Posts from November, 2009

Stories of Jihad from U.S. Intelligence

“The only ones who are spending the money and time translating Jihad literature are the Western intelligence services,” wrote Islamic radical Anwar al-Awlaki, “and too bad, they would not be willing to share it with you.” (“Born in U.S., a Radical Cleric Inspires Terror” by Scott Shane, New York Times, November 19).

In fact, a growing number of websites offer jihadist literature and sermons in English.  But it is true that U.S. intelligence maintains a prolific translation activity focused on Islamic extremist literature, and that most of the resulting translations are not intended for public distribution.

The DNI Open Source Center recently translated an Indonesian anthology of four short stories about aspiring young jihadists entitled “Wind From Paradise” (pdf). The stories describe how their protagonists came to take part in jihadist campaigns in Afghanistan, Thailand, and Chechnya, and the ensuing “martyrdom” that they or their fellows found there.

It is not a particularly rewarding collection, on any level– esthetic, theological or political.  But the narrators and their stories have several characteristic features that may be worth pointing out.

Remarkably, their primary conflicts seem to be those of adolescence.  Their Islam is not concerned with the divine will as much as it is with themselves and their own unruly passions.  (“I drowned all my feelings by reading the Koran slowly,” one says.  “So a feeling of happiness and relief runs through my whole body,” writes another.  “I also have the feeling that the guilt that has plagued me all this time has now been uprooted.”)

But above all, the stories portray jihad as an appropriate, even noble response to external oppression by the non-Muslim world.  (“The mujahidin had to fight against the Christian United States, which wanted to control and dominate Afghanistan.”  The Western enemy mercilessly abuses prisoners, “but no matter how cruelly they interrogated and tortured him, [he] kept quiet.”)

The logic of jihad is predicated on the victimization of Muslims by infidel forces, the stories repeatedly insist.  (“So now he was defending his Muslim brothers who had been so cruelly oppressed.”)  The oppression of Muslims by other Muslims is beyond the narrators’ ken.  So is the possibility of confronting oppression by non-violent political means, except perhaps through the propagation of stories like these.

The translated stories have not been approved for public release.  Rather improbably, their “authorized use is for national security purposes of the United States Government only.”  But a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Indonesia: Translation of Jihadist Book ‘Wind From Paradise’,” Open Source Center, 1 March 2009.

Army Responds to “Near Epidemic” of Suicide

Facing a rising number of suicides in its ranks, the U.S. Army last week published new guidance (pdf) for improving the mental health of soldiers and for preventing or responding to suicide attempts.

“The key to the prevention of suicide is positive leadership and deep concern by supervisors of military personnel and [Army] civilian employees who are at increased risk of suicide,” the new publication explained.

Factors contributing to suicide are said to include loneliness (“an emotional state in which a person experiences powerful feelings of emptiness and spiritual isolation”), worthlessness (“an emotional state in which an individual lacks any feelings of being valued by others”), hopelessness (“a strong sense of futility, due to the belief that the future holds no escape from current negative circumstances”), helplessness, and guilt (“a strong sense of shame associated with actions they believe are wrong”).

The Army directed its commanders to carry out a series of efforts to promote soldiers’ health, to reduce the stigma associated with addressing mental health issues, and to “manage at-risk soldiers, to include processing for separation as appropriate in a timely manner.”

The New York Times last week described the rise of military suicide as a “near epidemic,” and reported that 133 active-duty U.S. Army soldiers committed suicide this year through the end of October, making it likely that last year’s record of 140 will be surpassed.  (“Families of Military Suicides Seek White House Condolences” by James Dao, November 26.)

In its new publication, the Army said it is not always possible to detect or predict suicidal intent, and that eliminating suicide altogether was not a realistic objective.  “Some suicides may be expected even in units with the best leadership climate and most efficient crisis intervention and suicide prevention programs.  Therefore, it is important to redefine the goal of suicide prevention as being suicide risk reduction [which] consists of reasonable steps taken to lower the probability that an individual will engage in acts of self-destructive behavior.”  See “Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, and Suicide Prevention,” Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-24, November 24, 2009.

New Executive Order Aims to Avoid Declass Deadline

Development of a new executive order on classification of national security information is now proceeding at an accelerated pace in order to preempt a deadline that would require the declassification of millions of pages of historical records next month.

A revised draft executive order was circulated to executive branch agencies by the Office of Management and Budget on November 16, with agency comments due back today, November 23.  A final order is likely to be issued by the end of this year.

