Posts from January, 2011

Rep. Paul Quotes Classified Cable on House Floor

Last Wednesday, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) read brief excerpts from a classified U.S. State Department cable on the House floor. The cable was written in 1990 by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie and described her conversation with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein shortly prior to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. It was released January 1 by WikiLeaks.

Since the cable specified that its “entire text” is classified secret, this means that by reading a passage or two from the document, Rep. Paul was technically publicizing classified information and introducing it into the Congressional Record.

This action was not nearly comparable in significance or audacity to Sen. Mike Gravel reading the Pentagon Papers into the public record in 1971. It would hardly be noteworthy at all except for the contrast it presents with current congressional guidance to avoid the material released by WikiLeaks altogether. The Senate Office of Security, for example, has directed that Senate employees should not even visit the WikiLeaks website, much less circulate its contents.

Like other members of the House of Representatives, Rep. Paul has taken an oath (under House Rule XXIII, clause 13) that “I will not disclose any classified information received in the course of my service with the House of Representatives, except as authorized by the House of Representatives or in accordance with its Rules.”

Presumably, Rep. Paul could say that he did not receive the classified cable “in the course of my service with the House of Representatives” and that it is therefore outside the scope of his oath.

“The secrecy of the [Glaspie cable] was designed to hide the truth from the American people and keep our government from being embarrassed,” Rep. Paul said, assigning malicious intent to the classification of the document.

But since many unembarrassing and uninformative documents are also classified, a better explanation might be that the application of classification controls today is indiscriminately broad, and that classification status is not a reliable indicator of sensitivity.

Diane Roark and the Drama of Intelligence Oversight

Judging from appearances, the conduct of congressional oversight of intelligence is usually professional, placid and rather dull. Just beneath the surface, however, the process is sometimes filled with tension, conflict and human foible.

In her day, Diane S. Roark, a Republican staffer on the House Intelligence Committee from 1985 to 2003, elicited an impressive amount of hostility from intelligence agencies. Last year, her name surfaced again in connection with the pending prosecution of former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, who was charged with unlawful retention of national defense information.

“Regarding Congressional oversight, Members of Congress were supportive” of intelligence, said former NSA deputy director Barbara McNamara in a December 15, 2003 statement (pdf) to the 9/11 Commission. “But while some staffers were good, some staffers were overly intrusive and vindictive.”

Diane Roark fell in the latter category, as far as Ms. McNamara was concerned. “Ms. Rourke [sic] would form alliances with individuals in the IC and have them serve as her spies. These spies were easy to spot — they were people who really believed in their own programs as being the best and needing support from Congress,” Ms. McNamara said.

One of those purported alliances, it later turned out, was with Thomas Drake. According to the April 2010 indictment of Mr. Drake, he “had a self-described ‘close, emotional friendship’ and ‘different and special’
relationship with Person A [i.e., Ms. Roark] that included the unauthorized disclosure of unclassified and classified information to [Ms. Roark] while [Ms. Roark] worked as a congressional staffer and after [Ms. Roark's] retirement in May 2002.”

Their relationship was based on shared values, her attorney told the Washington Post. “He was very concerned about waste and mismanagement and so was she.” (“Act of honor, or betrayal?” by Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, July 14, 2010).

Ms. Roark’s concerns and her actions won her a visit from the FBI in July 2007. FBI agents seized “emails and other items” from her residence, according to a recent status report (pdf) in the Drake prosecution. She is not charged with any crime.

House Intelligence Committee chairman (and later DCIA) Porter J. Goss praised Ms. Roark’s career performance in a March 20, 2002 floor statement.

“Diane is known as a very dedicated, tough-minded program monitor who digs into the issues and forces agencies to see and understand what they sometimes miss themselves. She is also known as a very knowledgeable taskmaster, and her arrival at an agency is often anticipated with apprehension,” Mr. Goss said.

