Posts from March, 2009

Iranian Nuclear Science: A Bibliography

The scale and sophistication of Iranian research in nuclear science and engineering are evident in a newly updated open-source bibliography.  Thousands of titles address topics from nuclear physics and nuclear reactor safety to laser isotope separation.

The bibliography was prepared by independent researcher Mark Gorwitz.  See “Iranian Nuclear Science Bibliography: Open Literature References” (pdf), March 2009.

Secrecy Shuts Down Briefing on 2008 Chem Accident

Government safety investigators canceled a public briefing about an August 28, 2008 explosion that killed two persons at a chemical plant in Institute, West Virginia after operators of the plant said that public discussion of the accident could jeopardize “sensitive security information.”

Bayer CropScience, which runs the plant, told the U.S. Chemical Safety Board that relevant information about the plant is protected from public disclosure under the terms of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, as interpreted by U.S. Coast Guard regulations.

The Board, which is an independent federal agency that investigates industrial accidents, canceled the March 19 public meeting while it seeks to evaluate the Bayer secrecy claims.  See “Board Cancels Hearing Under Bayer Pressure” by Ken Ward, Jr., The Charleston Gazette, February 25, 2009.

On their face, the Bayer secrecy claims do not seem well-founded.

The Maritime Transportation Security Act (pdf) invoked by Bayer states (at section 70103) that certain facility security information “is not required to be disclosed to the public.”  That apparently means its disclosure cannot be compelled under the Freedom of Information Act, but it doesn’t say that disclosure of such information is prohibited.

Coast Guard regulations (pdf) implementing the Act state that the plant information could be “sensitive security information,” which is protected from public disclosure.  But compliance with those regulations is binding only on “covered persons,” a category that does not include the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

So these provisions would appear to have little relevance to this case, and to impose no non-disclosure obligations on the Chemical Safety Board.

“The whole purpose of these homeland security rules is supposed to be to increase public safety, not to reduce it,” said one federal official who expressed skepticism regarding Bayer’s reading of the secrecy requirements.

“We deserve the right to know in a timely manner what is happening in our community that could have such major effects on our health and safety. We also deserve the right to tell you our concerns and so inform the remainder of this investigation,” wrote Maya Nye of People Concerned About MIC [methyl isocyanate] and a coalition of other citizens groups in a letter to the Board this week.

A decision on how the Chemical Safety Board will proceed in this case is pending.

Meanwhile, the Bayer CropScience plant was cited last week for multiple violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  See “Bayer Plant Cited for 13 Serious Violations Including Safety Issues” by Tony Rutherford, Huntington News, February 27, 2009.

DoD Future Trend Study Provokes Foreign Reaction

A November 2008 Defense Department study of trends in national and international security was intended “to spark discussions … about the nature of the future security environment.” But the study (pdf), called the Joint Operating Environment 2008 (JOE 2008), has also triggered several unintended international reactions.

Last December, South Korean officials complained that JOE 2008 included North Korea in a list of nuclear weapons states.  The U.S. Joint Forces Command felt obliged to issue a news release disavowing that statement in the report.

“The statement regarding North Korea does not reflect official U.S. government policy regarding the status of North Korea.  The U.S. government has long said that we will never accept North Korea as a nuclear power,” the Joint Forces Command declared.

Then it turned out that Mexico was unhappy with the JOE’s discussion of that country’s potential vulnerability to criminal gangs and drug cartels, including the statement that “an unstable Mexico could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States.”

“The Mexican ambassador has asked to see me and we hope to link up very soon,” said Gen. James Mattis of Joint Forces Command on February 12.  Mexico’s concerns about JOE 2008 were reported in “Mattis Plans Meeting with Mexican Ambassador over Controversy” by Fawzia Sheikh in Inside the Pentagon, February 19, 2009.

Perhaps as a result of such unwanted attention, JOE 2008 has been quietly removed from some Defense Department web sites like this one, which says the document is “currently unavailable.”

But it remains online at Joint Forces Command and is also posted here.

Hopefully, the Defense Department will not conclude that it must neuter its public statements or that it should move its security policy studies behind closed doors in order to avoid criticism or hurt feelings.  Instead, DoD and its counterparts abroad might come to appreciate that questionable, challenging and even erroneous statements can be openly discussed without doing any real harm to anyone.

Update: JOE 2008 also drew the attention of Israeli observers. See U.S. Army document describes Israel as ‘a nuclear power’ by Amir Oren, Haaretz, March 8, 2009:

    In a rare breach of official American adherence to Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity, the U.S. military is terming Israel “a nuclear power” on a par with Russia, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea, all of which have declared their nuclear weapon status, and ahead of “nuclear threshold powers” Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and the “emerging” Iran.

    The reference to Israel as a nuclear power is contained in a document published late last year by the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), the Norfolk, Virginia-based headquarters in charge of preparing American forces for their military missions worldwide, including in Iraq and Afghanistan…

    Israel’s nuclear program is rarely, if ever, explicitly mentioned in public, unclassified U.S. official documents….

