Posts from July, 2008

The U.S. Science and Technology Workforce, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service, most of which have not been made readily available to the public, include the following (all pdf).

“The U.S. Science and Technology Workforce,” June 20, 2008.

“Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with Russia: Statutory Procedures for Congressional Consideration,” June 20, 2008.

“The Global Nuclear Detection Architecture: Issues for Congress,” July 7, 2008.

“Protection of Classified Information by Congress: Practices and Proposals,” updated May 27, 2008.

“Presidential Appointments to Full-time Positions in Executive Departments During the 109th Congress, 2005-2006,” June 10, 2008.

“The Interagency Security Committee and Security Standards for Federal Buildings,” updated November 23, 2007.

“Earthquakes: Risk, Monitoring, Notification, and Research,” updated June 19, 2008.

Various Resources

The Program Manager of the DNI’s Information Sharing Environment is tasked with improving the sharing of terrorism-related information between the federal government and state, local and tribal governments, while preventing public access to that same information. The latest Annual Report to Congress on the Information Sharing Environment (pdf) was transmitted earlier this month.

Civil-military operations are the subject of a new doctrinal publication from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. See Joint Publication 3-57, “Civil-Military Operations” (pdf), July 8, 2008.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Privacy Office will hold a public workshop on government data mining and its impact on personal privacy on July 24-25.

President Nixon’s Daily Diary — which is actually something like an appointment calendar, not a written record of intimate confidences — has recently been released and published on the web site of the Nixon presidential library.

Foreign Relations Series Still Fails to Meet Legal Deadline

The “Foreign Relations of the United States” (FRUS) series, which is the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy, remains unlikely to meet the legal requirement that it be published no later than 30 years after the events that it describes, an official advisory committee has told the Secretary of State.

“Despite many and repeated assurances that this problem would be addressed by 2010, the committee is now very skeptical that the Office of the Historian will succeed in meeting the 30-year requirement for the Foreign Relations series at any time within the next decade,” the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation wrote in its new annual report.

Compliance with the 30 year deadline is not optional; it is a binding legal requirement. “The Secretary of State shall ensure that the FRUS series shall be published not more than 30 years after the events recorded,” according to a statute enacted in 1991.

But instead of advancing towards that goal, FRUS seems to be retreating further and further away from it. The FRUS series’ sparse publication record in 2007 “was a considerable disappointment, and does not bring with it much encouragement for the future,” the committee wrote in its report to the Secretary of State.

“Last year the committee reported that ‘it is reasonable’ to be optimistic that the series would be in compliance with the law by the end of 2010,” the committee noted. “We no longer have any reason to be optimistic, and are frankly very pessimistic.”

The annual report, dated May 19, 2008, will appear in the September 2008 issue of Perspectives on History, a publication of the American Historical Association. An advance copy is available here.

“The committee must really be concerned for the report to be so explicit and emphatic,” one former State Department official told Secrecy News.

In a delicate allusion to reports of morale problems in the Office of the Historian and the ensuing resignations of professional staff, the Advisory Committee strongly recommended that State Department Human Resources personnel “conduct mandatory exit interviews to determine the principal reasons behind the departure of skilled researchers.”

The committee also expressed dismay at plans to provide reduced coverage of U.S. policy during the Reagan Administration:

“The committee is concerned that despite a collection of 8.5 million classified pages in the Reagan Library, compared with the Nixon years’ 2.5 million pages, the Office plans substantially fewer volumes of the FRUS series.”

“The publication of the Foreign Relations series stands as a symbol of commitment to openness and accountability,” the Advisory Committee report affirmed.

Regrettably, with its persistent violation of mandatory publication requirements and its diminishing productivity, the Foreign Relations series may indeed be a fitting symbol of the current state of openness and accountability.

Controlled Unclassified Info May Be Classified, US-Czech Doc Says

Government agencies may redesignate “controlled unclassified information” (CUI) as classified information in order to prevent its disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, according to an agreement signed last week between the United States and the Czech Republic.

The July 8 agreemen (pdf) on establishment of a U.S. missile defense radar in the Czech Republic devotes an entire section (Article XII) to “controlled unclassified information,” which is defined as “unclassified information to which access or distribution limitations have been applied in accordance with applicable national laws.”

The new agreement surprisingly presents national security classification as an option when facing involuntary disclosure of CUI under the Freedom of Information Act:

“Each Party shall take all lawful steps, which may include national classification, to keep controlled unclassified information free from further disclosure (including requests under any applicable domestic legislation)…, unless the originating Party consents to such disclosure.”

