Posts from May, 2009

OSC Views North Korea’s Leadership

The leadership of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is portrayed in a new chart (pdf) prepared by the DNI Open Source Center (OSC).  The chart includes the names, photographs and titles of dozens of senior North Korean officials, and also presents an illustrated family tree of supreme leader Kim Jong Il.

Like most other OSC products, this document has not been approved for public release, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “2009 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Leadership Chart,” Open Source Center, April 15, 2009.

A schematic rendering of the organization of the North Korean government was given in “DPRK Power Structure Chart” (pdf), Open Source Center, January 2009.

“Controlled Unclassified Info” Policy Is On the Way

A new government-wide policy on “controlled unclassified information” (CUI) is still more than a year away from implementation, but not because of any lack of attention or interest.  To the contrary, it is the subject of rather intensive policy deliberation, officials say, and is not “languishing” as Secrecy News stated on May 11.

CUI refers generally to information that is restricted in some way other than by national security classification.  Because such restrictions have taken many different forms and names — such as sensitive but unclassified, official use only, limited official use, and more than a hundred others — they have also become a disruptive barrier to communication and a source of confusion inside and outside of government.

While the nature of the problem is clear enough (i.e. a reckless proliferation of often arbitrary non-disclosure policies), and the solution is also straightforward in principle (i.e. increased restraint, uniformity and consistency), getting from here to there turns out to be an exceptionally complicated policy problem.  It involves the activities of dozens of federal agencies, as well as state, local, and tribal entities, industry and others.  It encompasses statutory and non-statutory control regimes.  A consensus policy must first be achieved, then translated into implementing regulations, and inculcated through training and education programs.

To gain traction on the problem, officials have broken it down into several sub-categories, including safeguarding policy, document designation, dissemination, and lifecycle (or “decontrol” of the information). Significant headway has been made in several of these areas, one official said.

The Obama Administration is expected to weigh in on the topic in the near future, adding new direction and impetus to the process.  But in any case, a new CUI policy is not expected to be in place before some time in Fiscal Year 2011.

“To undo decades of bad practices is going to take a while,” said William J. Bosanko, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office who is also leading the interagency CUI reform effort.

Some New Army Field Manuals

Noteworthy new additions to the literature of U.S. Army Field Manuals include the following (all pdf).

“Security Force Assistance,” FM 3-07.1, May 2009 (on support to foreign security forces).

“Legal Support to the Operational Army,” FM 1-04, April 2009 (including detainee and stability operations, but excluding the law of armed conflict).

“Visual Information Operations,” FM 6-02.40, March 2009 (referring to military photography, video recording, and the production and use of other visual media).

Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions: A Baseline Assessment

A new report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee discusses what is known about Iran’s potential for developing nuclear weapons, as well as what is suspected or imagined.

“There is no sign that Iran’s leaders have ordered up a bomb,” the report notes. “But unclassified interviews… make clear that Iran has moved closer to completing the three components for a nuclear weapon–fissile material, warhead design and delivery system,” the report stated.  Resolving suspicions about the potential military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program “will be one of the most difficult [issues] confronting negotiators for the two countries and the international community,” wrote Committee chairman Sen. John Kerry in his transmittal letter.

See “Iran: Where We Are Today,” A Report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, May 4, 2009.

Similarly, “We do not know whether Iran currently intends to develop nuclear weapons, although we assess Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons by continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so,” according to another report (pdf) drafted for the U.S. Intelligence Community by the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC).

See “Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January Through 31 December 2008,” Unclassified Report to Congress, March 2009.

Court Rebuffs FBI Censorship of Manuscript

A federal court last week rejected most of the objections raised by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to publication of a 500-page manuscript critical of the FBI counterterrorism program that was written by retired FBI Special Agent Robert G. Wright.  The manuscript had been submitted for pre-publication review in October 2001.

“This is a sad and discouraging tale,” wrote Judge Gladys Kessler in a May 6 order (pdf), referring to the FBI’s handling of the manuscript.

“In its efforts to suppress this information, the FBI repeatedly changed its position, presented formalistic objections to release of various portions of the documents in question, admitted finally that much of the material it sought to suppress was in fact in the public domain and had been all along, and now concedes that several of the reasons it originally offered for censorship no longer have any validity,” Judge Kessler observed.

The 41-page, partially redacted court ruling reviewed the facts of the pre-publication review dispute as well as the legal standards for official censorship of such materials, and dismissed all but one government objection to the manuscript.  The court also dismissed other government objections to release of written answers to interview questions submitted by then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller.

Policy on Controlled Unclassified Info Languishes

Three and a half years have passed since President Bush called for the establishment of a standardized government-wide format for the handling of “controlled unclassified information” (CUI) that would replace the dozens of different, incompatible controls on what had been known as “Sensitive But Unclassified” (SBU) information.  More than a year has passed since President Bush declared that the new CUI framework was established.

But in practice, little has changed because the implementing policies and procedures have not yet been devised.  An initial draft for comment is expected sometime this summer.  Meanwhile, agencies continue to follow their previous, often problematic approaches.

“Department of Defense components are not to use any of the new CUI markings until the national level interagency policy has been issued, the DoD-level implementation guidance has been published, and the DoD CUI Transition Plan is completed,” wrote Under Secretary of Defense James R. Clapper, Jr. in an internal memorandum (pdf) last month.  “Until such time, existing policy guidance pertaining to information such as For Official Use Only (FOUO), SBU, and DoD Unclassified Controlled Nuclear Information… must be strictly adhered to,” Gen. Clapper wrote.

