Posts from October, 2010

ODNI Issues New Security Standards for Intel Facilities

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has issued new standards for the construction of Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs).

SCIFs (pronounced “skiffs”) are rooms, vaults, or even entire buildings that are specially constructed and certified for the handling and storage of classified intelligence information known as Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI).

The total number of SCIFs around the country and the world is not known, but is likely to be in the thousands. Each of them must be formally inspected and approved (or “accredited”) for handling intelligence information and protecting it against loss, theft, unauthorized disclosure, electronic interception or other forms of compromise.

The adoption of new uniform standards for all SCIFs, including existing facilities and new construction, is intended “to enable information sharing to the greatest extent possible.”  So “Any SCIF that has been accredited by an IC element… shall be reciprocally accepted for use as accredited by all IC elements….”

Copies of the new standards are available on the Federation of American Scientists website.  See “Physical and Technical Security Standards for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities” (pdf), Intelligence Community Standard Number 705-1, September 17, 2010, and “Standards for the Accreditation and Reciprocal Use of Sensitive Compartmented Information” (pdf), Intelligence Community Standard Number 705-2, September 17, 2010.

The Standards were signed by former Assistant DNI David R. Shedd, who became Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency on September 20, 2010.

Information Sharing: Feast or Famine

Sharing of intelligence and other sensitive information within government and with selected private sector entities remains a work in progress.  Depending on one’s perspective, there is too little sharing, or too much, or else the right stuff is not being shared.

J. Alan Orlob, the Vice President for Corporate Security at Marriott Hotels, told Congress last year (in a newly published hearing volume) that there was still plenty of room for improvement, and illustrated his point with an anecdote.

“After the bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia [in 2003],” he recalled, “the C.I.A. reached out to me to give me a briefing on the terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiya.  I was impressed that they would do so.  However, during the briefing, the information that I was being presented was so vague and obtuse that I began correcting the briefer.  Again, the information that we needed was not being shared. We do not need specifics and names of individuals. We do need to understand terrorist group history, methods, and means.  Only in that way, can we ensure that we are employing proper countermeasures to deter or mitigate an incident.”

See “Lessons from the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks, Parts I and II” (pdf), hearings before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, January 8 and 28, 2009 (published October 2010).

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller told Congress earlier this year that intelligence sharing had actually increased to a daunting level.  “With improved information collection and sharing capabilities within the [U.S. intelligence Community], the FBI receives well over 100 different feeds of criminal and terrorist data from a variety of sources,” he said.  “It is a great challenge to ensure that intelligence analysts are able to efficiently understand and analyze the enormous volume of information they receive.”

See “Securing America’s Safety: Improving the Effectiveness of Antiterrorism Tools and Interagency Communication” (pdf), Senate Judiciary Committee, January 20, 2010 (published October 2010).

The release of a new government-wide policy on “controlled unclassified information” that is supposed to promote the sharing of unclassified “sensitive” information is said to be imminent, more or less.

Polygraph Testing Against Border Corruption

A bill passed by the Senate last month would require U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to administer polygraph tests to all applicants for law enforcement positions within the agency.

The move was prompted by reports (originally in the New York Times) and testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee that Mexican drug trafficking organizations were attempting to infiltrate the Customs and Border Protection agency by sending drug traffickers to take the entrance examination.

The CBP argued that polygraph testing of job applicants offered the most effective response, a Senate Committee report on the bill explained.

“According to CBP, less than one percent of applicants who are cleared by a polygraph examination subsequently fail the required single scope background investigation (SSBI) [for a security clearance], while roughly 22% of applicants who are not subjected to polygraph investigations fail the SSBI.”

“Because SSBIs cost an average of $3,200, CBP believes that expanding the use of polygraph examinations would cut down on failed investigations and create a more streamlined and cost-effective process for bringing new applicants on board.”  See “Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010,” Senate Report 111-338, September 29, 2010.

The bill has been referred to the House of Representatives, where it remains pending.

Polygraph testing of CBP applicants already seems to have paid some dividends.  Last week, one job applicant was arrested following a polygraph test in which he confessed to an unrelated crime, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported October 21.

But CBP reliance on the polygraph is unwise, said critic George Maschke, because “polygraphy is highly vulnerable to countermeasures, and members of criminal enterprises seeking to infiltrate CBP will likely fool the lie detector.”

Counting the Casualties of War

Thousands of previously unrecognized civilian casualties of the war in Iraq were documented in a collection of classified U.S. military records that were published online October 22 by the Wikileaks organization.

The unauthorized release of the records was presented with Wikileaks’ usual understatement and precision.  The newly disclosed records are said to be “the first real glimpse into the secret history of the [Iraq] war,” as if there had been no declassification, no previous unauthorized disclosures of classified information, and no prior reporting on the subject in the last seven years.

