Posts from January, 2013

Sandia Scientists Model Dynamics of Social Protest

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have been studying the ways that information, ideas and behaviors propagate through social networks in order to gain advance warning of cyber attacks or other threatening behavior.

The initial problem is how to explain the disparate consequences of seemingly similar triggering events.  Thus, in 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons featuring the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, prompting widespread protests.  In 2006, by contrast, the Pope gave a lecture in which he made comments about Islam that were considered derogatory by some, but the ensuing controversy quickly faded away.

“While each event appeared at the outset to have the potential to trigger significant protests, the ‘Danish cartoons’ incident ultimately led to substantial Muslim mobilization, including massive protests and considerable violence, while outrage triggered by the pope lecture quickly subsided with essentially no violence,” wrote Sandia authors Richard Colbaugh and Kristin Glass.  “It would obviously be very useful to have the capability to distinguish these two types of reaction as early in the event lifecycle as possible.”

What accounts for the difference in these outcomes? The intrinsic qualities of the events are not sufficient to explain why one had disruptive consequences and the other did not. Rather, the authors say, one must factor in the mechanisms of influence by which individual responses are shaped and spread.

By way of analogy, it has been shown that “it is likely to be impossible to predict movie revenues, even very roughly, based on the intrinsic information available concerning the movie” such as cast or genre, but that “it *is* possible to identify early indicators of movie success, such as temporal patterns in pre-release ‘buzz’, and to use these indicators to accurately predict ultimate box office revenues.”

The Sandia authors developed a methodology that reflects the “topological properties” of social and information networks — including the density and hierarchy of connections among network members — and modeled the dynamics of “social diffusion events” in which individuals exercise influence on one another.

They report that their model lends itself, among other things, to “distinguishing successful mobilization and protest events, that is, mobilizations that become large and self-sustaining, from unsuccessful ones early in their lifecycle.”

They tested the model to predict the spread of textual memes, to distinguish between events that generated significant protest (a May 2005 Quran desecration) and those that did not (the knighting of Salman Rushdie in 2007), and to provide early warning of cyber attacks.

The authors’ research was sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, among others.  See Early warning analysis for social diffusion events by Richard Colbaugh and Kristin Glass, originally published in Security Informatics, Vol. 1, 2012, SAND 2010-5334C.

Strategy Lacking for Disposal of Nuclear Weapons Components

There is a “large inventory” of classified nuclear weapons components “scattered across” the nation’s nuclear weapons complex and awaiting disposal, according to an internal Department of Energy contractor report last year.

But “there is no complex-wide cost-effective classified weapon disposition strategy.” And as a result, “Only a small portion of the inventory has been dispositioned and it has not always been in a cost-effective manner.”

See Acceptance of Classified Excess Components for Disposal at Area 5, presented at the Spring 2012 Waste Generator Workshop, April 24, 2012.

Homeland Security Has Too Many Definitions, Says CRS

The existence of multiple, overlapping and inconsistent definitions of the term “homeland security” reflects and reinforces confusion in the homeland security mission, according to a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service.

“Ten years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. government does not have a single definition for ‘homeland security.’ [Instead,] different strategic documents and mission statements offer varying missions that are derived from different homeland security definitions.”

Most official definitions of homeland security include terrorism prevention.  Many but not all encompass disaster response. Most do not include border security, or maritime security, or immigration matters, or general resilience, though some do.

“An absence of consensus about the inclusion of these policy areas may result in unintended consequences for national homeland security operations,” the CRS report said. “For example, not including maritime security in the homeland security definition may result in policymakers, Congress, and stakeholders not adequately addressing maritime homeland security threats, or more specifically being able to prioritize federal investments in border versus intelligence activities.”

“The competing and varied definitions in these documents may indicate that there is no succinct homeland security concept. Without a succinct homeland security concept, policymakers and entities with homeland security responsibilities may not successfully coordinate or focus on the highest prioritized or most necessary activities.”

“At the national level, there does not appear to be an attempt to align definitions and missions among disparate federal entities,” CRS said.

Without a uniform definition, a coherent strategy cannot be formulated and homeland security policy is rudderless.  “Potentially, funding is driving priorities rather than priorities driving the funding.”

Speaking of funding, there are thirty federal departments, agencies, and entities receiving annual homeland security funding excluding the Department of Homeland Security, the CRS report said.  In fact, approximately 50% of homeland security funding is appropriated for agencies other than the Department of Homeland Security.

See Defining Homeland Security: Analysis and Congressional Considerations, January 8, 2013.

