Posts from October, 2009

Supreme Court Demographics, and More from CRS

“Over time, the Supreme Court has become more diverse in some ways and more homogeneous in others,” a recent Congressional Research Service report (pdf) observed.

“When first constituted, and throughout most of its history, no women or minorities served on the Court… The religious affiliations of the Court’s members also have changed over time. For almost the first 50 years of the Court, all Justices were affiliated with protestant Christian churches. [Today], six of the nine current Justices identify as Roman Catholic…. Over time, Justices’ legal educations have become more homogeneous…. In the last 20 years, especially, three Ivy League law schools–Harvard, Yale, and Columbia–have been disproportionately represented on the Court.”

“To date, every Supreme Court Justice has been a lawyer. There is, however, no constitutional requirement regarding the educational background of a Justice or the necessity of a law degree.”  See “Supreme Court Justices: Demographic Characteristics, Professional Experience, and Legal Education, 1789-2009,” September 9, 2009.

Other noteworthy new CRS reports that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).

“Presidential Terms and Tenure: Perspectives and Proposals for Change,” October 19, 2009.

“The Debate Over Selected Presidential Assistants and Advisors: Appointment, Accountability, and Congressional Oversight,” October 9, 2009.

“Poverty in the United States: 2008,” October 6, 2009.

“Public Safety Communications and Spectrum Resources: Policy Issues for Congress,” October 14, 2009.

“Managing Electronic Waste: Issues with Exporting E-Waste,” October 7, 2009.

“Iraq: Regional Perspectives and U.S. Policy,” October 6, 2009.

Nozette and Nuclear Rocketry

Stewart D. Nozette, who was arrested and charged this week under the Espionage Act, is an unusually gifted and accomplished technologist.  The allegation that he provided classified information to an FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer in exchange for cash is distressing on several levels.

Among other things, Nozette had exceptionally broad access to a range of classified programs in defense, space and nuclear technology.  According to an FBI affidavit (pdf), Nozette stated that he “held a DOE Q clearance from 1990-2000, which involved insight into all aspects of nuclear weapons programs.  Held TS/SI/TK/B/G clearance 1998-2006,… Held at least 20+ SAP [special access program clearances]… from 1998-2004.”

In fact, however, Nozette’s participation in Department of Defense special access programs dates back even earlier, to 1990 or so.  At that time he was read into an unacknowledged special access program called Timber Wind (pdf), which was an effort by the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization to develop a rocket engine powered by a nuclear reactor.  Dr. Nozette’s name appears on a Timber Wind master access list we obtained which identified the several hundred persons who were authorized to be briefed on that nuclear rocket program.

The discovery of the hyper-classified Timber Wind program was an inspiration for the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, since we considered it a compelling instance of classification abuse.  On a number of occasions I asked Dr. Nozette about the program, but he was always quite scrupulous about rebuffing my inquiries.

Timber Wind was canceled shortly after it became public, and other nuclear rocket initiatives likewise faded away in the 1990s, as the effort to develop nuclear rocketry for military or civilian applications surged and then collapsed, leaving behind only a bunch of good stories.

An idiosyncratic new memoir (pdf) by Tony Zuppero, one of the would-be nuclear rocketeers, tells those stories as he recalls them, with sometimes alarming candor, humor, and disappointment.  Dr. Zuppero had his own concept of a nuclear rocket that would open a path for human expansion into the solar system.  But, he laments, “after all the effort, all the visions, I got old instead of making it happen.”

Dr. Nozette, myself and the Federation of American Scientists make a few cameo appearances in Dr. Zuppero’s new memoir, entitled “To Inhabit the Solar System”.

Congress Moves to Bar Release of Abuse Photos

House and Senate conferees last week approved legislation that would preempt the Freedom of Information Act and permit the Secretary of Defense to withhold from release photographs and other visual media if he determines that their public disclosure “would endanger citizens of the United States, members of the United States Armed Forces, or employees of the United States Government deployed outside the United States.”

The new provision, contained in the 2010 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, was adopted to thwart a successful FOIA lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking release of certain photographs documenting the abuse of detainees held in U.S. military custody.  A federal appeals court ruled (pdf) last year that the unclassified photographs are not exempt from the FOIA and must be released.

The Obama Administration, prodded by Senators Lieberman and Graham and with the support of some senior military officials, petitioned (pdf) the Supreme Court last August to overturn the ruling.  “The disclosure of those photographs could reasonably be expected to endanger the lives or physical safety of United States military and civilian personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the Administration argued.  But Congress acted first, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan asked the Court (pdf) on October 8 to suspend its consideration of the petition.

From an open government point of view, it is dismaying that Congress would intervene to alter the outcome of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act proceeding.  The move demonstrates a lack of confidence in the Act, and in the ability of the courts to correctly interpret its provisions.  The legislation elevates a speculative danger to forces who are already in battle above demands for public accountability concerning controversial government policies, while offering no alternative avenue to meet such demands.  “The suppression of these photos will ultimately be far more damaging to our national security than their disclosure would be,” suggested Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU.