“I think that this is the type of oversight capability that the American people are entitled to and should demand. I cannot think of any greater tribute for Diane than knowing that agency leaders throughout the community recognize that her instincts and assessments are sound,” he said.

But from the perspective of Ms. McNamara of the NSA, “There is a fine line between what is professional disagreement and what is personal animosity.”

Some recently published resources on congressional oversight of intelligence include the following.

“Intelligence Issues for Congress” (pdf), Congressional Research Service, updated January 20, 2011.

“Legal Perspectives on Congressional Notification” (pdf), hearing before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, October 22, 2009 (published December 2010).

“Congress’s Right to Counsel in Intelligence Oversight” by Kathleen Clark, University of Illinois Law Review (forthcoming).

CRS: Background on Egypt, Tunisia

The Congressional Research Service is not equipped to provide up-to-the-minute coverage of current news events, like the continuing upheaval in Egypt.  But CRS does provide deeply researched background on factual matters including U.S. economic and military aid to Egypt, as well as a detailed account of many aspects of U.S.-Egypt political relations. See the newly updated report “Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations,” January 28, 2011.

On events in Tunisia, see “Tunisia: Recent Developments and Policy Issues,” January 18, 2011.

A North Korean Diplomatic Directory

The DNI Open Source Center has produced an updated directory of North Korean diplomatic missions (pdf) in Europe and Central Asia.

“The directory includes photos, when available, of overseas diplomatic personnel as well as such standard information as facility addresses, phone and fax numbers, and e-mail addresses. Personnel changes and new ambassadorial appointments also have been noted when relevant.”

A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “North Korea– 2010 Overseas Diplomatic Directory for Europe and Central Asia,” Open Source Center, December 29, 2010.

Twelve Million Pages Opened by Declass Center in 2010

The new National Declassification Center (NDC) reviewed 83 million pages of classified historical records in 2010, but so far only 12 million of those pages have been declassified and released to the open shelves at the National Archives, according to a new report (pdf) from the NDC.

At a time when currently classified records are being leaked and published online nearly every day, it may seem quaint that government agencies are investing time and money to painstakingly review records that are more than 25 years old for possible declassification.  But the NDC process is more productive than leaks have been to date, yielding millions of newly disclosed pages, not just thousands.

The NDC has been directed by the President to process more than 400 million pages of historical records for declassification and public release before the end of 2013.  The results to date, which leave a large majority of records beyond public reach even after review, call into question the criteria that are being used to process the records for declassification.  The release rate of 14% (i.e., 12 million pages made public thus far out of 83 million reviewed) seems astonishingly low for 25 year old records.  See “Bi-annual Report on Operations of the National Declassification Center,” January 1, 2010 – December 31, 2010.

The NDC report also mentions that “We began to coordinate two government-wide special collection reviews for the declassification and release of material associated with the Pentagon Papers (40th anniversary) and the Berlin Wall construction (50th anniversary).”

Remarkably, the bulk of the Pentagon Papers, which were leaked in 1971 by Daniel Ellsberg, never formally underwent declassification review, as noted recently by historian John Prados.  This means that every public and private library in the country that has a copy of the Papers is technically in possession of currently classified material.

JASON: Can Climate Change Agreements be Verified?

If meaningful international agreements are reached to limit or reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide that contribute to global warming, then it will be necessary to verify compliance with such agreements.  This turns out to be a challenging problem, involving technical, analytical and political dimensions.  The JASON scientific advisory panel was asked to investigate the options.

“For cooperative countries, the technology currently exists to directly monitor GHG emissions sufficiently well on an annual basis to support U.S. decision-making on international agreements,” the JASONs found (pdf).

On the other hand, “For non-cooperative countries, there is currently no demonstrated capability to estimate country-level emissions using direct measurements of atmospheric CO2 that has sufficient accuracy to support monitoring of compliance with international agreements.”

