pdf) to the Fiscal Year 2009 Intelligence Authorization Act that is pending before the House of Representatives today, in part because it includes provisions for increased disclosure of classified information to the congressional intelligence oversight committees.

One of the provisions, the White House complained, “would withhold 75 percent of requested funding for covert action programs until the Administration provides much greater access to highly sensitive national security information to all members of the congressional intelligence committees.”

“Such a provision is inconsistent with the statute that expressly authorizes limited notice to Congress in exceptional cases and would undermine the fundamental compact between the Congress and the President on reporting highly sensitive intelligence matters — an arrangement that for decades has balanced congressional oversight responsibility with the need to protect intelligence information,” the White House said.

The President’s advisors would recommend a veto if “any” of the objectionable provisions were adopted, today’s statement said. See “Statement of Administration Policy on Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2009,” July 16.

Science Education is Lagging, Business Groups Say

Not enough American students are studying science, engineering and mathematics, a consortium of business organizations warned this week, posing a threat to the nation’s economic vitality and security.

“U.S. scientific and technological superiority is beginning to atrophy even as other nations are developing their own human capital,” they said.

Among their recommendations the business executives called for increased funding in basic research, reform of immigration policies to attract and retain foreign students, and improvements in public education in the sciences leading to a doubling of bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by 2015.

They also noted the need for an expedited security clearance process. “Delays in processing security clearances continue to discourage U.S. citizens from filling vital technical positions that require clearances,” they wrote.

See “Tapping America’s Potential,” July 15.

Ideally, scientific education would do more than produce qualified industrial workers. To the extent that it encourages critical thinking and reality testing, scientific training can also promote and strengthen democratic values.