While there is an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for “properly classified” information, there is no such exemption for CUI. (According to a May 7 White House policy statement, “CUI markings may inform but do not control the decision of whether to disclose or release the information to the public, such as in response to a request made pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.”)

Classification of CUI — which by definition is information that does not meet the standards for classification — in order to evade the requirements of the FOIA would be a violation of official classification policy, as set forth in the president’s executive order.

Coincidentally or by design, the text of the new Agreement between the U.S. and the Czech Republic has not been made available on any publicly accessible U.S. government web site, though the State Department issued a July 10 Fact Sheet about it. But it was published in the Czech Republic and a copy is available here.

Computing at Los Alamos in the 1940s and 1950s

Last week, in response to a request from Secrecy News for a copy of a thirty year old history of computer development at Los Alamos in the 1940s and 1950s, a reference librarian at Los Alamos National Laboratory apologetically explained that she could not release the requested document.

“We are sorry but due to a mandate from NNSA to the Laboratory and Research Library policies, we are unable to provide technical reports until further notice,” the librarian wrote. You want information from the Library? Don’t be silly!

Fortunately, a copy of the document (pdf), which was not otherwise available online, was obtained independently and it has been added to our Los Alamos document collection.

Among other curiosities, the report describes work on an early chess-playing program for the MANIAC computer in the 1950s:

“Because of the slow speed of MANIAC (about 10,000 instructions per second) we had to restrict play to a 6 by 6 board, removing the bishops and their pawns. Even then, moves averaged about 10 minutes for a two-move look-ahead strategy.”

See “Computing at LASL in the 1940s and 1950s” by Roger B. Lazarus, et al, report number LA-6943-H, May 1978.

DoD Has More Than a Thousand Chinese Linguists

There are more than a thousand members of the U.S. military who are qualified Chinese linguists, a Defense Department official told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year.

“I have been told that information regarding the number of DOD intelligence analysts who speak Mandarin and/or Cantonese is classified,” said James J. Shinn, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, who was confirmed in December 2007.

“At the unclassified level, I can tell you that there are over 5,800 military personnel (officers and enlisted) with at least a basic capability in Mandarin and/or Cantonese. Of those, over 1,000 are considered proficient in Mandarin.”

“I would like to see these numbers grow by increasing our investment in Chinese language skills for both civilians and military personnel,” Dr. Shinn said.

“The U.S. Department of Defense has a fairly sophisticated understanding of China’s growing military capabilities, but we lack insight into China’s intent because China’s military buildup is occurring in the absence of transparency,” he said. “Without greater transparency, the United States and other Asian nations cannot fully determine the degree and type of risk that China’s buildup poses.”

According to his official biography, Dr. Shinn himself “once spoke good Japanese, passable French, and functional German, but no more.”

His remarks appeared in an exceptionally rich new volume of “Nominations Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, First Session, 110th Congress” (pdf), Senate Armed Services Committee (at p. 1247).

Rep. Rush Holt, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Panel on Intelligence Oversight, said in a statement released today that his Panel “is once again recommending a robust investment in foreign language training.”

“We must do more to ensure that our education systems — civilian and military — place a greater emphasis on language and culture skills and on producing the teachers who can transmit those language and cultural skills to others,” he wrote.

More generally, “The funding recommendations that the Panel will forward to the Defense Subcommittee are classified, but I can tell you that these recommendations include an increase to the National Intelligence Program and the Military Intelligence Program from the fiscal year 2008 levels and a significant reduction from the President’s request,” Rep. Holt stated.

Intelligence is Secure at Hoover Building, FBI Says

All intelligence and other sensitive information at the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building is properly safeguarded, the FBI says.

A June 23 Senate Appropriations Committee report, cited by Secrecy News on July 7, had stated: “The Hoover Building does not meet the Interagency Security Committee’s criteria for a secure Federal facility capable of handling intelligence and other sensitive information.”

That statement is basically true, an FBI spokesman wrote in response to an inquiry from Eric Umansky of ProPublica, the new investigative journalism organization.

But he said it doesn’t mean that FBI intelligence information is not secure.

“The Interagency Security Committee (ISC) criteria deal only with physical security of federal facilities. The J. Edgar Hoover Building, which is a GSA-owned federal building, does not meet the ISC (physical security) criteria, in terms of standoff distance and other blast mitigation measures. These criteria do not have anything to do with information security or handling intelligence or sensitive information,” wrote FBI Assistant Director Patrick G. Findlay to Mr. Umansky.

