Posts from July, 2010

Unmanned Aerial Systems and Homeland Security

The potential benefits and limitations of using unmanned aerial vehicles for homeland security applications were considered by the Congressional Research Service in yet another updated report.  See “Homeland Security: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Border Surveillance,” July 8, 2010.

The same set of issues was examined in a newly published master’s thesis on “Integrating Department of Defense Unmanned Aerial Systems into the National Airspace Structure” by Major Scott W. Walker.

Another new master’s thesis looked at the comparatively high accident rate of unmanned systems and their susceptibility to attack or disruption.  See “The Vulnerabilities of Unmanned Aircraft System Common Data Links to Electronic Attack” by Major Jaysen A. Yochim.

The “secret history” of unmanned aircraft was recounted in an informative new study published by the Air Force Association.  See “Air Force UAVs: The Secret History” by Thomas P. Ehrhard, July 2010.

1968 Senate Sessions on Foreign Relations Declassified

Newly declassified transcripts of closed hearings and executive sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1968 were published by the Committee yesterday.  The transcripts include an extended inquiry into the official version of 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led to the escalation of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, and which became the object of increasing skepticism, inside and outside of government.

“If this country has been misled, if this committee, this Congress, has been misled by pretext into a war in which thousands of young men have died, and many more thousands have been crippled for life, and out of which their country has lost prestige, moral position in the world, the consequences are very great,” said then-Senator Albert Gore, Sr. (D-TN).

Senator Wayne Morse (D-OR) urged the Committee to take a more assertive and public role in questioning the (Johnson) Administration.

“I hope to God we haven’t gone so far that we are now going to operate a government by secrecy in time of crisis,” Senator Morse said.  “I don’t know what has happened to us that we have got the notion that you have got to operate in time of war a government by secrecy.  I say you are carrying the very foundations of the Government away if you are continuing this.”

See “Executive Sessions of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Historical Series),” Volume XX, 1968.

It has been three years since the Committee published the previous volume of declassified executive sessions for the preceding year (1967) in April 2007.  At the present rate of production, the complete historical record of Committee deliberations should be available approximately… never.  On the other hand, the volume before that (1966) was published in 1993, fourteen years earlier, so one could say that the pace of publication is accelerating sharply!

The growing backlog of classified historical congressional records will be discussed by the Public Interest Declassification Board at a special public meeting on Thursday, July 22 at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC.  The subject will be addressed by Porter Goss, the former House Intelligence Committee chairman and former DCIA, as well as several other scholars and experts.  In a Thursday morning session, the Board will also consider the challenges posed by the classification category known as Formerly Restricted Data, a topic that will be discussed by myself and others.  For more information and a meeting agenda, see here (pdf).

Project Bioshield Loses Momentum

Project Bioshield, a program that was created by the Bush Administration in 2004 to foster development of new drugs to respond to a potential bioterrorism attack, now faces significant budget cuts from Congress with the acquiescence of the Obama Administration.

Supporters of the program argue that the reductions to Project Bioshield are shortsighted and dangerously unwise.  Critics say the Project is a boondoggle that has produced little of value.

The budget cut is “an extremely negative development in our overall efforts to prepare not only for bioterrorism but for other biological events from nature,” former Sen. Bob Graham told the Los Angeles Times.  (“Bioterrorism experts condemn a move to cut reserve money” by Ken Dilanian, July 13.)

But Project Bioshield reflects a mistaken prioritization of an extreme scenario, said George Smith of, who added that even within the domain of pharmaceuticals, the money involved would be better spent elsewhere.  “The country needs more antibiotics to fight infectious bacterial diseases– magnitudes more than it needs anything BioShield could theoretically furnish,” he said.

A newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service says the cuts to Project Bioshield are consistent with its actual expenditures, which have been lower than originally anticipated, and “could be interpreted as Congress and the President adjusting the amount of funds available so that they track more closely with the actual ability of HHS to obligate them.”  See “Project Bioshield: Authorities, Appropriations, Acquisitions, and Issues for Congress,” July 7, 2010.

SecDef Defends New Policy on Limiting Media Access

“I have grown increasingly concerned that we have become too lax, disorganized, and, in some cases, flat-out sloppy in the way we engage with the press,” said Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, explaining why he had issued new guidance to regulate Pentagon interactions with the news media.