But setting aside the hyperbole, it seems clear that the documents significantly enrich the public record on the Iraq war, as reported over the weekend by the New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Al Jazeera, and others.

Among other things, they cast new light on the scale of civilian casualties in the Iraq war, and they document the horrific details of many particular lethal incidents.  This kind of material properly belongs in the public domain, as a last sign of respect to the victims and as a rebuke to the perpetrators and their sponsors.

“The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq,” according to Wikileaks’ summary, “comprised of 66,081 ‘civilians’; 23,984 ‘enemy’ (those labeled as insurgents); 15,196 ‘host nation’ (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 ‘friendly’ (coalition forces). The majority of the deaths (66,000, over 60%) of these are civilian deaths.”

The records “contain 15,000 civilian deaths that have not been previously reported,” said the non-governmental organization Iraq Body Count, which is one of several organizations that attempt to tally or estimate civilian casualties in Iraq.

But the counting of casualties is an imprecise business, permitting a surprisingly broad range of credible estimates.  Prior to the Wikileaks release, with its description of 66,081 civilian casualties, the Iraq Body Count organization had estimated between 98,585 and 107,594 civilian deaths.  The Brookings Institution put the number considerably higher, at 112,625.  Other estimates, both higher and lower, are also available from the Associated Press, the World Health Organization, and others.

A compilation and comparison of such estimates has been prepared by the Congressional Research Service in “Iraq Casualties: U.S. Military Forces and Iraqi Civilians, Police, and Security Forces” (pdf), updated October 7, 2010.  This report does not directly reflect the new Wikileaks disclosures or a Defense Department tally made public last summer, though it presents official estimates based on some of the same underlying data.  But it is more recent than a 2008 version of the same congressional report that was cited in the New York Times on October 22.

A companion report from the CRS considers “U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom” (pdf), updated September 28, 2010.  This report “presents difficult-to-find statistics regarding U.S military casualties… including those concerning post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, amputations, evacuations, and the demographics of casualties.”  While some of these statistics are publicly available through the Department of Defense website, others were obtained by CRS research.

Another CRS report addresses “Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians” (pdf), updated September 14, 2010.

Wash Post Traces Dealers of Crime Guns

The Washington Post is publishing a rather spectacular series of stories this week tracing the flow of guns through American society and their use in criminal activity.  The Post series directly challenges — and partially overcomes — the barriers to public disclosure of gun sales that were put in place by Congress under pressure from the National Rifle Association and gun dealers in 2003.

“At the urging of the gun lobby seven years ago,” the Post explained, “Congress removed from public view a federal database that traced guns back to stores.  The blackout helped cut off a growing number of lawsuits against and newspaper investigations of gun stores.  To break this secrecy in Maryland, Virginia and the District [of Columbia], The Post relied on its own analysis of state and local records.”  See “Industry pressure hides gun traces, protects dealers from public scrutiny” by James V. Grimaldi and Sari Horwitz, October 24.

The barriers to public disclosure of gun sale data that were enacted by Congress in 2003 were analyzed by the Congressional Research Service in “Gun Control: Statutory Disclosure Limitations on ATF Firearms Trace Data and Multiple Handgun Sales Reports” (pdf), May 27, 2009.

Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity Reconsidered

The Israeli policy of “nuclear opacity” — by which that country’s presumptive nuclear weapons program is not formally acknowledged — is examined in the new book “The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb” by Avner Cohen (Columbia University Press, October 2010).

For a variety of reasons, the author concludes that Israel’s “nuclear opacity” is obsolete and will have to be replaced, sooner or later, with a forthright acknowledgment of what everyone already believes to be the case anyway.

Cohen, an Israeli scholar who was trained as a philosopher, provides a lucid account of how nuclear opacity has “worked,” i.e. served Israeli interests, by providing the benefits of deterrence without the negative political and strategic consequences that could ensue from overt disclosure.  But its time has passed, he says.

“I argue that the old Israeli bargain with the bomb has outlived its usefulness, that it has become increasingly incompatible with contemporary democratic values at home and with the growth of international norms of transparency, and that it is time for Israel and others to consider a new bargain.”  Among other things, he says, the continuing development of nuclear weapons-related technology in Iran is likely the force the issue to a new degree of clarity.

For the time being, however, there is no sign of any change in Israel’s position on the matter.  “Israel has a clear and responsible nuclear policy, and it has frequently reiterated that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East,” David Danieli of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission told Haaretz last month.  “Israel neither adds to nor subtracts from this statement.”

Avner Cohen’s “The Worst-Kept Secret” was reviewed recently in the New York Times and the Forward.

Hezbollah, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).

“Hezbollah: Background and Issues for Congress,” October 8, 2010.

“Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues,” October 7, 2010.

“Burma’s 2010 Election Campaign: Issues for Congress,” October 6, 2010.

