Posts from November, 2011

A New Intelligence Org on Climate Change is Needed, DSB Says

The U.S. intelligence community needs an organization that can assess the impacts of climate change on U.S. national security interests in an open and collaborative manner, according to a new report from the Defense Science Board (DSB).

The Director of National Intelligence should establish a new intelligence group “to concentrate on the effects of climate change on political and economic developments and their implications for U.S. national security,” said the DSB report on “Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security” (large pdf).

The Central Intelligence Agency already has a Center on Climate Change and National Security.  So why would the Intelligence Community need an entirely new organization to address the exact same set of issues?

One reason is that the role envisioned for the new organization is inconsistent with the practices of the CIA Center.  So, for example, the new intelligence group would be expected to pursue cooperative relationships with others inside and outside of the U.S. government.  It would also “report most of its products broadly within government and non-government communities,” the DSB report said.

But the CIA Center, by unspoken contrast, does not report any of its climate change products broadly or allow public access to them.  (“At CIA, Climate Change is a Secret,” Secrecy News, September 22, 2011).

The CIA’s unyielding approach to classification effectively negates the ability of its Center on Climate Change to interact with non-governmental organizations and researchers on an unclassified basis.  Since, as the DSB noted, much of the relevant expertise on climate change lies “outside the government [in] universities, the private sector, and NGOs,” the CIA’s blanket secrecy policy is a potentially disabling condition.

In fact, the DSB report said, the secretive approach favored by CIA is actually counterproductive.

“The most effective way to tackle understanding [climate change] may be to treat it, for the most part, as an open question, transparent to all engaged in its study,” the DSB report said.  “Compartmentalizing climate change impact research can only hinder progress.”

CIA Sees “Little Likelihood” of Finding Docs on Secrecy Reform

There is “little likelihood” that the Central Intelligence Agency will be able to produce any records documenting the CIA’s implementation of the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review that each classifying agency is required to conduct, the Agency said last week.

The Fundamental Classification Guidance Review (FCGR) was ordered by President Obama in his December 2009 executive order 13526 (section 1.9) as a systematic effort to eliminate obsolete or unnecessary classification requirements.  It is the Obama Administration’s primary response to the problem of over-classification, and it has already achieved some limited results at the Department of Defense and elsewhere.

But it can’t possibly work if agencies don’t implement it.  And so far there is no sign of any such implementation at CIA, despite the fact that compliance is not optional.

In response to FOIA requests over the past year for records on the CIA’s progress in conducting its fundamental review, the CIA said it still had no records on the FCGR that are subject to the FOIA requests.

In an earlier response, “we informed you that a search was conducted and no records responsive to your request were located,” wrote Susan Viscuso, CIA Information and Privacy Coordinator, on October 26.  “Although there is little likelihood that an updated search would produce different results, we will be glad to do so.”

Ms. Viscuso’s letter appeared to hint that responsive files might be contained in CIA “operational files” that are exempt from search and review under the CIA Information Act.  But such a claim would be substantively and legally spurious, especially since responsive records on the FCGR would have been “disseminated” outside of their source files (e.g. to the Information Security Oversight Office), which would nullify their exemption from search and review.

Meanwhile, another intelligence agency, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), proved more responsive.  The NRO said in a report on the FCGR (pdf) that was released last week under the FOIA that it had scheduled all of its classification guides for a fundamental review, as required.  The NRO, which is responsible for U.S. intelligence satellites, also said it was preparing an integrated classification guide that would be “more agile, timely, consistent, uniform, and flexible in providing classification guidance and principles at the lowest appropriate classification level.”

Cost of Nuclear Weapons Program in Dispute

In the last few weeks, members of Congress have presented radically different estimates of the cost of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.  The disparate estimates, which vary by hundreds of billions of dollars, reflect a lack of consensus about how to properly assess the cost of nuclear weapons.

“The U.S. will spend an estimated $700 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next ten years,” according to an October 11 press release from Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA).  Citing that estimate, which was based on an analysis by the Ploughshares Fund, Markey and 64 other Democratic members wrote to the Super Committee on Deficit Reduction to propose a cut of $200 million in spending on nuclear weapons.

But Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) said last week that the entire nuclear weapons budget for the next ten years is only about $214 billion.  He said that the cuts proposed by Democrats would therefore “amount to unilateral and immediate nuclear disarmament by the United States” with “catastrophic impacts to our national security and global stability.”