On the other hand, legislative intervention to block release of the photos might not be the worst possible outcome.  A worse scenario would be if the Supreme Court upheld the sweeping Obama Administration argument that other courts have rejected, and ruled that the FOIA exempts these unclassified photos simply because they may pose an unspecified danger to unspecified persons.  Such a Supreme Court ruling would have left a gaping hole in the Freedom of Information Act even larger than what the Obama Administration and Congress have now created.

Meanwhile, a new military policy prohibits reporters embedded with forces in eastern Afghanistan from photographing U.S. troops killed in action, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press revealed last week.  See “Afghanistan Command Confirms Policy Against Images of U.S. Dead” by John M. Donnelly, CQ Politics, October 14, 2009.

OSC Views Nuclear Commerce in Kazakhstan

“Kazakhstan, which is second only to Australia in uranium reserves and exceptionally appealing to nuclear nations that require uranium, has entered into agreements or joint ventures with many countries and corporations,” a new analysis (pdf) from the DNI Open Source Center observes.

Kazakhstan has embarked on cooperative civilian nuclear projects with countries including the U.S., Russia, China, Brazil, Canada, France, India, and others, possibly including Iran.

“Some serious issues lurk behind the veneer of the government’s political and commercial success,” the OSC analysis says. These include “an unclear line of power succession,… which could facilitate nuclear deals with international partners with mixed proliferation records.”

“The country is corrupt and has corrupt practices,” the OSC declares. “Kazakhstan’s mineral riches have supplied many a thief with wealth.”  See “Kazakhstan — Opening Up for Nuclear Collaboration,” Open Source Center, October 6, 2009.

Kazakhstan relinquished the nuclear weapons that it inherited from the former Soviet Union in  1995.  It has also accepted IAEA safeguards and the Additional Protocol.

Update: A Kazakhstan government official disputed the conclusions of the OSC analysis. He said that “contrary to recent reports, his country is not looking to do nuclear deals with countries that have a mixed record on proliferation,” the Christian Science Monitor reported October 19.

Stellar Evolution and Nucleogenesis (1957)

A 1957 scientific paper on astrophysics by the late Alistair G.W. Cameron has the unusual quality of being both historically significant and very hard to obtain.  A scanned copy of the paper has recently been posted online.  Known to specialists as CRL-41 (for Chalk River Laboratory paper number 41), the proper title is “Stellar Evolution, Nuclear Astrophysics and Nucleogenesis” (large pdf).

The paper is a milestone in the field of nuclear astrophysics, explained Daid Kahl, a Ph.D. student at the University of Tokyo.  “This work independently arrived at the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis in the same year as a much more widely cited paper by Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler, and Hoyle.”

While it is still cited with some frequency (including a 2007 reference in Science magazine), hardly anybody seems to have a copy.  Only around 30 libraries around the world are known to possess the document, Mr. Kahl said, based on a WorldCat search.

“Many people know about the publication, but people also cite it without ever having seen or read it,” he said.  “There was a large conference two years ago at CalTech commemorating 50 years since these works were published.  Even at this conference, older professors were asking if anyone had a copy of CRL-41.”

Now, with the expiration of the copyright on the document 50 years after publication, it has become possible to scan and post the document for anyone who may be interested.  Thanks to Mr. Kahl for sharing his copy.

Public Access to DTRA Documents Restored

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) recently deleted the publications web page for its Advanced Systems and Concepts Office, inhibiting broad public access to many of the agency’s arms control and proliferation-related studies.  But most of the affected DTRA publications have been recovered and reposted in a new DTRA archive on the Federation of American Scientists website.

DTRA’s public affairs office was unable or unwilling to explain the deletion of the ASCO publications web page, except to indicate that it was a policy decision, not an accident. A 2008 version of the now-deleted DTRA page is available via the Internet Archive.

Not all of the suppressed DTRA studies are of equal or enduring interest.  Some are perfunctory, derivative or dated.  But others provide food for thought, as well as insight into government thinking on various national security topics.  A 2007 DTRA-sponsored report entitled “Terrifying Landscapes” (pdf) presented “a study of scientific research into understanding motivations of non-state actors to acquire and/or use weapons of mass destruction.” A 2003 report (pdf) attempted to quantify the occurrence of biological weapons-related information in certain open source scientific publications.

Whatever DTRA’s motivation may have been, impeding public access to archived public records on government websites is an unwholesome act.  So we have taken steps to reverse it.  See our compilation of selected DTRA reports.

OSC Reports on Guinea Slaughter, Japanese Space

The DNI Open Source Center (OSC) recently issued a brief report (pdf) summarizing international criticism of Guinea’s ruling military junta after Guinean security forces killed more than 100 civilians at a September 28 opposition rally.

Another new OSC report (pdf) described Japanese officials as confident and optimistic about the future of their space program, following a successful rocket launch and the docking of an unmanned Japanese spacecraft with the International Space Station.

While innocuous, neither report has been approved for public release.  Copies were obtained by Secrecy News.

