Posts from April, 2010

Rise in Fratricide Seen in the War on Terror

Incidents of fratricide in the U.S. war on terrorism increased in recent years, according to a new report (pdf) from the U.S. Army.

“Fratricide” — the unintended killing or injury of friendly forces — “is a harsh reality during combat operations,” the study states.  “Over the course of 2004-2007, the number of fratricide incidents increased, and experts speculate this is due to the high operational tempo and the reliance on technology during the current war.”

According to official data, “there were 55 U.S. Army fratricide incidents from 11 September 2001 to 30 March 2008.  Forty of these were Class A accidents” — involving damage costs of $2 million or more and/or destruction of an Army aircraft, missile or spacecraft and/or fatality or permanent total disability — “resulting in the deaths of 30 U.S. Army personnel.”

Human error is a primary causal factor in many fratricide incidents, the study indicated, and “therefore, human error must be considered in the design and development of fratricide countermeasures, including both technical and human-centric solutions… Improved supervision and leadership may have the greatest potential to reduce U.S. fratricide incidents.”

See “An Analysis of U.S. Army Fratricide Incidents during the Global War on Terror (11 September 2001 to 31 March 2008)” by Catherine M. Webb and Kate J. Hewett, U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, March 2010.

The War Powers Resolution, and More from CRS

Although the U.S. Constitution assigned the power to declare war to Congress, the use of armed forces has often been initiated by the President without congressional authorization.  The enactment of the War Powers Resolution in 1973 was an attempt by Congress to reassert its constitutional role and to regulate military action by the executive branch.  For the most part, it failed to accomplish those goals.

“The main purpose of the Resolution was to establish procedures for both branches to share in decisions that might get the United States involved in war,” a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) observes. “The drafters sought to circumscribe the President’s authority to use armed forces abroad in hostilities or potential hostilities without a declaration of war or other congressional authorization, yet provide enough flexibility to permit him to respond to attack or other emergencies.”

“But the record of the War Powers Resolution since its enactment has been mixed, and after 30 years it remains controversial,” the CRS report said.

The new report documents that mixed record, listing all of the instances from 1973 to December 2009 in which Presidents submitted reports to Congress under the Resolution, as well as instances of the use of U.S. armed forces that were not reported.  See “The War Powers Resolution: After Thirty-Six Years,” April 22, 2010.

For reasons that defy easy comprehension, Congress does not believe that CRS reports should be made readily available to members of the public, so identifying and acquiring reports of interest takes a bit of extra effort.  Noteworthy new CRS reports obtained by Secrecy News include the following (all pdf).

“Monitoring and Verification in Arms Control,” April 21, 2010.

“Emergency Communications: Broadband and the Future of 911,” April 27, 2010.

“Unauthorized Aliens in the United States,” April 27, 2010.

“Bangladesh: Political and Strategic Developments and U.S. Interests,” April 1, 2010.

“Guinea’s New Transitional Government: Emerging Issues for U.S. Policy,” April 23, 2010.

Security Clearance Modernization, and More Hearings

The Department of Defense denied security clearances to 8,065 individuals in 2008, according to a recent congressional hearing volume.  “These numbers represent a small percentage of the total number of security clearance investigations.  The vast majority of investigations are adjudicated favorably.”  See “Security Clearance Reform: Moving Forward on Modernization,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, September 15, 2009 (published April 2010). (Update: The statistics on clearance denials are given on page 92 of the PDF version of the hearing.)

Among other recently published congressional hearing volumes on national security topics are these:

“An Uneasy Relationship: U.S. Reliance on Private Security Firms in Overseas Operations” (pdf), Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, February 27, 2008 (published March 2010).

“Reauthorizing the USA PATRIOT Act: Ensuring Liberty,” Senate Judiciary Committee, September 23, 2009 (published April 2010).

“A Strategic and Economic Review of Aerospace Exports” (pdf), House Foreign Affairs Committee, December 9, 2009 (published April 2010).

German Subs Off the Atlantic Coast (1920)

The threat of German submarines laying explosive mines off the east coast of the United States was a source of alarm during World War I, but the residual hazards had diminished within a few years of the war’s end, according to a comprehensive survey (large pdf) published by the U.S. Navy in 1920.

“The reports of the sightings of submarines have been without number,” the Navy said, “and great care has been exercised to try to corroborate or validate the reports, and all have been rejected which do not answer such conditions as to accuracy.”

“The information received as to the number of mines in each area and the reports of their destruction leave little or no doubt that the Atlantic coast is free from any danger as to mines,” according to the 1920 Navy report, which was digitized by the Combined Arms Research Library at Fort Leavenworth.  See “German Submarine Activities on the Atlantic Coast of the United States and Canada,” Department of the Navy, 1920.

Export Control Policy as a Guide to Secrecy Reform

“The problem we face,” said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last week, “is that the current system, which has not been significantly altered since the end of the Cold War, originated and evolved in a very different era with a very different array of concerns in mind.”  He was talking about the U.S. export control process, but with minor differences he might just as well have been speaking about the national security classification system, since an increasingly obsolete model of security underlies both policy regimes.

