Posts from April, 2013

FBI Terrorism Investigations, and More from CRS

“Intelligence activity in the past decades has, all too often, exceeded the restraints on the exercise of governmental power that are imposed by our country’s Constitution, laws, and traditions,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

The CRS, which shuns polemical claims, presents that assertion as a simple statement of fact (although cautiously sourced to the 1976 Church Committee report) in a newly updated report on FBI terrorism investigations.

The report reviews the FBI investigative process, the statutory framework within which it operates, and the tools at its disposal, along with oversight considerations for Congress.  See The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Terrorism Investigations, April 24, 2013.

Other new or newly updated CRS reports include the following.

Terrorism, Miranda, and Related Matters, April 24, 2013

Terrorism Risk Insurance: Issue Analysis and Overview of Current Program, April 26, 2013

U.S. Air Force Bomber Sustainment and Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress, April 23, 2013

Multiyear Procurement (MYP) and Block Buy Contracting in Defense Acquisition: Background and Issues for Congress, April 25, 2013

U.S.-South Korea Relations, April 26, 2013

Iran Sanctions, April 24, 2013

Intelligence Issues for Congress, April 23, 2013

Inflation-Indexing Elements in Federal Entitlement Programs, April 24, 2013

Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress, April 25, 2013

Prevalence of Mental Illness in the United States: Data Sources and Estimates, April 24, 2013

DoD Policy on Non-Lethal Weapons, and Other New Directives

The Department of Defense has revised its 1996 directive on non-lethal weapons (NLW) to guide future development and procurement of this category of weaponry.

“Unlike conventional lethal weapons that destroy their targets principally through blast, penetration, and fragmentation, NLW employ means other than gross physical destruction to prevent the target from functioning. NLW are intended to have relatively reversible effects on personnel or materiel,” the revised directive explains.

“It is DoD policy that NLW doctrine and concepts of operation will be developed to reinforce deterrence and expand the range of options available to commanders.”

The directive does not apply to information operations, cyber operations or electronic warfare capabilities.  See DoD Executive Agent for Non-Lethal Weapons (NLW), and NLW Policy, DoD Directive 3000.03E, April 25, 2013.

Other noteworthy new or updated DoD issuances include the following.

DoD Nuclear Weapons Surety Program, DoD Directive 3150.02, April 24, 2013

DoD Counterfeit Prevention Policy, DoD Instruction 4140.67, April 26, 2013

Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight (ATSD(IO)), DoD Directive 5148.11, April 24, 2013

Use of Excess Ballistic Missiles for Space Launch, Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM) 11-008, July 5, 2011, Incorporating Change 3, April 25, 2013

Armed Conflict in Syria, and More from CRS

The latest updates from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response, April 22, 2013

Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations, April 23, 2013

Department of Defense Implementation of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative: Implications for Federal Information Technology Reform Management, April 23, 2013

Security Assistance Reform: “Section 1206″ Background and Issues for Congress, April 19, 2013

Promoting Global Internet Freedom: Policy and Technology, April 23, 2013

Overview and Issues for Implementation of the Federal Cloud Computing Initiative: Implications for Federal Information Technology Reform Management, April 23, 2013

Internet Governance and the Domain Name System: Issues for Congress, April 23, 2013

Regular Vetoes and Pocket Vetoes: An Overview, April 22, 2013

Country-of-Origin Labeling for Foods and the WTO Trade Dispute on Meat Labeling, April 22, 2013

Congressional or Federal Charters: Overview and Current Issues, April 19, 2013

Common Questions About Postage and Stamps, April 19, 2013

Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, and Effects, April 23, 2013

The Federal Communications Commission: Current Structure and Its Role in the Changing Telecommunications Landscape, April 17, 2013

Groups Urge White House to Take Lead in Reducing Secrecy

The White House should undertake a focused effort to reduce national security secrecy, some 30 public interest organizations urged President Obama in a letter today.

The groups called upon the President to adopt a recommendation of the Public Interest Declassification Board to set up a White House-led Security Classification Reform Steering Committee.

“A presidentially appointed Steering Committee would provide a mechanism for identifying and coordinating needed changes and for overcoming internal agency obstacles to change,” the group letter said. “It would also reflect the urgency of reining in a classification system that is largely unchecked.”

To be effective, though, the proposed Steering Committee would need to be something more than just a deliberative, coordinating body, such as the ill-fated Security Policy Board of the 1990s.

Specifically, it would require “a clear mandate to reduce the size and scope of the national security classification system,” the group letter said, as well as active White House participation to ensure agency cooperation and compliance.

In principle, reductions in national security secrecy can actually benefit government agencies by diminishing the significant financial and operational costs they incur for classification. But in practice, such reductions have been hard to accomplish and agencies have resisted any externally imposed limits on their presumed autonomy to classify as they see fit.

Of all the potential ways to reduce secrecy that could be envisioned, the proposal for a White House-led Steering Committee is currently the most salient.  That’s because it was recommended by the Public Interest Declassification Board, who developed it in response to a request from President Obama himself.

