Posts from December, 2012

China’s Holdings of U.S. Securities, and More from CRS

Congressional concerns arising from China’s holdings of U.S. government debt, including the potential for economic destabilization or diplomatic coercion, are examined in a report from the Congressional Research Service that was updated today.  See China’s Holdings of U.S. Securities: Implications for the U.S. Economy, December 6, 2012.

Relatedly (though not newly updated), see Foreign Holdings of Federal Debt, July 3, 2012.

And recently updated is The Presidential Records Act: Background and Recent Issues for Congress, November 15, 2012.

Detained Linguist Seeks Release from Jail

James F. Hitselberger, a Navy contract linguist who was charged under the Espionage Act for mishandling classified records, yesterday asked a court to release him from pre-trial detention.  His release would pose no hazard, and he is not a flight risk, his public defenders said.

Mr. Hitselberg allegedly removed classified records from a secure facility in Bahrain, and had previously donated classified materials to the Hoover Institution, which maintains a James F. Hitselberger Collection.  (See Document Collector Charged Under Espionage Statute, Secrecy News, November 7, 2012.) He is not suspected of transmitting classified information to a foreign power.

According to prosecutors, Mr. Hitselberger is a shadowy figure who might vanish if released from custody.  They urged that he be detained until trial.

“For almost eight months, the defendant, James Hitselberger, has lived as a fugitive,” according to a November 29 government memorandum in support of detention.  “He speaks multiple foreign languages, has an apparent network of friends and acquaintances overseas, and is adept in adapting to foreign surroundings.”

But in a motion for reconsideration filed yesterday, defense attorneys said that prosecutors had misrepresented the facts.

Mr. Hitselberger “neither fled nor hid from law enforcement officials.”  He “never tried to conceal his identity or location.”  Although government officials had his contact information, “no government agent ever contacted Mr. Hitselberger or asked him to return to the United States.”

“The facts demonstrate that Mr. Hitselberger was not a fugitive, [and he] cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation of his conduct… He was never told that law enforcement agents required him to return to the United States, and he did not ‘flee’ from law enforcement,” defense attorneys wrote.

Even prosecutors admitted that “Hitselberger has no history of violence. Nor has the government’s investigation revealed that he has tried to pass any of the classified information he has acquired to a foreign power.”

Under the circumstances, defense attorneys asked the court to release Mr. Hitselberger from pre-trial detention into the custody of his family, and under electronic monitoring.

“The evidence does not support a finding that Mr. Hitselberger would be a substantial risk of flight or a danger to the community if released,” they wrote. “Mr. Hitselberger will comply with conditions of release and has neither the passport necessary nor the will to flee.”

The offenses allegedly committed by Mr. Hitselberger are undoubtedly violations of classification policy.  But the notion that they rise to the level of multiple felonies is hard to credit, and suggests an excess of zeal among prosecutors.

A status conference in the case will be held on December 13.

See also “Linguist charged with pilfering records seeks release” by Josh Gerstein, Politico, December 5.

How a Bill Becomes a Law, and More from CRS

On January 6, 2013 Congress will convene to count electoral votes and to formally certify the results of the last presidential election.  The process was detailed by the Congressional Research Service in Counting Electoral Votes: An Overview of Procedures at the Joint Session, Including Objections by Members of Congress, November 30, 2012.

The declining economic condition of many state governments is examined by CRS in State Government Fiscal Stress and Federal Assistance, December 3, 2012.

And for members of Congress who never had civics class, CRS explains how a bill becomes a law in Introduction to the Legislative Process in the U.S. Congress, November 30, 2012.   See also the elementary Introduction to the Federal Budget Process, December 3, 2012.

Other new and updated CRS reports that Congress has not made publicly available include the following.