In Other News

“Evidently $30 million and 10 years wasn’t enough to finish the job of declassifying records on the involvement of U.S. intelligence agencies with Nazi and Japanese war criminals,” writes Jeff Stein in CQ Spy Talk.  “Congress has just budgeted another $650,000 to finish the job — really, they’re serious this time — of poring through some 8 million postwar pages.”  See “The Really Longest War: U.S. Still Spending on Nazi War Docs,” March 3.

“The Navy has classified regular reports about the material condition of its fleet, an about-face from when the reports were accessible as public documents under the Freedom of Information Act,” reports Philip Ewing in Navy Times.  See “Navy Classifies Ship Inspection Reports,” February 27.

“The Association of Health Care Journalists has urged President Barack Obama to end inherited policies that require public affairs officers to approve journalists’ interviews with federal staff.”

“The military is investigating how a secret briefing about national security got posted on the Web, including information about 93 tunnels found along the nation’s borders and a warning that Canada could become a terrorist gateway,” wrote Pam Zubeck in the Colorado Springs Gazette.  See “Military probes how secret briefing wound up on Web,” February 28.

Justice Department Releases Some OLC Memos

In its clearest departure to date from the uncompromising secrecy of the previous administration, the Justice Department yesterday released several controversial and discredited opinions produced by the Bush Administration Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) regarding detention of U.S. citizens, the domestic use of military force, and other topics.

Legal conclusions advanced in those opinions “do not reflect the current views of the Office of Legal Counsel and should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose,” wrote former OLC head Steven G. Bradbury in a January 15, 2009 memorandum (pdf).

But that may be an overstatement.  While they are no longer legally authoritative, the newly released OLC opinions retain their status as authoritative records of the Bush Administration, illustrating its willingness to set aside constitutional restrictions and to assert practically unlimited executive power in national security and intelligence matters.  Perhaps they are also more broadly indicative of how the U.S. government tends to respond under certain kinds of stress.

An Intelligence Briefing Book for President Ford

Many current debates in intelligence policy are prefigured in a 1975 “Intelligence Community Decision Book for the President” that was prepared for President Gerald R. Ford.

The 243-page document (pdf) addresses basic questions of executive authority, congressional oversight of intelligence, covert action, domestic surveillance, budget secrecy and more.  The briefing book was completed after the eruption of the intelligence scandals of the 1970s, but prior to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, and reflects the uncertainties of the times.  The title page of the 243-page document bears the name of then-White House chief of staff Dick Cheney.

A non-binding issue brief included in the document explores the separation of powers.  It acknowledges a role for Congress in a way that the Bush Administration Office of Legal Counsel would discount three decades later:

“While the President may be the Nation’s ‘sole organ in its external relations,’ implying certain inherent powers in foreign intelligence activities, when the Executive requires Congressional action — particularly appropriations — Congress has a concurrent power, and pursuant to this power may impose various and substantial limitations on those foreign intelligence activities which require Congressional funding.” (at pdf page 208).

At another point the then-classified briefing candidly acknowledged that the mechanism for funding the CIA may have been unconstitutional:

“The constitutionality of the section of the 1949 CIA Act authorizing unlimited transfers of funds to CIA from other agencies seems open to question,” President Ford was advised, though he was also told that no court was likely to enforce any constitutional requirement to the contrary.  (at pdf page 217).

In a statement of personal opinion included in the briefing book, former Director of Central Intelligence John McCone (1961-1965) told President Ford in 1975 that “CIA has been tarnished and should be done away with.”  (at pdf page 238).

The document was declassified in 2000 (except for some historical intelligence budget information that was unnecessarily, and therefore improperly, redacted) but it does not seem to have been widely circulated or read since that time.  Thanks to Susan Maret for sharing a copy, originally obtained from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

See “Intelligence Community Decision Book for the President,” transmitted to President Ford on December 22, 1975.

OSC on Turkish Military Web Sites, PRC Leaders

The DNI Open Source Center recently published an extended account of Turkey’s military presence online.

“The military uses [the website of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces] to inform the public of its counterterrorism activities, to expound its views as the upholder of Ataturk’s legacy and the foundations of the Turkish Republic, and to offer what it considers the official viewpoint of the Turkish state on the Armenian issue. Targeting the public as well as army personnel, the site showcases the [Turkish Armed Forces], its military prowess, its activities, and its projects, and offers a comprehensive archive and access to its publications.”

See “Turkey — General Staff Website Serves as Main Media Outlet for Military” (pdf), Open Source Center Media Aid, February 2, 2009.

The leadership of the Communist Party of China was portrayed in two other OSC publications in 2007 and 2008 (both pdf).

In Other News

The General Services Administration has refused to divulge a complete list of U.S. government internet domain names, claiming that they would be vulnerable to cyberattack.  See “Government Keeping Its .Gov Domain Names Secret” by Thomas Claburn, Information Week, March 2, 2009.

I discussed the latest developments in the prosecution of two former AIPAC employees for receiving and transmitting classified information with Brooke Gladstone on NPR’s On the Media.  See “The Week in Leaks,” February 27, 2009.