Measuring devices, including satellite-borne devices, can be used to determine atmospheric concentrations of CO2, a principal greenhouse gas.  But to estimate the original emission based on observed concentrations, it is necessary to model the transport of the gas from the point of emission to the point of measurement, a difficult task which in turn depends on accurate meteorological data and a correct understanding of natural CO2 emission and absorption processes.  “In many cases, modeling uncertainties will dominate measurement uncertainty,” the JASONs noted.  “Modeling errors are the most insidious problem as they will often not give any indication of their presence….”

An alternative (or complement) to direct measurements is to monitor changes in the energy infrastructure of countries of interest, including signs of development of alternative energy sources and indicators of fossil fuel consumption.  “Technical methods currently exist that can be used to monitor energy infrastructure of large GHG emitting countries.  They benefit from, but do not require, the cooperation of the emitting country.”

The JASONs recommended that the U.S. government “acquire and maintain a detailed technical knowledge of the energy infrastructure of countries with large greenhouse gas emissions, and identify and observe the signatures needed to quantify their energy use.”  A new organization may be needed to fulfill this task, they said.

The new JASON report, which was performed under contract to the National Nuclear Security Administration, builds upon a related 2010 study by the National Research Council and an otherwise unidentified “recent study by the MEDEA group,” an intelligence community advisory body.

A copy of the JASON report was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Methods for Remote Determination of CO2 Emissions,” JASON Report No. JSR-10-300, January 2011.

CRS: Economics a Growing Factor in National Security

Economic vitality and national security are now inextricably intertwined, a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service explains.

“There is scarcely an economic policy issue before the Congress that does not affect U.S. national security.  Likewise, there is scarcely a national security policy issue that does not affect the economy.”

“The United States has long been accustomed to pursuing a ‘rich man’s’ approach to national security,” the CRS report said. “The country could field an overwhelming fighting force and combine it with economic power and leadership in global affairs to bring to bear far greater resources than any other country against any threat to the nation’s security…. [In the past,] policies for economic growth and issues such as unemployment have been viewed as domestic problems largely separate from considerations of national security.”

“The world, however, has changed.  Globalization, the rise of China, the prospect of an unsustainable debt burden, unprecedented federal budget deficits, the success of mixed economies with both state-owned and private businesses, huge imbalances in international trade and capital flows, and high unemployment have brought economics more into play in considerations of national security.”

Consequently, “In national security, the economy is both the enabler and the constraint.”

The 77-page CRS report examines the intersection of economics and national security across a range of policies, including trade, education, research and development, and so on.  The text is occasionally prosaic (e.g., “trade represents an exchange of goods or services between two or more willing parties”) but it is also full of detailed and interesting information that may be useful to those who have not already made up their minds on this set of issues.

See “Economics and National Security: Issues and Implications for U.S. Policy,” Congressional Research Service, January 4, 2011.

CRS Director’s Retirement Renews Old Questions

Daniel P. Mulhollan, director of the Congressional Research Service, told CRS staff last week that he will be retiring in April.  Mr. Mulhollan, who joined CRS in 1969, has been director of the congressional support organization for the past 14 years, making him its longest-serving leader.

Although the basic parameters of CRS operation are set by Congress, Mr. Mulhollan’s departure may encourage reconsideration of some particular CRS policies that he favored.  These could include, for example, the CRS posture of strict neutrality, the deliberate erosion of CRS expertise in recent years, and perhaps the policy of barring direct public access to CRS reports.

“Dan loved CRS, and he worked hard to keep it above the Hill’s political fray,” said one CRS analyst.  “He kept CRS from suffering what GAO did– getting downsized because it was viewed as too friendly to one political party.”

But a former CRS analyst saw the issue of CRS impartiality differently:  “In 2003, Dan invented a new standard of ‘neutrality’ that prohibits any analyst, no matter the weight of evidence, from stating that one position is stronger than another.  The result is a remarkable watering down of CRS reports, a trend that has been noticed not only by congressional staff but by readers outside of Congress.  Neither CBO nor GAO follows the standard of ‘neutrality’,” the former analyst said.