There is an incentive to complete the development of the executive order before December 31, 2009 because of a deadline for declassification of historical records that falls on that date.  Under the current Bush executive order, classified records that are at least 25 years old and that have been referred from one agency to another because they involve multiple agency interests are supposed to be automatically declassified at the end of this year.  (See E.O. 13292, section 3.3(e)(3)).

But in order to meet this December deadline, several agencies would have to forgo a review of the affected historical records, which they are unwilling to do.  And so it seems they will simply be excused from compliance.  But in order to modify the deadline in the Bush order, it will be necessary to issue another executive order.  If the comprehensive new Obama order on classification policy (which would assign processing of such records to a National Declassification Center that does not yet exist) is not ready for release by December 31, then another stand-alone order would have to be issued, canceling or extending the looming deadline.  And officials are reluctant to issue such an order since they say it would be awkward for the avowedly pro-openness Obama Administration to relax or annul a declassification requirement that was imposed by the ultra-secret Bush Administration.

In fact, the whole process has become an awkward mix of exaggerated and deflated expectations.  The failure of the Bush Administration’s declassification deadline to take hold this year does not augur well for new, more ambitious efforts to advance classification reform.  If the “automatic declassification” procedures that were prescribed in prior executive orders are not “automatic” after all, and if binding deadlines can be extended more or less at will, then any new declassification requirements in the Obama order will be similarly subject to doubt or defiance.

The latest draft executive order has not yet become publicly available, though officials said they expected it to leak, as did a previous draft dated August 4.  “It includes some notable differences” from the earlier draft, said one official.  But another official said “It’s basically the same as the draft you already have.” (See “Draft Order Would Set New Limits on Classification,” Secrecy News, September 29, 2009.)

Ironically, today’s classification system seems to function more effectively in preventing public access to aging archival records than it does with respect to certain present-day information.

Thus, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters on November 12, “I have been appalled by the amount of leaking that has been going on” about classified Administration deliberations on Afghanistan policy and other matters.

But from a different point of view, others may be appalled that Secretary Gates’ own Department still retains classification restrictions on historical records dating back to the Korean War, and even from World War II, and that it otherwise resists modernization and correction of the cold war classification system.

Some general background on the national security classification system from the Congressional Research Service can be found in “Security Classification Policy and Procedure: E.O. 12958, as Amended” (pdf), November 3, 2009.

U.S. Naval Intelligence Views Iran’s Naval Forces

A new report (pdf) from the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence describes Iran’s naval order of battle, as well as the Iranian Navy’s history, strategic options, and favored tactics.

“Today, Iran’s naval forces protect Iranian waters and natural resources, especially Iran’s petroleum-related assets and industries.  Iranian maritime security operations guard against the smuggling of illegal goods (especially drugs) and immigrants, and protect against the poaching and stealing of fish in territorial waters.”

“Additionally, Iran uses its naval forces for political ends such as naval diplomacy and strategic messaging.  Most of all, Iranian naval forces are equipped to defend against perceived external threats.  Public statements by Iranian leaders indicate that they would consider closing or controlling the Strait of Hormuz if provoked, thereby cutting off almost 30 percent of the world’s oil supply.”

The unclassified U.S. intelligence assessment was published on the Office of Naval Intelligence website, but last week it was abruptly withdrawn, along with another ONI report on China’s navy. [Update: Both documents have now been restored to the ONI website, here and here.]  A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Iran’s Naval Forces: From Guerilla (sic) Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy,” Fall 2009.

China’s Navy Makes “Impressive” Strides, Says ONI

An ongoing modernization effort has provided China with an increasingly sophisticated and proficient naval force, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) said in a new assessment (large pdf).

Notably, China has “developed the world’s only anti-ship ballistic missile,” which ONI said was “specifically designed to defeat U.S. carrier strike groups” in the event of military conflict over Taiwan.

“China’s modernization efforts have principally focused on preparing for a Taiwan conflict, with a large portion directed at developing capabilities to deter, delay, and if necessary degrade potential U.S. military intervention,” the ONI report said.

Although China has recently deployed naval vessels far from its shores to protect Chinese shipping from piracy, “it is important to note that none of these operations indicate a desire on the part of the PRC to develop a constant global presence,” ONI said.  “Beijing’s ambition appears to remain focused on the East Asian region, with an ability to protect the PRC’s maritime interests in distant seas when required.”

See “The People’s Liberation Army Navy: A Modern Navy with Chinese Characteristics,” Office of Naval Intelligence, released November 2009 (17 MB PDF file).

The new ONI analysis was first reported by Tony Capaccio in “China’s New Missile May Create a ‘No-Go Zone’ for U.S. Fleet,” Bloomberg News, November 17, 2009.

A marked increase in Chinese submarine patrols last year was reported by Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists in the FAS Strategic Security Blog.