“America’s decades-old, bureaucratically labyrinthine system does not serve our 21st century security needs or our economic interests,” Secretary Gates said April 20 at an event hosted by Business Executives for National Security.  “Our security interests would be far better served by a more agile, transparent, predictable and efficient regime.  Tinkering around the edges of the current system will not do.”

The White House expressed a similar view in an April 20 fact sheet. The current U.S. export control system, it said, “is overly complicated, contains too many redundancies, and tries to protect too much.”  The scope of export controls is so broad that it “dilutes our ability to adequately control and protect those key items and technologies that must be protected for our national security.  The goal of the reform effort is ‘to build high walls around a smaller yard’ by focusing our enforcement efforts on our ‘crown jewels’,” the White House said.

In fact, the export control system is so messed up, senior defense officials told reporters at an April 19 press briefing, that “the system itself poses a threat to national security.”

The Administration’s proposed solution for export control policy is based on principles of simplification, consolidation and a focus on the highest value items to be controlled.  This translates into a single export control list, a single licensing agency, a single enforcement agency, and a single information technology system for the entire export control program.

A similar approach could be applied to classification policy, perhaps in the following way.

A single classification system:  Currently there are two parallel classification systems, one for general national security information, based on executive order, and one for nuclear weapons-related information, based on the Atomic Energy Act.  In many areas of defense and foreign policy, the two systems overlap, generating unnecessary complexity and confusion.  The dual classification systems also significantly complicate the declassification process.  Moving to a single classification system would simplify the classification process, facilitate training of personnel, and increase declassification productivity.  A useful interim step would be to transfer the nuclear weapons classification category known as “Formerly Restricted Data” (FRD) into the general national security classification system so that FRD records — on topics such as stockpile size and weapon storage locations abroad — could be handled and declassified just like other records containing national security information.

A consolidated set of classification guides:  Currently there are nearly three thousand classification guides in government that prescribe what information is to be classified and at what level.  Instead there could be maybe three– one for defense operations and technology, one for intelligence, and one for foreign policy (and perhaps one more for nuclear weapons information if the two classification systems are combined).  This kind of consolidation would help promote standardization across agencies, including ease of correction and change of classification policies.  It would also facilitate oversight and enforcement of proper classification practices.

An enhanced oversight mechanism:  If there is going to be increased uniformity and consistency in classification across the government, then a strong oversight mechanism will be needed to adjudicate and resolve the inevitable conflicts that will arise among individual agencies, and the deviations between policy and practice.  The existing Information Security Oversight Office could help fulfill this role if the President grants it the power and the responsibility to overrule erroneous or unwise classification decisions.

A drastic reduction in scope of classification:  Just as the export control system “tries to protect too much,” the same is true in spades of the classification system.  (Random example: The total dollar cost of the CIA’s CORONA satellite program, which ended in 1972, is still considered classified information.)  “Frederick the Great’s famous maxim that he who defends everything defends nothing certainly applies to export control,” Secretary Gates said last week.  The corresponding view in classification policy is Justice Potter Stewart’s familiar statement that “when everything is classified, then nothing is classified….”  The forthcoming Fundamental Classification Guidance Review that was required by executive order 13526 should help to reverse the growth of the classification system over the next two years.  But other targeted measures may also be needed to achieve the optimum classification state of “high walls around narrow areas.”

“The proposition that a more focused and streamlined system actually helps our national security can go against conventional wisdom,” Secretary Gates said.  Nevertheless, “I believe it is the right approach, and it is urgently needed, given the harmful effects of continuing with the existing set of outdated processes, institutions and assumptions.”

The Obama Administration is just beginning to consider the possible outlines of a future classification system that is “fundamentally transformed.”

“I … look forward to reviewing recommendations from the study that the National Security Advisor will undertake in cooperation with the Public Interest Declassification Board to design a more fundamental transformation of the security classification system,” President Obama wrote when the latest executive order on classification policy was issued on December 29.

A Look at China’s Use of Airships

China’s interest in the use of airships — balloons, blimps and various other lighter-than-air aircraft — was discussed in a new report (pdf) from the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC).

Airships have been used in China for disaster relief, since they were able to reach distant areas when ordinary transportation was impaired, and for construction in mountainous or unstable areas, the report said.  High altitude airships may also be considered for wide area surveillance, early warning detection, or other military applications.

See “Current and Potential Applications of Chinese Aerostats (Airships),” NASIC OSINT Topic Report, March 23, 2010 (For Official Use Only).

The U.S. has deployed airships along the border with Mexico to aid in drug interdiction, and in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  See “Potential Military Use of Airships and Aerostats” (pdf) by the late Christopher Bolkcom, Congressional Research Service, September 1, 2006.

State Dept Seeks Public Input on Human Rights in U.S.