The new guidance (pdf), issued on July 2, requires advance notification and coordination with DoD Public Affairs before a Department official can speak to the media on a story that may have any “national or international implications.”

In the absence of such controls, Gates said at a July 8 press briefing, “personal views have been published as official government positions, and information has gone out that was inaccurate, incomplete or lacking in proper context.  Reports and other documents, including on sensitive subjects, are routinely provided to the press and other elements in this town before I or the White House know anything about them.  Even more worrisome, highly classified and sensitive information has been divulged without authorization or accountability.”

“My hope and expectation is that this new guidance will improve the quality of press engagement by ensuring that the people the media talk to can speak with accuracy and authority.  This should not infringe or impede the flow of accurate and timely information to you or to the public.  That is not my intent, nor will I tolerate it.”

Despite the Secretary’s assurance, however, it seems practically certain that the new guidance will significantly impede the flow of information to the press and will complicate the already difficult task of probing beneath the official surface of events.

The Gates memorandum seems to reflect a view of the press as a conduit for “official government positions” that are “authorized” and placed “in proper context.”  But everyone knows that the most interesting and important news stories often begin with unofficial and unauthorized statements that are lacking in context and may even be inaccurate.  It is the reporter’s job to validate them, assess their significance, place them in context and communicate them, and if the results appear “before I or the White House know anything about them,” so much the better.

That is what the Washington Post did in its series on neglect of veterans’ health at Walter Reed Hospital, and that is what USA Today did in its reporting on the casualties resulting from delayed acquisition of MRAP armored vehicles.

Secretary Gates knows this, and he acknowledged the importance of those particular stories.  “The reality is, stories in the press, and you’ve heard me say this before — whether it was the stories on the treatment of outpatient wounded warriors at Walter Reed in the Washington Post or stories about MRAPs in USA Today — have been a spur to action for me in various areas,” he said.

But the key point is that those stories did not emerge from authorized interviews or official accounts. They had to be pieced together from partial, incomplete and unauthorized sources.  That’s one of the things that made them great.

“If everybody’s following the spirit and the letter of the memo,” an astute but unidentified reporter asked Secretary Gates, “are you confident that stories like stories about the MRAP and the Walter Reed problems would emerge the way they did?”

“Actually, I am,” Secretary Gates said at yesterday’s press briefing, “and it’s largely because of my confidence in the persistence and the skills of the people sitting in front of me.”  But now that persistence and those skills will also be needed to penetrate the new barriers that the Gates memo has created.

If the Pentagon genuinely valued groundbreaking news stories that could serve as a corrective “spur to action,” then it would inquire into the specific conditions of access and disclosure that makes such stories possible, and it would then seek to foster those conditions more broadly throughout the Department.  The new DoD guidance on interaction with the media is a step in the opposite direction.

The July 2 Gates memo (which was first reported by the New York Times) also declared categorically that “Leaking of classified information is against the law, cannot be tolerated, and will, when proven, lead to the prosecution of those found to be engaged in such activity.”

On July 5, Pfc. Bradley E. Manning was charged (pdf) with the unauthorized transfer and disclosure of classified records, including the classified video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that was posted online in April of this year by the WikiLeaks web site.

Secretary Gates said that he was not familiar with the underlying investigation of the Manning case or whether it constituted a serious breach, and that he had not determined whether remedial security measures were needed.

Army Stresses “Environmental Considerations” in Mil Ops

In the planning of military operations, the U.S. Army is giving new emphasis to the environmental impact of its activities.

“Environmental considerations need to be integrated into the conduct of operations at all levels of command,” according to a recent Army field manual (pdf).  “Planners must consider the effect environmental considerations have and how they may constrain or influence various actions and decisions.”

There is nothing sentimental about the military’s focus on environmental matters.  Rather, it indicates a new recognition of the role of environmental issues in security and stability, as well as operational effectiveness.

“The military has a new appreciation for the interdependence between military missions, the global community, and the environment…. [I]nadequate environmental controls can lead to conflicts with neighbors and can present health concerns to their population and to U.S. military personnel conducting operations.”

“The U.S. national security strategy now includes a focus on environmental and environmental security concerns. Lasting victories and successful end states will be measured in part by how well the military addresses environmental considerations, to include the protection and the conservation of natural and cultural resources; the improvement of citizens’ living conditions in the affected nations; and FHP [Force Health Protection, i.e. the health of the soldiers themselves].”