In his own letter to the Super Committee, Rep. Turner, chair of a House Armed Services Subcommittee, cited November 2 testimony from Administration officials including Thomas D’Agostino of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), who said that “The 1251 report [on nuclear force structure] makes clear that the total for the Department of Defense and NNSA will cost approximately $200 billion over the next 10 years, not the $600 billion or so that some are claiming.”

That seemingly authoritative statement might have settled the issue — but it did not, according to Stephen I. Schwartz of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

“Here’s the fundamental problem: No one in the government knows exactly how much has been spent or continues to be spent on nuclear weapons because there is not and has never been a unified, comprehensive budget to monitor all their costs across departments and agencies and over time,” said Mr. Schwartz, an author of several studies on nuclear weapons spending.

The nominal budget for nuclear weapons, said Mr. Schwartz, “excludes a number of very expensive and critical programs that make the nuclear arsenal usable, including overhead and support costs; most research and development costs for delivery systems and support equipment; all costs for tactical nuclear weapons; airlift and sealift costs for strategic and tactical nuclear weapons programs; most centralized command, control, communications programs associated with nuclear weapons; all intelligence programs that support the nuclear weapons mission; and some training costs.”

To remedy the ambiguity in nuclear budgeting, Mr. Schwartz proposed that Congress enact a new framework for financial transparency and accountability in the nuclear weapons program.  In principle, he said, such a framework should appeal to political leaders and analysts of all persuasions.

“If Congress (and the interested public) had a clear understanding of what it costs to sustain the nuclear arsenal, or of, for example, the annual expenditures required to secure vulnerable nuclear materials in the United States and overseas, we could have a rational and logical discussion about the costs and benefits of these programs.”

“Unfortunately, we do not, which means that rhetoric and assumptions will most likely replace facts when it comes to making important decisions about the future of US nuclear security spending,” he wrote in a recent paper.  See “Building Budgetary Transparency and Accountability for the US Nuclear Weapons Program” by Stephen I. Schwartz, September 8, 2011.

Dirty War Documents, Directed Energy Weapons, More

Last week, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) asked President Obama to expedite the declassification of U.S. intelligence documents pertaining to Argentina’s so-called “dirty war” during the military dictatorship that lasted from 1976 to the mid-1980s. “The substantial backlog at the National Archives and Records Administration and history of unwillingness to declassify by U.S. intelligence agencies has led me to believe that systematic declassification is not a suitable solution,” Rep. Hinchey wrote on November 2, explaining his request for Presidential intervention.

A new U.S. Air Force policy directive on “Directed Energy Weapons” specifies that whenever such a weapon is developed within a tightly-secured Special Access Program, a legal review of the classified weapon will be conducted by the Air Force General Counsel to “ensure… that any such weapon complies with domestic and international law.”

A new report from the Congressional Research Service considers the use and abuse of synthetic drugs.  See “Synthetic Drugs: Overview and Issues for Congress,” October 28, 2011.

Help Support Secrecy News

We invite you to help sustain Secrecy News and the work of the FAS Project on Government Secrecy by making a tax-deductible contribution to the Federation of American Scientists.

Last week, the Congressional Research Service issued a report about “The Arsenal Act,” a peculiar and little-known law dating back to 1854 that authorizes the Secretary of the Army to “abolish any United States arsenal that he considers unnecessary.” If you wanted to read that report you could purchase a copy for $29.95 from a commercial vendor.  Or you could write to your Congressman to request that a copy be sent to you.  Or you could simply read the report right now for free on the Federation of American Scientists web site.

We do not charge anyone for access to this or thousands of other valuable, hard-to-find government records that are highlighted in nearly every issue of Secrecy News.  The whole point of our work is to make such records more easily available.

But we do incur costs in gathering and publishing the records.  We also invest time and resources in probing the boundaries of the national security secrecy system and reporting our findings to the interested public.  We engage in advocacy to promote a real, measurable reduction in the scope of secrecy through the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review and other mechanisms.  And we assist reporters and researchers dealing with questions of access to government information.

