Posts from April, 2010

North Korea’s 2009 Nuclear Test, and More from CRS

In May 2009, North Korea announced that it had conducted its second nuclear explosive test.  Although the event generated a seismic signature consistent with a nuclear explosion, it produced no detectable release of radioactive gases or particulates (fallout).  This either means that North Korea actually conducted a non-nuclear simulation of a nuclear test, or else it managed to achieve complete containment of a real nuclear explosion.  Since detection of radioactive emissions provides the most unambiguous confirmation of a nuclear explosion, the successful containment of a nuclear test could be problematic for verification of a treaty banning such explosions.

This conundrum is explored in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.  See “North Korea’s 2009 Nuclear Test: Containment, Monitoring, Implications” (pdf), April 2, 2010.

Congress has refused to make reports like this directly available to the public.  Other noteworthy new CRS products obtained by Secrecy News that have not been publicly released include the following (all pdf).

“Judicial Activity Concerning Enemy Combatant Detainees: Major Court Rulings,” April 1, 2010.

“Federal Building and Facility Security,” March 24, 2010.

“The U.S. Motor Vehicle Industry: Confronting a New Dynamic in the Global Economy,” March 26, 2010.

“U.S. Initiatives to Promote Global Internet Freedom: Issues, Policy, and Technology,” April 5, 2010.

Kremlin Control of Russian Internet Rising, OSC Says

The Russian-language internet is increasingly subject to control by the Russian government and its allies in the private sector, according to a new report (pdf) from the DNI Open Source Center (OSC). Except for a vocal minority of bloggers and human rights activists, the Russian public is mostly indifferent to or even supportive of government controls on the internet, the OSC report said.

“Over the last several years, pro-government oligarchs have accumulated significant stakes in the leading portals of the Russian Internet [or Runet]. Between them, they own the majority of the most popular Russian social networking sites and the majority of the most popular Russian websites,” the OSC found.

“While media outlets owned by government companies have not yet shown signs of censorship, the leadership and owners of these Russian investment companies are close to the Kremlin and may be willing to cede their business interests to government priorities,” the OSC report said.

A copy of the OSC analysis was obtained by Secrecy News and posted on the website of the Federation of American Scientists. See “Kremlin Allies’ Expanding Control of Runet Provokes Only Limited Opposition,” OSC Media Aid, February 28, 2010.

“Although some independent bloggers and press sources raised concerns at the growing government presence in the Internet, the public is probably unaware of the extent to which the Runet is owned by Kremlin allies,” the report said. “Most buy-outs were not well publicized, appearing only in specialized business dailies that reported only the fact of the deal.”

The OSC itemized several of the most important private acquisitions of Russian websites and identified their proprietors.

So, for example, “Oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who is known to cooperate with the Kremlin, owns RosBiznesKonsalting (RBC), which has been quietly gobbling up Russian Internet (Runet) domains, holding 21% of the Runet’s sites, according to its last annual report in 2007, including, the second-most popular online dating service in the Runet.”

In any case, “most Russians are not overly concerned about censorship in general or censorship of the Internet. Most actually support censoring the Internet,” according to the OSC. “Those who do react negatively to threats to Internet freedom tend to be opposition members or human rights activists who would be directly affected by censorship.”

Thus, opposition blogger Oleg Kozyrev and reporter Oleg Salmanov wrote in 2008, “The Russian Internet community is following with alarm the social networks passing under the control of those who are loyal to the authorities and responsive to their requests.”

The first criminal conviction in Russia for comments posted on a blog also took place in 2008, the OSC noted. Savva Terentyev received a one-year suspended prison sentence for describing police as “filth” and writing that “a corrupt cop should be ceremonially burnt daily” in every town square. He acknowledged writing the comments but pleaded not guilty to charges of extremism.

“The Russian Government does not need to own the Runet in order to monitor or control it,” the OSC concluded. “It has numerous laws and policies in place that allow it to limit or threaten open discussion on the Internet. Portals owned by Kremlin allies do not yet exhibit signs of censorship, but their acquisitions provide officials an additional lever to control the content of the Runet if the Kremlin feels threatened.”

An appendix to the OSC report, which was marked For Official Use Only, profiles the major private investors in the Russian internet. A second appendix lists the top 100 Russian websites, along with their owners.

Army Grapples with “Epidemic” of Suicides

The U.S. Army is still struggling to come to grips with the unusually high rate of suicide within its ranks.

“The Army ratios are above the national average and in some months recently, there have been more suicides in the Army than combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan,” observed Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News last week. “There is no pattern to suicides. One third who commit suicide have never served in combat; another third commit suicide while in combat; and yet another third do it once they return, according to Army statistics.”

Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh issued two directives on March 26 that are intended to further an understanding of the problem and to improve the availability of information to surviving family members.

Effectively immediately, all suspected suicides will be subject to an official (AR 15-6) investigation, the purpose of which is “to identify the circumstances, methods, and the contributing factors surrounding the event…. The completed investigation should provide clear, relevant, and practical recommendation(s) to prevent future suicides,” according to Army Directive 2010-01 (pdf).