“Drug Courts: Background, Effectiveness, and Policy Issues for Congress,” October 12, 2010.

“Environmental Laws: Summaries of Major Statutes Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency,” October 8, 2010.

“Defense Surplus Equipment Disposal: Background Information,” October 6, 2010.

“The National Security Council: An Organizational Assessment,” September 23, 2010.

GAO Role in Intel Oversight to be Determined

The recently enacted 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act requires the Director of National Intelligence to prepare a directive concerning access by the congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO) to intelligence information.  The forthcoming directive, the content of which was not clearly specified by Congress, could enable GAO investigators to play a more significant role in intelligence oversight, or it could effectively shut the door on them.

According to a newly disclosed May 27, 2010 letter (pdf) from then-National Security Advisor James L. Jones to Rep. Anna Eshoo, the GAO should be excluded from nearly every aspect of intelligence oversight that involves… intelligence.

While GAO is nominally free to address “a broad range of issues and topics” that concern the intelligence community, Gen. Jones wrote, “There are four areas where we look to the intelligence committees to exercise exclusive jurisdiction: (1) the evaluation, review, and audit of intelligence activities, capabilities, programs, and operations; (2) activities involving intelligence sources; (3) activities involving intelligence methods; and (4) the analysis of intelligence funding.”

So except for intelligence activities, capabilities, programs, operations, sources, methods and funding — everything else is eligible for GAO oversight.

The exclusions advanced by Gen. Jones “essentially cut GAO out of the game,” a congressional staffer told Secrecy News.  “And believe me, DOJ, FBI and DHS have been using this position as a rationale for denying GAO information. This does not give me much hope as we start ramping up to work with ODNI on the access protocols they are required to write.”

However, DNI James R. Clapper expressed a considerably narrower view of what should be off-limits to GAO in public remarks (pdf) earlier this month:  “I am more concerned or sensitive about GAO getting into what I would consider sort of the core essence of intelligence – that is, evaluating sources and methods, critiquing national intelligence estimates, doing this sort of thing, which I think strikes at the very essence of what the intelligence committees were established to do.”

Even so, he suggested that individual GAO staff members could also pursue such highly sensitive matters if this was formally done under direction of the intelligence committees:

“Now, [if] they want to have the GAO assist, detail GAO staff to – if they have the subject matter experts – to the committees. I think that’s fine as long as it’s done under the auspices of the committees when you’re getting at the core essence of what intelligence is and does,” Gen. Clapper said.

This view seems to allow much greater space for compromise, especially since there is much that GAO could do in terms of intelligence program audits and reviews that would not involve “evaluating sources” or otherwise impinge on “the core essence of intelligence.”  The new DNI directive is to be coordinated with the GAO and submitted to Congress by May 1, 2011.

Invention Secrecy Still Going Strong

There were 5,135 inventions that were under secrecy orders at the end of Fiscal Year 2010, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office told Secrecy News last week.  It’s a 1% rise over the year before, and the highest total in more than a decade.

Under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, patent applications on new inventions can be subject to secrecy orders restricting their publication if government agencies believe that disclosure would be “detrimental to the national security.”

The current list of technology areas that is used to screen patent applications for possible restriction under the Invention Secrecy Act is not publicly available and has been denied under the Freedom of Information Act.  (An appeal is pending.)  But a previous list dated 1971 and obtained by researcher Michael Ravnitzky is available here (pdf).

Most of the listed technology areas are closely related to military applications.  But some of them range more widely.

Thus, the 1971 list indicates that patents for solar photovoltaic generators were subject to review and possible restriction if the photovoltaics were more than 20% efficient.  Energy conversion systems were likewise subject to review and possible restriction if they offered conversion efficiencies “in excess of 70-80%.”

One may fairly ask if disclosure of such technologies could really have been “detrimental to the national security,” or whether the opposite would be closer to the truth.  One may further ask what comparable advances in technology may be subject to restriction and non-disclosure today.  But no answers are forthcoming, and the invention secrecy system persists with no discernible external review.

New Books Received

Secrecy News was pleased to receive the following books, though we have not yet had a chance to read them closely.

“The Reagan Files: The Untold Story of Reagan’s Top-Secret Efforts to Win the Cold War” edited by Jason Saltoun-Ebin is a rich collection of declassified letters, transcripts and National Security Council meeting minutes gleaned from the Reagan Library concerning U.S.-Soviet relations and the end of the Cold War,

“Torture, Terror, and Trade-Offs: Philosophy for the White House” by Jeremy Waldron investigates questions of law and security, public safety and individual rights.

“Continental Defense in the Eisenhower Era: Nuclear Antiaircraft Arms and the Cold War” by Christopher J. Bright builds on declassified files to tell the story of the thousands of nuclear antiaircraft weapons which were deployed around U.S. cities during the Cold War.