“I also look forward to reviewing recommendations from the study that the National Security Advisor will undertake in cooperation with the Public Interest Declassification Board to design a more fundamental transformation of the security classification system,” the President wrote in a December 29, 2009 memorandum.

Now the recommendations that the President looked forward to are in hand, and it will be up to the White House to act.

Survey of Federal Whistleblower Laws, and More from CRS

Dozens of federal laws protect employees who report waste, fraud or abuse by their employers. Some of those laws, particularly those that apply to private-sector workers, have been strengthened in recent years, according to a new survey from the Congressional Research Service.

“Eleven of the forty laws reviewed in this report were enacted after 1999. Among these laws are the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,” the CRS report said.

The report “focuses on key aspects of the federal whistleblower and anti-retaliation laws. For each law, the report summarizes the activities that are protected, how the law’s protections are enforced, whether the law provides a private right of action, the remedies prescribed by the law, and the year the law’s whistleblower or anti-retaliation provisions were adopted and amended.”

The report does not address national security whistleblowers, or those who disclose classified information with or without authorization. See Survey of Federal Whistleblower and Anti-Retaliation Laws, April 22, 2013.

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

State Taxation of Internet Transactions, April 19, 2013

Drought in the United States: Causes and Issues for Congress, April 22, 2013

Department of Homeland Security Appropriations: A Summary of Congressional Action for FY2013, April 22, 2013

The FY2014 State and Foreign Operations Budget Request, April 18, 2013

U.S.-EU Cooperation Against Terrorism, April 22, 2013

Expediting the Return to Work: Approaches in the Unemployment Compensation Program, April 18, 2013

Economic Recovery: Sustaining U.S. Economic Growth in a Post-Crisis Economy, April 18, 2013

Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2013, April 19, 2013

The U.S. Export Control System and the President’s Reform Initiative, April 19, 2013

Mexico’s Drug Trafficking Organizations: Source and Scope of the Violence, April 15, 2013

Intelligence Satellite Imagery Declassified for Release

An enormous volume of photographic imagery from the KH-9 HEXAGON intelligence satellites was quietly declassified in January and will be transferred to the National Archives later this year for subsequent public release.

The KH-9 satellites operated between 1971 and 1984. The imagery they generated should be of historical interest with respect to a wide range of late Cold War intelligence targets but is also expected to support current scientific research on climate change and related fields of inquiry.

The film-based KH-9 satellites were officially declared “obsolete” by the Director of National Intelligence in 2011.  The KH-9 imagery was nominally approved for declassification in February 2012, and then it was finally declassified in fact this year.

ODNI spokesman Michael Birmingham said that approximately 97 percent of the satellite imagery that was collected from the 19 successful KH-9 missions was formally declassified by DNI James R. Clapper on January 11, 2013.

“The small amount of imagery exempted from this declassification decision will be removed prior to its accession to the National Archives (NARA) and will remain classified pursuant to statute and national security interests, and reviewed periodically to determine if additional declassification is warranted,” Mr. Birmingham said last week.

The imagery is being transferred to NARA in stages, with final delivery scheduled for September 2013, he said.

The transfer is being implemented pursuant to a November 2012 Memorandum of Agreement between the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the National Archives, under which the Archives is “responsible for providing public access to the declassified imagery.”

Reishia R. Kelsey of NGA public affairs confirmed that the imagery “will be made available to the public following its accession to NARA” later this year.

The National Archives was not prepared last week to set a precise date for public release.  But an Archives official said that “NARA intends to make these records available to the public at our research room in College Park, MD as soon as possible following transfer.”

If successfully executed, the release of the KH-9 imagery will constitute a breakthrough in the declassification and disclosure of national security information. It will be one of several discrete but momentous shifts in secrecy policy during the Obama Administration that have often gone unrecognized or unappreciated. Though these declassification actions took years or decades to accomplish, they have been downplayed by the White House itself, which has seemed curiously ambivalent about them.  They include the public disclosure of the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal, the routine publication of the annual intelligence budget request, the release of the Office of Legal Counsel “torture memos,” the declassification of the KH-9 satellite itself, and others.

The KH-9 imagery is being processed for public release pursuant to the 1995 Executive Order 12951 on “Release of Imagery Acquired by Space-based National Intelligence Reconnaissance Systems.”  That order had been effectively dormant since the Clinton Administration, when the last major release of intelligence satellite imagery (from the CORONA, ARGON and LANYARD missions) took place.

The declassification of the KH-9 imagery is a massive undertaking, Mr. Birmingham of ODNI said last year.

“For context, and to grasp the scope of the project, the KH-9/HEXAGON system provided coverage over hundreds of millions of square miles of territory during its 19 successful missions spanning 1971-1984,” he said.  “It is a daunting issue to address declassification of the program specifics associated with an obsolete system such as the KH-9, which involves the declassification of huge volumes of intelligence information gathered on thousands of targets worldwide during a 13 year time period.”