The Congressional Research Service provided additional information in “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress” (pdf), updated October 21, 2009.

The Rise of China’s Auto Industry

“In recent years, China has become the world’s fastest growing automotive producer,” according to a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.

“[China's] annual vehicle output has increased from less than 2 million vehicles in the late 1990s to 9.5 million in 2008. In terms of production volume in 2008, China has surpassed Korea, France, Germany, and the United States, trailing only Japan.”

“China’s automobile industry has continued to expand despite the global economic downturn. From January to October 2009, more than 10 million vehicles were sold in China. If such growth continues, China is on its way to becoming world’s largest auto market,” the CRS said.

See “The Rise of China’s Auto Industry and Its Impact on the U.S. Motor Vehicle Industry,” November 16, 2009.

Legal Issues Surrounding Military Commissions

The role of military commissions in adjudicating the cases of suspected terrorist detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere was critically examined in two House Judiciary Subcommittee hearings last July, the records of which have just been published.

“My concern remains,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who chaired the hearings, “that we may be creating a system in which we try you in Federal court if we have strong evidence, we try you by military commission if we have weak evidence, and we detain you indefinitely if we have no evidence.”

“That is not a justice system,” Rep. Nadler said.

See “Legal Issues Surrounding the Military Commissions System,” July 8, 2009;  and “Proposals for Reform of the Military Commissions System,” July 30, 2009.

2010 Army Weapon Systems Handbook

The U.S. Army has published the latest edition of its Army Weapon Systems handbook, cataloging dozens of Army weapons with descriptive information, status updates, contractor relationships, and images.

“The systems listed in this book are not isolated, individual products,” the introduction says. “Rather, they are part of an integrated investment approach to make the Army of the future able to deal successfully with the challenges it will face.”

“We have received extraordinary funding support through wartime Overseas Contingency Operations funds, but they have only enabled us to sustain the current fight. We look forward to continued Congressional support to achieve our broad modernization goals.”

A Critical Look at Navy v. Egan

A 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Department of the Navy v. Egan has often been interpreted to support broad presidential authority over national security generally and over access to classified information in particular.  Along with United States v. Reynolds, Curtiss-Wright, and a few other cases, Egan is regularly cited in support of strong, even unchecked executive authority and judicial deference to executive claims.  It has become a cornerstone of national security law as practiced today.

But the case has often been misunderstood and misrepresented, according to a new study (pdf) by Louis Fisher of the Law Library of Congress, who reviewed the development and interpretation of Egan in more than 180 judicial decisions.

The Egan decision was prompted by a narrow statutory dispute:  Did the Merit Systems Protection Board (an executive branch body) have the authority to review the revocation of a security clearance by the Navy (another executive branch body)?  The court concluded that Congress had not intended to permit such review.

But in reaching that straightforward conclusion, “various passages in Egan strayed from this central issue and created confusion and misconceptions” about the scope of executive authority and the role of the courts, wrote Dr. Fisher.  Among such passages was a discussion of the President’s constitutional powers culminating in the statement that “Unless Congress specifically has provided otherwise, courts traditionally have been reluctant to intrude upon the authority of the Executive in military and national security affairs.”

Over time, Egan came to signify the notion that courts should grant the “utmost deference” — or even absolute deference — to the executive on issues of national security.  Citing Egan, one court in 1993 held that “the presumption of reviewability is entirely inapplicable in matters concerning national security.”  This is an extreme view that would exclude the courts altogether from national security affairs. “Egan does not support that interpretation,” wrote Fisher.  But there it is.

In a 2002 report on leaks of classified information, Attorney General John Ashcroft cited Egan in support of the proposition that “The President has the power under the Constitution to protect national security secrets from unauthorized disclosure. This extends to defining what information constitutes a national security secret and to determining who may have access to that secret.”  These statements are true except for the implication that such authority is exclusively the province of the executive.  The Attorney General conspicuously neglected to note the qualification in Egan which stated “Unless Congress has specifically provided otherwise….”

Recently, observed Fisher, some courts have presented a more nuanced reading of Egan.  In proceedings such as Al-Haramain and Horn v. Huddle, courts have rebuffed executive arguments for complete deference in cases where Congress has legislated its intent into statute.

Fundamentally, Fisher concludes, “Nothing in Egan recognizes a plenary or exclusive power on the part of the President over classified information.”  See “Judicial Interpretations of Egan by Louis Fisher, Law Library of Congress, November 13, 2009.

Dr. Fisher will be the luncheon speaker at a day-long conference November 18 on “The State of the State Secrets Privilege” at American University Washington College of Law.