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Some Corrections on Intelligence Budget Secrecy

Earlier this week, we noted that it was increasingly unlikely that the budget for the National Intelligence Program (NIP) would be removed from concealment in the Defense Department budget and given its own budget line item, as the Director of National Intelligence and others had proposed.

Instead, the status quo is likely to persist, we wrote, because “Congress likes it that way.”  But this remark was too glib.  The language we cited from the House version of the Defense Appropriations Act that would prohibit NIP separation has not been adopted in the Senate.  Influential members of the Senate Intelligence Committee actually favor a separate NIP budget as a way to increase transparency and to provide the DNI with greater control of appropriated funds.  So Congress is not of one mind on this question, and it has not completed action on the prohibition proposed in the House.

We also mistakenly credited the DNI with “voluntarily” disclosing the amount of the FY2012 NIP budget request in February of this year.  But in fact, that disclosure was not voluntary.  It was mandated by Congress in the FY2010 Intelligence Authorization Act (section 364).

While disclosure of the budget request for the National Intelligence Program is required by law, the disclosure of the budget request for the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) is not specifically required.  Secrecy News asked the Pentagon to disclose it anyway.  Officials said a response to that request would be forthcoming “sometime around January 1, 2012.”

Intelligence Spending Declined in 2011

For the first time in more than a decade, the total U.S. intelligence budget declined in 2011, according to budget figures declassified and disclosed last week.

Although the National Intelligence Program (NIP) budget increased slightly from $53.1 in 2010 to $54.6 billion in 2011, the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) budget dropped from $27 billion to $24 billion.  The sum of both categories of intelligence spending thus declined from $80.1 billion in 2010 to $78.6 billion in 2011, signaling a reversal of the steady intelligence budget increases of the past decade.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said last month that he anticipated “double digit” cuts in the National Intelligence Program budget over the next ten years.

“It will be an actual cut in funds, not a cut to projected growth,” said a congressional staffer. “Put another way, budgets in the future years will be less than they are for FY12.”

Prospects Fade for a Separate Intelligence Budget

Corrections added below

The budget for the National Intelligence Program will mostly remain hidden in the Department of Defense budget for the foreseeable future and will not be given a separate budget line item or a separate appropriation, despite the efforts of budget reformers and intelligence community leaders.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had advocated such a move for years, particularly since it would have enhanced the role of the DNI.

“I would support and I’ve also been working [on] actually taking the National Intelligence Program [NIP] out of the DoD budget,” he said at his July 2010 confirmation hearing.  Doing so would “serve to strengthen the DNI’s hand in managing the money in the intelligence community,” he explained.

But in a speech (pdf) last month, DNI Clapper indicated that the proposed move had been stymied.  “Ain’t gonna happen,” he said.

A stand-alone budget for the National Intelligence Program would have added clarity and integrity to the budget process.  Currently, most intelligence spending is concealed in the Department of Defense appropriations bill in opaque and misleading line items.  Much of the money is not under the effective control the Secretary of Defense.  Some of it, like the CIA budget, is not Defense Department spending at all.  The whole arrangement is a deliberate subterfuge that is a legacy of the Cold War.

But Congress likes it that way.  The House of Representatives passed language in the 2012 defense appropriations bill that would prohibit a change in the status quo. [To date, however, the Senate has not adopted this position.]

“None of the funds appropriated in this or any other Act may be used to plan, prepare for, or otherwise take any action to undertake or implement the separation of the National Intelligence Program budget from the Department of Defense budget,” the House bill said (HR 2219, sect. 8116).

The efforts by DNI Clapper to establish independent funding for the National Intelligence Program have already paid dividends in increased openness.  In 2011, the amount that was requested for the NIP for the following year was voluntarily disclosed for the first time ever.  Disclosure of the budget request, previously opposed by Intelligence Community leaders, was a precondition for a separate NIP budget. [Correction: Disclosure of the budget request was required by statute and was not "voluntary."]

Now that a separate NIP budget is out of reach and there is no programmatic advantage to be gained from publishing the intelligence budget request, it remains to be seen whether or not the request for the FY2013 NIP budget will be voluntarily released by the DNI next year. [Same correction: disclosure is now required by statute.]

Annual disclosure of the total intelligence budget appropriation, which for decades was a matter of fierce contention, is now utterly routine.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service reviewed “The Intelligence Appropriations Process: Issues for Congress” (pdf), October 27, 2011.