Congressional Salaries and Allowances, December 4, 2012

Alternative Minimum Taxpayers by State: 2009, 2010, and Projections for 2012, December 4, 2012

Offsets, Supplemental Appropriations, and the Disaster Relief Fund: FY1990-FY2012, December 4, 2012

The Bayh-Dole Act: Selected Issues in Patent Policy and the Commercialization of Technology, December 3, 2012

Technology Transfer: Use of Federally Funded Research and Development, December 3, 2012

Industrial Competitiveness and Technological Advancement: Debate Over Government Policy, December 3, 2012

Cooperative R&D: Federal Efforts to Promote Industrial Competitiveness, December 3, 2012

IMF Reforms: Issues for Congress, December 4, 2012

China’s Economic Conditions, December 4, 2012

Federal Emergency Management: A Brief Introduction, November 30, 2012

Transparency on U.S. Nuclear Forces Proceeds

President Obama’s declared commitment to provide “an unprecedented level of openness in government” has often been criticized and mocked.  Depending on how one measures it, overall secrecy has actually increased rather than declined. Criminalization of unauthorized disclosures of information to the press has risen sharply, becoming a preferred tactic. Efforts to promote public accountability in controversial aspects of counterterrorism policy such as targeted killing have been blocked by threadbare, hardly credible national security secrecy claims.

But there are also some crucial sectors of the national security domain in which the Obama Administration can properly claim to be the most transparent Administration in history.  The size of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal is one such topic.

Today more detailed, official information is available about U.S. nuclear forces than ever before. For an overview, see US Nuclear Forces, 2012 by Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Last Friday, the State Department released the latest installment of data on U.S. strategic nuclear forces as counted under the New START Treaty.  The release is informative, and not particularly flattering to the Administration.

“The latest data set shows that the U.S. reduction of deployed strategic nuclear forces over the past six months has been very modest: 6 delivery vehicles and 15 warheads,” wrote Hans Kristensen of FAS in an analysis of the new release.

“The reduction is so modest that it probably reflects fluctuations in the number of deployed weapon systems in overhaul at any given time. Indeed, while there have been some reductions of non-deployed and retired weapon systems, there is no indication from the new data that the United States has yet begun to reduce its deployed strategic nuclear forces under the New START treaty,” he wrote.

This is useful information that permits arms control advocates (and opponents) to focus their efforts on debating policy, rather than on a wearisome effort to ascertain the basic facts.

For related background, see The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key Provisions, Congressional Research Service, November 30, 2012.

Income Inequality on the Rise, and More from CRS

The extraordinary rise in income inequality among Americans is painstakingly documented in a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service.

In the past few decades, the rich have gotten a lot richer as “those at the very top have reaped disproportionately larger gains from economic growth.”

“Based on the limited data that are comparable among nations, the U.S. income distribution appears to be among the most unequal of all major industrialized countries and the United States appears to be among the nations experiencing the greatest increases in measures of income dispersion,” the CRS report said.

Popular beliefs concerning the possibility of upward mobility in income are not well-founded, CRS said.

“Empirical analyses estimate that the United States is a comparatively immobile society, that is, where one starts in the income distribution influences where one ends up to a greater degree than in several advanced economies. Children raised in families at the bottom of the U.S. income distribution are estimated to be especially less likely to ascend the income ladder as adults,” the report said.  See The U.S. Income Distribution and Mobility: Trends and International Comparisons, November 29, 2012.

Congressional secrecy policy prohibits CRS from releasing its reports to the public.  Some other new and updated CRS reports that Congress has not made publicly available include the following.

Addressing the Long-Run Budget Deficit: A Comparison of Approaches, November 30, 2012

Economic Recovery: Sustaining U.S. Economic Growth in a Post-Crisis Economy, November 29, 2012

Tax Provisions to Assist with Disaster Recovery, November 29, 2012

Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate, November 29, 2012

Congressional Nominations to U.S. Service Academies: An Overview and Resources for Outreach and Management, November 30, 2012

Health Benefits for Members of Congress, November 30, 2012

Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress, November 30, 2012

Social Security Reform: Current Issues and Legislation, November 28, 2012

Casework in a Congressional Office: Background, Rules, Laws, and Resources, November 30, 2012

Army Corps Supplemental Appropriations: Recent History, Trends, and Policy Issues, November 29, 2012

DOD Purchase of Renewable Energy Credits Under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, November 27, 2012

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Meetings in Vladivostok, Russia: Postscript, November 19, 2012

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance, November 30, 2012

Colombia: Background, U.S. Relations, and Congressional Interest, November 28, 2012

Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990, November 29, 2012