The U.S. State Department is inviting members of the public to present their concerns about human rights in the United States as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, in which the human rights records of all UN Member States are to be reviewed.

“In the pursuit of a transparent and effective UPR process, the Department of State is encouraging the American public, including non-governmental organizations and civil society more broadly, to provide input regarding human rights in the United States directly to the Department of State.”

“Your feedback is vital for us to better gauge the U.S. human rights situation now, and how protection of human rights can be improved in our country and around the world,” the State Department website said. “We look forward to receiving your comments.”

The Federation of American Scientists asked the State Department to turn its attention to those cases where a resolution of alleged human rights violations has been barred by the government’s use of the state secrets privilege.

“There are innocent individuals who have been swept up in U.S. Government counterterrorism operations, wrongly detained, ‘rendered’ surreptitiously to foreign countries, subjected to extreme physical and mental stress, or otherwise wronged,” we wrote.  “In some cases, like those of persons such as Maher Arar and Khaled el-Masri, efforts to seek legal remedies have been blocked by the Government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege. As a result, the alleged abuses committed in such cases remain unresolved, and there is no way for the affected individuals to be made whole.”

“If the judicial process in such cases is foreclosed by the state secrets privilege, then an alternate procedure should be created to rectify the wrongs that may have been committed,” we suggested.

Privacy Impact of Internet Security is Classified, NSA Says

New technologies could be used to improve internet security but the impact of those technologies on personal privacy is classified information, the director of the National Security Agency told Congress last week.

“How could the Internet be designed differently to provide much greater inherent security?” the Senate Armed Services Committee asked Lt. General Keith Alexander, who has been nominated to lead the new U.S. Cyber Command.

“The design of the Internet is – and will continue to evolve – based on technological advancements. These new technologies will enhance mobility and, if properly implemented, security,” replied Gen. Alexander in his written answers (pdf) in advance of an April 15 Committee hearing.

“What would the impact be on privacy, both pro and con?” the Committee continued.

The answer to that question was “provided in the classified supplement” to the General’s response, and was not made public (see question 27).

“It is astounding that Lt. Gen. Alexander’s remarks on the impact on privacy of future modifications to the Internet under his command should be withheld from the public,” wrote Jared Kaprove and John Verdi of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), especially given the President’s declared commitment to upholding privacy protection in the nation’s cybersecurity policy.

Consequently, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking disclosure of the classified supplement to General Alexander’s answers.  “There is a clear public interest in making known the Director’s views on this critical topic,” EPIC wrote in its request (pdf).

Activities of the Senate Intelligence Committee, 1976-2009

The Senate Intelligence Committee has posted a collection of its biennial public reports on the Committee’s activities, from the first report in 1976 to the latest in 2009, providing a retrospective survey of intelligence controversies past and present.

“The committee has unintentionally produced a profoundly biased political document,” complained the late Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan in a statement appended to the very first report (pdf) in 1976.  “The committee reports on a world in which very simply, the values which the United States hopefully stands for do not seem to be threatened by any activity save the activities of the U.S. Government…. Nowhere is the Committee for State Security of the Soviet Union (the KGB) even alluded to. There is a pattern of avoidance of the reality of totalitarian threat throughout this document.”

“I believe that my colleague misses the point,” replied Sen. Joseph Biden in the same 1976 report.  “At the heart of what is wrong with the intelligence community and what indeed has caused many of the abuses we have seen is the fact that most officials of the intelligence community do not know what they should and should not be doing…. We will not solve that problem by restating the obvious, that the Soviets operate a very effective intelligence service, unfettered by the restrictions of a vibrant constitution.”

DHS Says It Cannot Stop Private Posting of Sensitive Info

The law does not authorize the Department of Homeland Security to regulate or penalize the publication of sensitive transportation security-related information on private websites, the Department advised Congress (pdf) recently.

Last December, the Transportation Security Administration inadvertently posted a manual marked “sensitive security information” that described procedures for screening of airline passengers.  Following its discovery, the manual was removed from government websites, but it had already been mirrored on non-governmental websites that continue to host the document.

What is DHS going to do about that?, several members of Congress wanted to know.  The answer is this: nothing.

“How has the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration addressed the repeated reposting of this security manual to other websites and what legal action, if any, can be taken to compel its removal?” wrote Reps. Peter T. King (R-NY), Charles W. Dent (R-PA) and Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL) on December 9 (pdf).

“No action has been initiated by the agency to address reposting on other web sites,” DHS replied in a February 7 response that was released this month under the Freedom of Information Act.  Existing “statutes do not provide specific authority to remedy the dissemination of SSI [sensitive security information] by noncovered persons [who are not subject to DHS jurisdiction].”

If Congress wanted to try to compel removal of such material from public websites, DHS said, “specific new statutory authority… would be necessary to provide enhanced legal support to pursue the full range of civil and criminal remedies against unauthorized dissemination of SSI by persons who are not covered persons as defined by 49 C.F.R. §1520.7.”