“From an information security standpoint, FBI information is secure,” Mr. Findlay wrote. “All intelligence and sensitive information are properly safeguarded and classified information is properly contained, to include being processed and/or discussed in accredited SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) space.”

Despite the Senate Committee’s peculiar reference to “handling intelligence and other sensitive information,” the Committee was only discussing building security at the FBI and not information security, a Committee spokeswoman told Mr. Umansky.

Iranian Nuclear Science: An Open Source Bibliography

A newly updated bibliography of published Iranian nuclear science and engineering research (pdf) documents that country’s substantial commitment to the field.

“The Iranian nuclear program appears to be entering a more mature stage of research and development,” said Mark Gorwitz, an independent researcher who compiled the bibliography.

In addition to previously cited research on nuclear reactor safety, isotope separation and related topics, the new bibliography also covers Iranian publications on nuclear waste treatment, shock waves, carbon fibers and carbon composites.

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

Intelligence Abuses and the FISA Amendments Act

“The history of the Intelligence Community is replete with instances of abuse of civil liberties,” observed Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper last year in the course of his confirmation as Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.

That is not news, of course, though it is useful to have it acknowledged by the Pentagon’s senior intelligence policy official. Also useful is Gen. Clapper’s proposed remedy:

“The requisite elements of a program to prevent such abuse are: (1) clearly articulated and widely publicized policies; (2) training, both basic and refresher; and (3) a mechanism to verify compliance independently,” he wrote (pdf) in reply to a question from Sen. Carl Levin.

By these standards, the pending amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that is being considered by the Senate today leaves much to be desired.

Far from being “clearly articulated,” the legislation leaves even experts uncertain as to what its provisions mean. And by granting retroactive immunity to telephone companies for unspecified illegal acts that they may have committed, the legislation compromises the most important mechanism for independent verification of legal compliance, namely the judicial process.

“Does the new FISA bill authorize wholesale interception of all communications to and from the US,” asked James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology, “or does it only authorize the interception of the communications of particular individuals?”

Incredibly, the answer is not reliably known. “Both national security and civil liberties interests weigh in favor of clarity on this question,” Mr. Dempsey wrote last month.

Meanwhile, the congressional grant of immunity to telephone companies that are being sued for suspected acts of illegal surveillance under the President’s warrantless surveillance program “is a naked intrusion into ongoing litigation,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) on the Senate floor yesterday.

“I am aware of no precedent for the Congress of the United States stepping into ongoing litigation, choosing a winner and a loser, allowing no alternative remedy,” he said.

“I believe it will be determined by a court that ultimately this section of the legislation is unconstitutional, in violation of the separation of powers, because we may not, as a Congress, take away the access of the people of this country to constitutional determinations heard by the courts of this country.”

“If I were a litigant, I would challenge the constitutionality of the immunity provisions of this statute, and I would expect a good chance of winning,” Sen. Whitehouse said.

DoD Renounces Security Restrictions on Unclassified Research

Department of Defense agencies have been directed not to impose any security-related access restrictions on unclassified fundamental research.

“The products of fundamental research are to remain unrestricted to the maximum extent possible,” wrote John J. Young Jr., the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics in a June 26, 2008 memorandum (pdf) to the military services and defense agencies.

The new DoD policy responds to concerns about an increase in post-9/11 restrictions on disclosure of unclassified DoD-funded research in academia and industry. The new policy reaffirms a 1985 presidential directive (NSDD-189) which stated that national security classification is the only mechanism that may be used to limit disclosure of scientific research when there are valid national security concerns, but that unclassified research may not be restricted for security reasons.

“DoD will not restrict disclosure of the results of contracted fundamental research… unless the research is classified for reasons of national security, or as otherwise required by statute, regulation, or Executive Order,” Mr. Young wrote.

“The performance of fundamental research… should not be managed in a way that it becomes subject to restrictions on the involvement of foreign researchers or publication restrictions,” he wrote.

The new policy memorandum was first reported in “Pentagon: ‘Fundamental’ Research Best Left Unclassified” by Sebastian Sprenger,, July 7.

“Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, many research institutions have reported more restrictions on participation in government contracts and research grants, as well as more limits on publishing,” wrote Jacques S. Gansler, a former Under Secretary of Defense, and Alice P. Gast, a former vice president at MIT, in the July 11 issue of Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req’d).

The writers, who chaired a National Research Council committee on “Science and Security in a Post-9/11 World,” also noted with concern the rise of a “growing number of research projects that are categorized as ‘sensitive but unclassified,’ a designation that limits the scientific community’s right to publish the research results and restricts participation of foreign-born scientists.”