Another question is whether CRS should provide greater depth of analytical expertise or whether it should emphasize basic tutorials and reference services geared particularly towards new members and younger staffers.

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 mandated the appointment of highly qualified Specialists and Senior Specialists at CRS to be “available for special work” for congressional committees and members, on topics such as American government, foreign policy, economics, and others.

Under Mr. Mulhollan, these top two levels of CRS expertise have atrophied.  “Not since 1989 has CRS hired a Senior Specialist,” according to a former analyst.  In 1988 there were 18 of them.  “The number is now down to four, with all facing retirement.”  Similarly, in the late 1980s there were 38 research Specialists.  “The number is now down to five, with all close to retirement.”

“In short, Dan over his reign has wiped out the two top levels of analytical competence” at CRS, the former analyst said.  He has allocated their slots and salaries to “full-time administrators who have never done analytical work.”

A current CRS analyst said the future of the organization would have to be different from its past, and that sophisticated subject matter expertise may not be the main thing that Congress is looking for.  “CRS is famed for being apolitical and expert, but some congressional staff also find it a bit stodgy.  For example, the CRS website lacks full text search, and it doesn’t have podcasts or videos.  It’s just a heap of long, dry reports, and often what the staffers need are primers or short essays.”

As for the policy of blocking direct public access to CRS reports, Congress is responsible for that, but it was firmly embraced by Mr. Mulhollan.  (On various occasions since the 1990s, he expressed disapproval of FAS due to our continuing practice of publishing CRS reports online.)  His successor could conceivably help to facilitate a change of direction in this area.

Before his departure, Mr. Mulhollan is expected to name an acting director, “someone who likely will continue his management policies and practices,” according to one observer.  The appointment of a new CRS director will be up to the Librarian of Congress.

State of the Union: Tradition and Function

The history and characteristic features of the State of the Union address, to be delivered by President Obama on January 25, were reviewed in a recent report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.

“Presidents often acknowledge the difficult nature of the goals they set, but such acknowledgment is qualified by a strong statement that Americans will always fulfill their destiny, solve intractable problems, and ultimately ‘establish a more perfect Union’. ”

“No President has ever reported that the crisis facing the nation was insurmountable.”

See “The President’s State of the Union Address: Tradition, Function, and Policy Implications,” November 17, 2010.

CIA Views China’s “Student Informant System”

The Chinese Communist Party employs a growing network of student informants who monitor political expression on university campuses and denounce professors and students for politically subversive or unconventional views, according to a recent report (pdf) from the Central Intelligence Agency.

Established in 1989 after the Tienanmen Square protests, “the principal objective of the Student Informant System [SIS] is to ensure campus stability and to control the debate and discussion of politically sensitive issues,” the CIA report said.  “Students have had their scholarships revoked and their academic records penalized because of information provided by student informants that is sometimes highly subjective, such as facial expressions.”

“The SIS employs traditional political spying and denunciation techniques, seeking to create a ‘white terror’ (bai se kong bu) environment on campus — in which students and teachers fear surveillance more than arrest — to achieve and maintain influence and control.”

The SIS has been met with both scholarly criticism and popular resistance, the CIA report said.  A leading academic journal contended last year that “The information reported by student informants is neither accurate nor objective” and that “promoting a culture of denunciation may become an obstacle to learning.”  Meanwhile, “some Chinese students are resisting government efforts at political spying and rejecting the culture of denunciation.  Netizens are publishing rosters of student informants online, resulting in the student informants being denounced by peers.”  Yet “the government appears determined to continue to use the SIS as a tool to ensure political stability on Chinese campuses.”

A copy of the CIA report was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “China: Student Informant System to Expand, Limiting School Autonomy, Free Expression,” CIA Open Source Works, November 23, 2010.