Posts from November, 2008

Don’t Remove Gov’t Records, Departing Officials Are Told

Government officials were reminded recently that as they depart from government service with the end of the current Administration, they are not permitted to take classified information with them.

“Classified information is not personal property and may not be removed from the Government’s control by any departing official or employee. This includes ‘extra’copies.”

That timely warning (pdf) was issued by William J. Bosanko, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees the national security classification system.

“This prohibition applies to all cleared officials and employees, regardless of type or level of position,” Mr. Bosanko wrote in a November 17 ISOO memorandum to senior executive branch agency officials.

Document removal is among the most pernicious forms of secrecy, as it is often undetected and irreversible.

Special Operations Forces Medical Handbook Updated

The United States Special Operations Command has published a newly updated handbook for use by special operations forces medics in the field.

“It emphasizes acute care in all its forms (including gynecology, general medicine, dentistry, poisonings, infestations, parasitic infections, acute infections, hyper and hypothermia, high altitude, aerospace, dive medicine, and sanitation.)”

The document, which is not yet available in soft copy, replaces a 2001 edition (large pdf) and may be purchased from the Government Printing Office Bookstore.

An earlier Army special forces medical handbook (large pdf) dated 1982 and obtained by Secrecy News is now “a relic of sentimental and historical interest only,” wrote Dr. Warner Anderson, a U.S. Army Colonel (ret.) and former associate dean of the Special Warfare Medical Group.  It advocates “treatments that, if used by today’s medics, would result in disciplinary measures,” he told us last year.  These include such unlikely remedies as drinking kerosene, eating cigarettes, and using live maggots to consume rotting tissue.

Slightly related is this report from the Congressional Research Service on “Military Medical Care: Questions and Answers” (pdf), updated October 31, 2008.

Some New Congressional Publications

Newly published congressional reports and hearing volumes that caught our eye include the following (mostly pdf).

“Misleading Information from the Battlefield: The Tillman and Lynch Episodes,” Report of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, September 16, 2008.

“Restoring the Rule of Law,” hearing before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Senate Judiciary Committee, September 16, 2008 (a second volume is to follow).

“An Amendment and Three Protocols to the 1980 Conventional Weapons Convention,” Report of the Committee on Foreign Relations, September 11, 2008.

“Argentina: Rudderless,” Report to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, September 9, 2008:

Financial Crisis, Midnight Rulemaking, and More from CRS

Some more reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).

“The U.S. Financial Crisis: The Global Dimension with Implications for U.S. Policy,” November 18, 2008.

“China and the Global Financial Crisis: Implications for the United States,” updated November 17, 2008.

“Reporting Requirements in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008,” updated November 13, 2008.

“The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act and Current Financial Turmoil: Issues and Analysis,” October 31, 2008.

“Russia’s Economic Performance and Policies and Their Implications for the United States,” updated November 5, 2008.

“‘Political’ Activities of Private Recipients of Federal Grants or Contracts,” October 21, 2008.

“Defense: FY2009 Authorization and Appropriations,” updated November 3, 2008.

“Federal Evacuation Policy: Issues for Congress,” November 12, 2008.

“Homeland Emergency Preparedness and the National Exercise Program: Background, Policy Implications, and Issues for Congress,” November 10, 2008.

“Midnight Rulemaking: Considerations for Congress and a New Administration,” November 18, 2008.

Joint Intelligence DNA Database Described

Scattered details of a little-known U.S. government database containing the DNA of suspected terrorists were gathered and reported today in the Financial Times.  See “Fears over Covert DNA Database” by Stephen Fidler.

The Joint Federal Agencies [or more often: Antiterrorism] Intelligence DNA Database (JFAIDD) is described in a 2007 briefing slide (pdf) as “a searchable database of DNA profiles from detainees and known or suspected terrorists.”

The JFAIDD contains 15,000 DNA profiles, according to a 2007 report of the Defense Science Board, with “a queue of 30,000 new samples in the laboratory and 400 [pending] requests for DNA profiles, searches, or comparisons.”  See “Defense Biometrics” (pdf, at page 32).

The collection of the DNA samples was described in a 2006 Army document.  “U.S. military units shall collect two buccal [intra-oral cheek] swabs from each person.”  See “Biometric Collection, Transmission and Storage Standards” (pdf), U.S. Army Biometrics Task Force, July 24, 2006 (at pp. 21-22).

“The FBI has been collecting biological evidence from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) removed from Iraq and Afghanistan and databasing the mtDNA profiles from this evidence since February 2004,” the Justice Department said in its 2009 budget justification book for the FBI (pdf).  “Only occasionally can these profiles be compared to reference samples from suspected terrorists or their maternal relatives.”