Counterinsurgency Operations, and Other Stuff

Counterinsurgency refers to “comprehensive civilian and military efforts taken to simultaneously defeat and contain insurgency and address its core grievances,” a new publication from the Joint Chiefs of Staff explains. See Joint Publication 3-24 on “Counterinsurgency Operations” (pdf), 249 pages, October 5, 2009.  (JP 3-24 is not to be confused with the celebrated December 2006 Army Field Manual 3-24 on “Counterinsurgency” [pdf].)

Former Bush White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan wrote a book last year in which he faulted the Bush Administration for a lack of candor in connection with the war in Iraq, mishandling of classified information in the Scooter Libby case, and other defects.  A contentious House Judiciary Committee hearing on the matter was held on June 20, 2008, the record of which has just been published (pdf), with an August 2009 response from Mr. McClellan.

The Czech Republic’s Security Information Service (BIS) has published its 2008 annual report (pdf).

Trinidad and Tobago signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty last week becoming the 182nd nation to have signed the treaty, which would prohibit all nuclear explosive tests.

DoD Suppressed Critique of Military Research

“Important aspects of the DOD basic research programs are ‘broken’,” according to an assessment performed by the JASON defense science advisory panel earlier this year, and “throwing more money at the problems will not fix them.”

But that rather significant conclusion was deliberately suppressed by Pentagon officials who withheld it from public disclosure when a copy of the JASON report was requested under the Freedom of Information Act.  Instead, it was made public this week by Congress in the conference report on the FY 2010 defense authorization act, which quoted excerpts from the May 2009 JASON report, “Science and Technology for National Security.”

“Basic research funding is not exploited to seed inventions and discoveries that can shape the future,” the JASONs also determined, as quoted in the congressional report (in discussion of the act’s section 213).  Instead, “investments tend to be technological expenditures at the margin.”

Furthermore, “the portfolio balance of DOD basic research is generally not critically reviewed by independent, technically knowledgeable individuals,” and “civilian career paths in the DOD research labs and program management are not competitive to other opportunities in attracting outstanding young scientists and retaining the best people.”

These dismal findings, and the large bulk of the unclassified 60 page JASON report, were withheld under the Freedom of Information Act by the Office of Director of Defense Research and Engineering.  They constitute “subjective evaluations, opinions and recommendations which are currently being evaluated as to their impact on the planning and decision-making process,” according to the August 31, 2009 FOIA denial letter (pdf).

The few paragraphs of the study that were released (pdf) nevertheless including some interesting observations.  Citing a 2008 report in Science magazine, for example, the JASONs noted that “Peking and Tsinghua Universities have now overtaken Berkeley and Michigan as the largest undergraduate alma maters of PhD recipients in the U.S.”

The DoD research laboratories should be abolished, the late Gen. William Odom suggested some years ago.  “Few of them have invented anything of note in several decades, and many of the things they are striving to develop are already available in the commercial sector,” he wrote.

“Sadly, these laboratories not only waste money on their own activities; they also resist the purchase of available technologies from the commercial sector. Because they are generally so far behind the leading edges in some areas, they cause more than duplication; they also induce retardation and sustain obsolescence,” Odom wrote (“America’s Military Revolution,” American University Press, 1993, p. 159).

But Don J. DeYoung of the National Defense University argued that the decline of the military laboratories should be reversed, not accepted.  “The loss of in-house scientific and engineering expertise impairs good governance, poses risks to national security, and sustains what President Dwight Eisenhower called ‘a disastrous rise of misplaced power’.”  See “Breaking the Yardstick: The Dangers of Market-Based Governance” (pdf), Joint Forces Quarterly, 4th Quarter, 2009.

New DoD Website Fosters Secret Science

Updated below

The Pentagon’s Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) last month announced the creation of a new password-protected portal where authorized users may gain access to restricted scientific and engineering publications.

“DTIC Online Access Controlled… provides a gateway to Department of Defense unclassified, controlled science and technology (S&T) and research and engineering (R&E) information,” according to a September 21, 2009 news release (pdf).  “As defense S&T information advances, so does the unique community to which it belongs,” said DTIC Administrator R. Paul Ryan.

The cultivation of controlled but unclassified scientific research by DTIC seems to represent a departure [see update below] from a longstanding U.S. government position that scientific research should either be classified, if necessary, or else unrestricted.  (There have always been exceptions for export controlled information and for proprietary information.)

“It is the policy of this Administration that, to the maximum extent possible, the products of fundamental research remain unrestricted,” wrote President Reagan in the 1985 National Security Decision Directive 189.  “It is also the policy of this Administration that, where the national security requires control, the mechanism for control of information… is classification.”

“The key to maintaining U.S. technological preeminence is to encourage open and collaborative basic research,” wrote then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in 2001.  “The linkage between the free exchange of ideas and scientific innovation, prosperity, and U.S. national security is undeniable.”

In response to a request 5 days ago, DTIC was not able to provide a comment on the matter.

Update and Clarification: “Departure” may be the wrong word for this new development. DTIC has long maintained a collection of limited distribution records, both classified and unclassified, that are not publicly available. Nevertheless, the new DTIC Online Access Controlled portal appears to expand and reinforce the barriers blocking access to certain unclassified DTIC holdings.