A second Army directive (pdf) provided guidance for reporting (and redacting) information to be provided to family members, who are to be “kept fully informed while the investigation is underway.”

Although national security, third-person privacy and other FOIA-exempt information may be withheld, “the release authority cannot withhold information merely because it may be emotionally difficult for the surviving Family members to see or hear.”  However, “potentially upsetting information should be segregated from the body of the report and made available in a separate sealed envelope that is clearly marked as potentially upsetting information.”

An updated official account of the number of Army suicides through the end of March will be published on Thursday, reported Sig Christenson of the San Antonio Express-News on April 2.

History of the North Korean Army (1952)

The origins and development of North Korea’s military forces, from the vantage point of 1952, are described in a declassified U.S. Army intelligence report (large pdf).

“Although the North Korean Army was not officially activated until 8 February 1948, the backbone of the armed forces was forged in 1946 under the mask of Central Peace Preservation Units and Youth Training Organizations. Using battle-hardened Korean veterans of the Chinese Communist Forces as a core, the puppet government built a modern military force whose only glaring weakness was in a lack of air power. The striking comparison in organization, logistics and tactics of the North Korean Army with those of the Soviet ground forces is attributable to the influence of the Soviet occupation army and the multitude of advisors which were left behind upon the Red Army’s withdrawal.”

A digital copy of the report was made available by the Combined Arms Research Library at Fort Leavenworth, KS.  See “History of the North Korean Army,” U.S. Army Far East Command, July 31, 1952.

Warrantless Surveillance of Charity Ruled Unlawful

Warrantless surveillance of an Islamic charity in Oregon in 2004 violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a court ruled (pdf) on March 31.

In the culmination of a four-year lawsuit, Judge Vaughn Walker of the Northern District of California found that the government had unlawfully intercepted international telephone conversations of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation without a warrant, as required by the FISA for intelligence and counterterrorism surveillance.  The government had contended that the state secrets privilege barred a resolution of the case, but the court found that the defendants were able to make their case without the use of state secrets.

At least by implication, the ruling means that aspects of President Bush’s Terrorist Surveillance Program were illegal.  Significantly, that determination was made by a court, based on a private complaint years after the fact, and not through congressional intelligence oversight.  While Congress did enact the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which was the foundation of the court’s ruling, contemporary congressional oversight alone would have left the Al-Haramain violation (and untold others) undiscovered and unpunished.

The new ruling also leaves the state secrets privilege seemingly tarnished and in disrepute.  “The Government does not rely on an assertion of the [state secrets privilege] to coverup alleged unlawful conduct,” government attorneys told the court.  But had the Bush and Obama Administrations’ use of the privilege prevailed, that is exactly what would have happened– conduct that has now been found illegal would have been covered up.  To the extent that there is a legitimate role for a state secrets privilege, the government might now be motivated to bolster the legitimacy of the privilege, perhaps through enactment of the pending State Secrets Protection Act.  That bill would, among other things, provide for judicial review and validation of the substance of assertedly privileged evidence.

Finally, the ruling casts new light retrospectively on the December 2005 New York Times story that exposed the Bush Administration’s warrantless surveillance program.  A cogent case has been made by Gabriel Schoenfeld (in Commentary Magazine, March 2006, and in his forthcoming book Necessary Secrets) that the Times story violated a statute (18 USC 798) that clearly prohibits unauthorized disclosure and publication of classified communications intelligence information.  But it was the Times story that set the stage for the Al-Haramain lawsuit.  With a conclusive judicial ruling that the reported surveillance was in significant respects unlawful, the Times’ revelation of the classified surveillance program may more readily be seen as supporting and enabling the rule of law, not defying it.

Bioterrorism, Changes in the Arctic, and More from CRS

New Congressional Research Service reports obtained by Secrecy News that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf):

“Federal Efforts to Address the Threat of Bioterrorism: Selected Issues for Congress,” March 18, 2010.

“Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress,” March 30, 2010.

“Deforestation and Climate Change,” March 24, 2010.

“The Impact of Major Legislation on Budget Deficits: 2001 to 2009,” March 23, 2010.

“GAO Bid Protests: An Overview of Timeframes and Procedures,” March 15, 2010.

“GAO Bid Protests: Trends, Analysis, and Options for Congress,” February 11, 2009.

“The Future of U.S. Trade Policy: An Analysis of Issues and Options for the 111th Congress,” March 24, 2010.

“Europe’s Preferential Trade Agreements: Status, Content, and Implications,” March 22, 2010.

“F-35 Alternate Engine Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” March 22, 2010.

“Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive,” April 1, 2010.

A bill on government transparency that was introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) last week would finally make all non-confidential CRS reports publicly available online. There must have been a dozen such proposals that have been introduced in Congress over the last 15 years without effect, and it is not clear whether the latest iteration will fare any better.