When properly integrated into mission planning, the new manual said, environmental considerations “serve as force multipliers rather than mission distracters.”  See “Environmental Considerations,” U.S. Army Field Manual 3-34.5, February 2010.

DoD Directive Allows for GAO Access to Intel Programs

The Obama White House has threatened to veto a pending intelligence bill if it includes a provision that would authorize the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to perform audits of intelligence programs at the request of Congress.  But a Department of Defense Directive issued last week explicitly allows for GAO access to highly classified special access programs, including intelligence programs, under certain conditions.

The newly revised DoD Directive 5205.07 (pdf) on special access programs (SAPs) states that:  “General [sic] Accountability Office (GAO) personnel shall be granted SAP access if:  a. The Director, DoD SAPCO [SAP Central Office], concurs after consultation with the chair and ranking minority member of a defense or intelligence committee [and] b. The GAO nominee has the appropriate security clearance level.”

In other words, the Pentagon’s new directive permits what the Obama Administration is stubbornly striving to prevent, namely a role for the GAO in intelligence oversight.

DoD special access programs are the most tightly secured of all the Pentagon’s classified programs.  They include activities within three classified domains:  intelligence, acquisition, and operations.

The previous version of the same DoD Directive (pdf) on special access programs, which was issued in 2006 and revised in 2008, made no mention of the GAO.  However, a 2009 DoD Instruction (pdf) stated that classified DoD information on intelligence and counterintelligence “may be furnished to GAO representatives having a legitimate need to know.”  (“DoD Should Not ‘Categorically” Deny GAO Access to Intelligence,” Secrecy News, February 4, 2009.)

As an historical matter, GAO has long had access to classified DoD programs of the highest sensitivity, and has produced numerous reports on special access programs, including many in unclassified form.  But the CIA and other non-DoD intelligence agencies have resisted GAO oversight.

“In practice, defense [intelligence] agencies do not adopt the ‘hard line’ CIA approach but generally seek to cooperate with GAO representatives,” the late Stanley Moskowitz of the CIA wrote in a 1994 memorandum for the Director of Central Intelligence.

Most recently, the Senate Intelligence Committee reportedly said it would yield to the White House and would renounce any right to use the GAO in its oversight activities.  But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected that concession, and she has been insisting that a role for GAO in intelligence oversight must be recognized by the Administration.  To a significant extent, considering the dominance of defense intelligence agencies within the intelligence community, one could say that it now has been so recognized.  Only the details remain to be negotiated.

Book: The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett

The intersection of science and national security in the 20th century produced many peculiar phenomena, some of which are illuminated in a new biography of physicist Hugh Everett III (1930-1982).

Everett is best known, if at all, as the originator of the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics.  Roughly, this theory holds that whenever a quantum state is measured, every possible outcome of the measurement is realized in a different universe, which somehow means that the world is constantly branching out into a multiplicity of separate, parallel worlds.

“Many prominent physicists, including [Richard] Feynman, thought many worlds was a ludicrous idea,” notes Peter Byrne, the author of the new Everett biography.  But others were startled and impressed by its mathematical and conceptual coherence.  (The notion of parallel universes also became a staple of science fiction writing.)

Having made his controversial mark in physics, Everett went on to perform nuclear war planning for the top secret Weapons Systems Evaluation Group, a sort of Pentagon think tank which generated analysis for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“When Everett joined WSEG in 1956, it was analyzing the cost-benefits of global and limited nuclear warfare,” writes Mr. Byrne. “Ongoing studies examined nuclear blast and fallout kill ratios; the impact of jamming the electronics of guided missiles and airplanes; and the disturbing problem of the ‘nuclear blackout,’ i.e. massive electrical disturbances unleashed by nuclear bombs exploded high in the atmosphere.”  The WSEG’s “Report 50,” portions of which have recently been declassified along with other WSEG records, “became a basic source document” for nuclear war planning.

Everett apparently wrote the software for the first Single Integrated Operating Plan (SIOP), the U.S. nuclear warfighting plan.  He also designed the first “relational database” software, an early word-processing program, and more.

The new biography of Hugh Everett never veers off into hagiography, a temptation that might have been easy to resist since Everett had more than his fair share of shortcomings.  But investigative reporter Peter Byrne has produced a thoughtful account of an original figure and his diverse contributions to a momentous period in the history of science and national security.  One imagines that there are still many other such stories waiting to be told.