Desalination, DNA Testing, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made available to the public include the following.

Desalination and Membrane Technologies: Federal Research and Adoption Issues, January 8, 2013

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting: Federal Funding and Issues, January 8, 2013

DNA Testing in Criminal Justice: Background, Current Law, Grants, and Issues, December 6, 2012

Environmental Considerations in Federal Procurement: An Overview of the Legal Authorities and Their Implementation, January 7, 2013

Responsibility Determinations Under the Federal Acquisition Regulation: Legal Standards and Procedures, January 4, 2013

Social Security: The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), January 8, 2013

Social Security: The Government Pension Offset (GPO), January 8, 2013

Economic Growth and the Unemployment Rate, January 7, 2013

Overview and Issues for Implementation of the Federal Cloud Computing Initiative: Implications for Federal Information Technology Reform Management, January 4, 2013

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA): Issues for the 113th Congress, January 3, 2013

Military Medical Care: Questions and Answers, January 7, 2013

Israel: 2013 Elections Preview, January 8, 2013

Surveillance Court Orders Prove Hard to Declassify

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which authorizes intelligence surveillance activities, acknowledged in 2007 that it has issued “legally significant decisions that remain classified and have not been released to the public.”

In 2010, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice undertook to declassify those Court rulings, but since then none has been released. Why not?

“We tried,” a senior intelligence agency official said, but the rulings were hard to declassify. After redacting classified operational information and other sensitive details, no intelligible text of any consequence remained, according to this official.

The Department of Justice made a similar assertion years ago in response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, stating that “Any legal discussion that may be contained in these materials would be inextricably intertwined with the operational details of the authorized surveillance.”

Although the 2010 declassification initiative has not been formally cancelled, it is unclear how or why the failure to date to declassify the FISC orders would change.

In the debate over reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act, Sen. Jeff Merkley offered an amendment that was intended to break the current impasse.  If a surveillance court order could not be declassified, the amendment proposed, then an unclassified summary of the order should be prepared.  (If even that were not possible, the amendment would have required a report on the status of the declassification process.)

The Merkley amendment, like others, was rejected by the full Senate.  But Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Intelligence Committee chair, offered her assistance to Sen. Merkley in advancing public access to FIS Court opinions.

“If the opinion cannot be made public, hopefully a summary of the opinion can,” Sen. Feinstein said on December 27. “And I have agreed with Senator Merkley to work together on this issue.”

But the intelligence agency official said that unclassified summaries of surveillance court decisions were probably not a satisfactory alternative.  A summary written by the Department of Justice would not be a statement of the court’s opinion at all, the official said.  At best, it would represent the Administration’s own understanding of what the court had ruled, paraphrased for public release.

What if the Court itself were to prepare its opinions in a “tearline” format, with a general statement of its findings presented separately from the more highly classified specifics of the case under discussion?  Would that not facilitate declassification and release of the court rulings?

“That might work,” the official said.  However, he said, it would be “awkward” for agencies to presume to tell the court how to format its opinions.

But it would not be awkward for members of Congress to make such a request, perhaps in a forthcoming letter referenced by Sen. Feinstein.

“I have offered to Senator Merkley to write a letter requesting declassification of more FISA Court opinions,” she said. “If the letter does not work, we will do another intelligence authorization bill next year, and we can discuss what can be added to that bill on this issue.”

In the past, a handful of FISA Court opinions have been declassified and made public, including a FISC opinion dated May 17, 2002, a FIS Court of Review (FISCR) opinion dated November 18, 2002, and a FISCR opinion dated August 22, 2008.

New Procedures for Intelligence System Acquisition

The Director of National Intelligence issued a directive last month prescribing procedures for major system acquisitions by elements of the intelligence community.

The directive defines a multi-phase process for identifying critical needs, evaluating alternative paths to meet those needs, and so forth.

See Intelligence Community Directive 115, “Intelligence Community Capability Requirements Process,” December 21, 2012.

Reaching the Debt Limit, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service which Congress has directed CRS not to release to the public include the following.

Reaching the Debt Limit: Background and Potential Effects on Government Operations, January 4, 2013

The “Fiscal Cliff” and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, January 4, 2012

Proposals to Change the Operation of Cloture in the Senate, January 3, 2013

International Trade and Finance: Key Policy Issues for the 113th Congress, January 4, 2013

Speakers of the House: Elections, 1913-2013, January 4, 2013

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Claims of Property Rights “Takings”, January 7, 2013

The Role of TARP Assistance in the Restructuring of General Motors, January 3, 2013

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, January 4, 2013

U.S.-Taiwan Relationship: Overview of Policy Issues, January 4, 2013

North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation, January 4, 2013

An Open Source Look at Iran’s Intelligence Ministry

Updated below

Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security is believed to employ more than 30,000 intelligence officers and support personnel, making it “one of the largest and most active intelligence agencies in the Middle East,” according to a new report from the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress.