The National Archives has requested $1.9 million for the Controlled Unclassified Information Office in FY 2010.  “The office will establish standards and guidance for this type of information, and monitor department and agency compliance.”

Aside from increasing uniformity of controls on information, limits on the authorized use of such controls and other policy provisions remain to be defined.

The Role of the CIA Historical Review Panel

The CIA Historical Review Panel, an advisory group which is composed of academic historians and political scientists, provides the CIA with recommendations on its declassification policies and priorities.  The role of the Panel was described lately by its chairman, Prof. Robert Jervis, in the latest issue of Passport (pdf, at pp. 10-13), the newsletter of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.

Prof. Jervis is a brilliant political scientist, but under his leadership the Historical Review Panel has not been notably effective and his description of the Panel’s activities suggests why this may be so.

As a matter of policy, he writes, the Panel operates in secret and does not disclose “the substance of the recommendations we have made” concerning CIA declassification policy.  Why not?  Because “heads of agencies are entitled to confidential advice.”  But while this may often be true of advice from agency employees, it is not true of all advice from anyone.  Panel members do not work for the CIA.  In fact, they are supposed to represent a broad public interest, not merely a personal or professional self-interest, and so they reasonably could be expected to interact with those they represent.  Instead, by yielding to CIA’s preference for secrecy, the Panel not only severs its connection with its own constituency, it also neutralizes its primary source of leverage, namely public opinion.

Thus Prof. Jervis notes in passing that some recent episodes of “bad publicity” generated by inappropriate CIA reclassification actions had taught agency officials to “realize… [the] high cost” of spurious classification activity.  But since the Historical Review Panel deliberately operates without publicity, it is unlikely to inspire any similar realizations on the part of agency officials.

Prof. Jervis writes that the Panel has “spent hours talking to top CIA officials” about the declassification of historical intelligence community budget figures, although “I cannot reveal the positions we took.”  But there are a limited number of possibilities here.  If the Panel took the position that historical budget figures should remain classified indefinitely, then indeed it has been marvelously effective.  But if, as seems more likely, Panel members argued that such old budget numbers should be declassified, then its efforts have been in vain.

Declassification advisory panels that include public representation can serve a constructive role in shaping and overseeing agency declassification programs.  But the CIA Historical Review Panel serves mainly as a negative example of how the utility and the influence of such panels can be compromised.

See “The CIA and Declassification: The Role of the Historical Review Panel” by Robert Jervis, Passport, April 2009.

White House Urged to Withhold Detainee Photos

The White House should intervene to block the impending release of certain photographs showing detainees abused by U.S. military personnel, Senators Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham wrote in a letter to President Obama yesterday.  Release of the photos is expected by May 28 in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The release of these old photographs of past behavior that has now been clearly prohibited will serve no public good, but will empower al-Qaeda propaganda operations, hurt our country’s image, and endanger our men and women in uniform,” the Senators wrote.

“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to fight the release of these old pictures of detainees in the war on terror, including appealing the decision of the Second Circuit in the ACLU lawsuit to the Supreme Court and pursuing all legal options to prevent the public disclosure of these pictures,” they wrote in the May 6 letter (pdf).

The ACLU said release of the photos was imperative.

“These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib,” said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse.”

The disagreement reflects conflicting assessments of which is more dangerous and objectionable– the release of the photographs or the abusive behavior that they depict.  It also turns on unresolved questions concerning the scale of prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel, and the nature of the public accounting that can or should be required.

A response to the appeal from Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Graham was not immediately forthcoming from the White House.

Republicans Press for Greater Disclosure

Questions of secrecy and disclosure are increasingly prominent in congressional interactions with the executive branch, particularly on the part of Republican members of Congress.

House Republicans wrote (pdf) to Defense Secretary Gates this week to complain about what they called “a disturbing trend of restricting budget and inspection information within the Department of Defense.”

They complained specifically about a recent policy of classifying reports of ship inspections that were previously unclassified.  “It is sometimes only through the media and public awareness… that we learn of the urgent need to address some of the shortfalls the military has…. If these reports are classified, we are unable to communicate these needs to the public,” wrote Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and several Republican colleagues from the House Armed Services Committee on May 5.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has a “moral obligation” to declassify records concerning Uighur detainees who might be released into the United States from Guantanamo, insisted Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).

“This administration has already shown that it has no qualms about releasing selected classified documents,” Rep. Wolf said on May 4, referring to the release of Office of Legal Counsel memos on torture. “The White House cannot just pick and choose what classified information it deems worthy of releasing…. I call on the Obama administration to declassify and release all the information that they have available [about the Uighur detainees] so the American people can make a judgment.”

Safety Standards for Microbiology Labs

The U.S. Army yesterday issued a revised and updated safety policy for microbiology and biomedical laboratories.  The new policy “prescribes the technical safety requirements for the use, handling, transportation, transfer, storage, and disposal of infectious agents and toxins (IAT) rated at biosafety level 2 (BSL–2) and above.”  It applies to “all U.S. Army activities and facilities in which IAT are used.”

“Microbiological and biomedical activities are conducted by the U.S. Army in developing measures to identify, detect, diagnose, treat, and protect against IAT,” the 45 page document explains.  See “Safety Standards for Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories” (pdf), U.S. Army Pamphlet 385-69, May 6, 2009.