See “The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III” by Peter Byrne, Oxford University Press, 2010.

Journal of Defense Research, 1969-1978

The Journal of Defense Research (JDR) was a classified publication sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to encourage dissemination of classified research on topics of military or national security interest.  It began publication in 1969, replacing the former Journal of Missile Defense Research.

Many years later, most of the Journal’s contents still seem to be classified, but the table of contents of the Journal’s first decade (pdf) has been declassified and is now available on the Federation of American Scientists website.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the names of the authors whose work was published in JDR are unfamiliar, with a few exceptions (e.g., Garwin and Augustine; Hugh Everett’s name does not appear).  The topics of the papers provide a snapshot of the technologies and the strategic concerns of the time, and give an indication of the scale of classified government research that was devoted to addressing them.

“The JDR is ‘mission essential’ as a classified research tool,” a Defense Science Board Task Force (pdf) stated in 1985.  “Being the only classified journal of its type, the JDR is used to communicate ideas amongst the defense community and is a basic tool for researchers.”

Intelligence Reform, and More from CRS

Congress has forbidden the Congressional Research Service to make its publications directly available to the public, so it is left to others to do so.  New CRS reports obtained by Secrecy News include the following (all pdf).

“Intelligence Reform After Five Years: The Role of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI),” June 22, 2010.

“Questioning Supreme Court Nominees About Their Views on Legal or Constitutional Issues: A Recurring Issue,” June 23, 2010.

“The ‘Volcker Rule’: Proposals to Limit ‘Speculative’ Proprietary Trading by Banks,” June 22, 2010.

“The Nunn-McCurdy Act: Background, Analysis, and Issues for Congress,” June 21, 2010.

“Environmental Considerations in Federal Procurement: An Overview of the Legal Authorities and Their Implementation,” June 21, 2010.

“EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gases: Congressional Responses and Options,” June 8, 2010.

A Glimpse of the 2010 NRO Budget Request (Redacted)

The National Reconnaissance Office — the U.S. spy satellite agency — “brings unique core capabilities to bear in support of national security objectives by acquiring and operating the most capable set of satellite intelligence collection platforms ever built.”

So begins the text of the newly released and redacted FY2010 NRO budget justification book (pdf).  A copy was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The US is arguably more reliant on overhead collection than ever before,” the NRO said.  “To a large extent, satellite reconnaissance is the foundation for global situational awareness, and as such, it is an essential underpinning of the entire US intelligence effort.  Space collection provides unique access to otherwise denied areas… and it does so without risk to human collectors or infringing upon the territorial sovereignty of other nations.  It also enables users to quickly focus on almost any point on the globe to rapidly respond to emerging situations or to monitor ongoing events.”

“In times of heightened tensions, crisis, or even humanitarian or natural disasters, the value of NRO systems is even greater. At this time, NRO systems are not only the first responders of choice for the DoD, IC, or key decisionmakers–they are often the only source of information,” the NRO said.

Most of the NRO budget book and all of the budget figures have been withheld from disclosure.  Only 116 pages out of the total of 484 pages contain substantial intelligible text.  But the released portion at least provides a sense of the NRO budget structure as well as a sometimes detailed description of the agency’s less sensitive activities and initiatives.

So, for example: In FY2009, the NRO expected to “execute over 25 operational test and evaluation events for on-orbit SIGINT assets” (p. 162).  The NRO Security program supports government and industry personnel “in over 900 NRO-sponsored facilities and almost 3,000 information networks” (p. 253).  Due to competing demands on fewer launch vehicles, “NRO is likely to continue to experience some launch-related delays” (p. 335).  And so on.  Even the (redacted) glossary at the end may be of interest to close students of NRO.

Until quite recently, the NRO refused to disclose even these unclassified portions of its budget request, contending that they were “operational” and therefore exempt from the disclosure requirements of the FOIA.  But in a FOIA lawsuit brought by the Federation of American Scientists in 2006, Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled against the NRO (pdf) and ordered the agency to disgorge the unclassified budget material.

Since that time, most other U.S. intelligence agencies have followed suit and have released comparable material.  Only the National Security Agency, citing its own more expansive statutory exemption from disclosure, has refused to do so.