“The Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) uses all means at its disposal to protect the Islamic Revolution of Iran, utilizing such methods as infiltrating internal opposition groups, monitoring domestic threats and expatriate dissent, arresting alleged spies and dissidents, exposing conspiracies deemed threatening, and maintaining liaison with other foreign intelligence agencies as well as with organizations that protect the Islamic Republic’s interests around the world,” the report states.

See “Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security: A Profile,” December 2012.

The report was first obtained and reported by Bill Gertz in “Iran Spy Network 30,000 Strong,” Washington Free Beacon, January 3, 2013.

The new report provides an informative account of the Ministry’s history, organizational structure, and recruitment practices, as far as these can be discerned from published sources.

“The information in this report was collected mainly from Farsi and English journals, online news Web sites, and Iranian blogs,” the Preface states.  (Some older information from the FAS web site is cited at a couple of points.)

“Needless to say, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security does not publish information about its activities on Iranian Web sites. Consequently, in the absence of official government information, this report occasionally relies on social media, in particular blogs, as a source of information more than might ordinarily be warranted. The reliability of blog-based information may be questionable at times, but it seems prudent to evaluate and present it in the absence of alternatives.”

“Every minister of intelligence must hold a degree in ijtihad (the ability to interpret Islamic sources such as the Quran and the words of the Prophet and imams) from a religious school, abstain from membership in any political party or group, have a reputation for personal integrity, and possess a strong political and management background,” the report says.

A newly disclosed U.S. Army intelligence document explains how to determine whether weapons that were captured in Iraq were manufactured in Iran.

Iranian weapons systems “have several distinctive visual identification markings that identify their source” which are described in the Army publication.  The document was partially declassified last month and was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Matthew Schroeder of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project.

See “Identifying Small Arms and RPGs Produced in Iran,” U.S. Army National Ground Intelligence Center, 2004.

Update (1/15/13): The assertion in the Library of Congress report that Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security employs on the order of 30,000 personnel could not be independently corroborated, and the LOC/FRD report has been harshly criticized by some area experts. See How a Government Report Spread a Questionable Claim About Iran by Justin Elliott, ProPublica, January 14, 2013.

Army Drawdown, Special Operations Forces, More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has not made available to the public include the following.

Army Drawdown and Restructuring: Background and Issues for Congress, January 3, 2013

U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress, January 3, 2013

The Unified Command Plan and Combatant Commands: Background and Issues for Congress, January 3, 2013

Internet Domain Names: Background and Policy Issues, January 3, 2013

Internet Governance and the Domain Name System: Issues for Congress, January 2, 2013

Federal Regulation of Chemicals in Commerce: An Overview of Issues for the 113th Congress, January 3, 2013

Physician Practices: Background, Organization, and Market Consolidation, January 2, 2013

Understanding Defense Acquisition, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has not made publicly available include the following.

Defense Acquisitions: How DOD Acquires Weapon Systems and Recent Efforts to Reform the Process, January 2, 2013

U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Current Conflicts, December 28, 2012

The Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, January 2, 2013

Marine Corps Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) and Marine Personnel Carrier (MPC): Background and Issues for Congress, January 2, 2013

Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV): Background and Issues for Congress, January 2, 2013

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Background and Current Developments, January 2, 2013

Improper Payments and Recovery Audits: Legislation, Implementation, and Analysis, January 2, 2013

The Purple Heart: Background and Issues for Congress, December 31, 2012

Geoengineering: Governance and Technology Policy, January 2, 2013

Is Biopower Carbon Neutral?, January 2, 2013

Unemployment Insurance: Programs and Benefits, December 31, 2012

Federal Benefits and the Same-Sex Partners of Federal Employees, December 21, 2012

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act: An Overview of Limiting Tort Liability of Gun Manufacturers, December 20, 2012

The FHA Single-Family Mortgage Insurance Program: Financial Status and Related Current Issues, December 21, 2012

Permanent Legal Immigration to the United States: Policy Overview, December 17, 2012

Inauguration Security: Operations, Appropriations, and Issues for Congress, December 17, 2012