“Collecting DNA from detainees and obtaining the mtDNA profiles from these samples has the potential to provide excellent actionable intelligence in the Global War on Terror through comparison with evidence already analyzed…”

But “The FBI can process [only] two samples every three days using manual methods.  Given this rate, the DNA Analysis Unit… cannot keep up with the collection of these samples and would likely lose valuable intelligence from the lag time required to analyze these samples.”

The Justice Department therefore requested funding to automate the DNA analysis process, to permit analysis of 40 samples a day, five days a week so as to keep pace with the anticipated delivery of “approximately 9,000 samples per year from detainees of the U.S. government.”  See the 2009 FBI budget justification (at page 6-112).

Invention Secrecy Up Slightly in 2008

There were 5,023 invention secrecy orders in effect at the end of FY 2008, up slightly from last year’s total of 5,002.

Under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, secrecy orders are applied by government agencies to patent applications that may be “detrimental to national security.”  The patent is withheld, and the invention described in the application is subject to various degrees of restriction, depending on its sensitivity, from export controls to national security classification.

Last year, 68 new secrecy orders were imposed, while 47 were rescinded, according to statistics released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists.

The specific nature of the currently restricted inventions is, of course, not published.  But it is possible to get information about dozens of patent applications that were formerly subject to secrecy orders that were later rescinded.

A list of secrecy orders rescinded in 2005-2006 (pdf), by application number, was released in response to a FOIA request from researcher Michael Ravnitzky.

A description of each formerly restricted application can be found by searching the application number on the Patent Office web site.  Thus, the first invention on the list was described as a “rocket engine chamber with layered internal wall channels.”

Transition: A Drumbeat for Reform

Expectations of significant changes in government information policy continue to grow as more and more groups and individuals offer their recommendations for reform to the next administration and its transition team.

Proposals for change concerning classification, freedom of information, and presidential records were developed by a cross-section of interested organizations convened by the National Security Archive and published here.

A catalog of proposals affecting a broad range of national security and civil liberties issues, including secrecy, was compiled by the Constitution Project.

FOIA Litigation Guide

Under the Freedom of Information Act, one need not be a lawyer to file a lawsuit.  A clever, committed advocate can sometimes defeat a team of government lawyers and win disclosure of denied documents.  On the other hand, an inept, overzealous or unlucky litigant can leave a trail of legal wreckage that will make the lives of other FOIA requesters more difficult.

A newly updated guidebook will help any would-be litigant, whether a lawyer or not, to avoid many of the pitfalls of FOIA litigation and to realistically assess the chances of success.  Don’t file suit without it.

“Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws 2008″ was edited by Harry A. Hammitt, Marc Rotenberg, John A. Verdi, and Mark S. Zaid.  It can be purchased from Harry Hammitt’s web site or from the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

21st Century Right to Know: Transition Recommendations

Ideally, the change of presidential administrations would be the occasion for a transformation in the relationship between government and the public, in which government information becomes easily and rapidly accessible to all interested parties.

With that possibility in mind, dozens of public interest organizations concerned with access to government information (including FAS) have collaborated to develop actionable recommendations for the new administration to promote open, accountable government.

The process, convened and led by OMB Watch, produced a 112-page volume (pdf) that addresses transparency, access, national security secrecy, freedom of information policy, and related topics. See “Moving Towards a 21st Century Right to Know Agenda: Recommendations to President-Elect Obama and Congress.”

Other transition-related initiatives on open government were compiled on the Sunshine Week web site.  See “Groups Call for Transparency in New President’s Administration.”

And others yet are still to come.

Army Rethinks Unconventional Warfare

The conduct of unconventional warfare is explored in depth in a major new U.S. Army Field Manual on the subject (pdf).

Unconventional warfare (UW) is defined as “Operations conducted by, with, or through irregular forces in support of a resistance movement, an insurgency, or conventional military operations… This definition reflects two essential criteria: UW must be conducted by, with, or through surrogates; and such surrogates must be irregular forces.”

Thus, U.S. support of the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s constituted unconventional warfare, as did U.S. support of anti-Soviet mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“The United States has considerable experience in conducting UW,” the new manual observes. “The best known U.S. UW campaigns include OSS activities in Europe and the Pacific (1942-45), Philippines (1941-44), Guatemala (1950), Cuba (1960-61), North Vietnam (1964-72), South Vietnam (1967-72), Iraq (1991-96), Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-02), and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2002-03).”

The 248-page manual presents updated policy and doctrine governing unconventional warfare, and examines its “three main component disciplines”: special forces operations, psychological operations, and civil affairs operations.  Appendices include an historical survey of unconventional warfare as well as an extensive bibliography.

The unclassified manual has not been approved for public release.  But a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Army Special Operations Forces Unconventional Warfare,” U.S. Army Field Manual FM 3-05.130, September 30, 2008.