Military Photographers Ready to Deploy Around the Globe

Just as law enforcement relied upon surveillance cameras and personal photography to enable the prompt identification of the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing, U.S. armed forces increasingly look to the collection of still and motion imagery to support military operations.

Combat camera (COMCAM) capabilities support “operational planning, public affairs, information operations, mission assessment, forensic, legal, intelligence and other requirements during crises, contingencies, and exercises around the globe,” according to newly updated military doctrine.

COMCAM personnel are “highly trained visual information professionals prepared to deploy to the most austere operational environments at a moment’s notice.”

COMCAM units “are adaptive and provide fully qualified and equipped personnel to support sustained day or night operations” in-flight, on the ground or undersea, as needed.

“Effectively employed COMCAM assets at the tactical level can potentially achieve national, theater strategic, and operational level objectives in a manner that lessens the requirement for combat in many situations,” the new doctrine says.  “Their products can counter adversary misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda and help commanders gain situational awareness on operations in a way written or verbal reports cannot.”

“The products can also provide historical documentation, public information, or an evidentiary foundation… for forensic documentation of evidence and legal proceedings. They can provide intelligence documentation to include imagery for facial recognition and key leader engagements, and support special reconnaissance.”

The newly issued COMCAM doctrine supersedes previous guidance from 2007.  See Combat Camera: Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Combat Camera (COMCAM) Operations, April 2013.

Cybersecurity, Ricin, and More from CRS

For reasons that are hard to comprehend, Congress for many years has directed the Congressional Research Service not to make its products directly available to the public.

CRS reports naturally vary in quality, originality and breadth of focus.  But as a class of documents, they are both interesting and useful.  Along with impartial treatments of complex policy issues, they often provide unexpected, telling detail.  (“At present, about 30 million Americans, nearly 10% of the population, are subject to debt collection for amounts averaging $1,500 per person,” a newly updated report on the subject notes in passing, citing the CFPB.)  Even in cases where individual reports are deficient, they are nonetheless significant to the extent that they help to inform congressional deliberation.  It is therefore proper and necessary that they should be available to the public.

Some of the latest CRS reports that have been withheld from public access are posted below.

The Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, April 17, 2013

Western Sahara, April 14, 2013

Cybersecurity: Selected Legal Issues, April 17, 2013

Cybersecurity: Authoritative Reports and Resources, April 17, 2013

Ricin: Technical Background and Potential Role in Terrorism, April 17, 2013 (see related commentary from George Smith here)

Child Welfare: Structure and Funding of the Adoption Incentives Program along with Reauthorization Issues, April 18, 2013

The Independent Payment Advisory Board, April 17, 2013

The World Bank Group Energy Sector Strategy, April 16, 2013

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), April 11, 2013

Codes of Conduct for Multinational Corporations: An Overview, April 16, 2013

Changes to the Residential Mortgage Market: Legislation, Demographics, and Other Drivers, April 16, 2013

International Climate Change Financing: The Green Climate Fund (GCF), April 16, 2013

Submission of Mental Health Records to NICS and the HIPAA Privacy Rule, April 15, 2013

Teenage Pregnancy Prevention: Statistics and Programs, April 15, 2013

Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Acquisition: Issues for Congress, April 16, 2013

“Gang of Four” Congressional Intelligence Notifications, April 16, 2013

Ensuring That Traffic Signs Are Visible at Night: Federal Regulations, April 16, 2013

Next Steps in Nuclear Arms Control, and More from CRS

Negotiating a treaty to reduce nuclear weapons is so cumbersome and fraught with political minefields that it can actually retard the process of disarmament. “It usually takes far longer to reduce nuclear forces through a bilateral arms control treaty than it takes to adopt unilateral adjustments to nuclear forces,” according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

“If the Obama Administration reduces U.S. nuclear forces in parallel with Russia, but without a formal treaty, the two nations could avoid months or years in negotiation,” the CRS report says. See Next Steps in Nuclear Arms Control with Russia: Issues for Congress, April 10, 2013.

“Recent data… challenge the belief that the [U.S.] manufacturing sector, taken as a whole, will continue to flourish,” says a newly updated CRS report. “One interpretation of these data is that manufacturing is ‘hollowing out’ as companies undertake a larger proportion of their high-value work abroad. These developments raise the question of whether the United States will continue to generate highly skilled, high-wage jobs related to advanced manufacturing.”  See “Hollowing Out” in U.S. Manufacturing: Analysis and Issues for Congress, April 15, 2013.

A rich compilation of information about discretionary government spending was presented in Trends in Discretionary Spending, April 15, 2013.

Some other new or newly updated CRS reports that Congress has not made publicly available include the following.

Federal Authority to Regulate the Compounding of Human Drugs, April 12, 2013

Federal Traffic Safety Programs: An Overview, April 1, 2013

The STOCK Act, Insider Trading, and Public Financial Reporting by Federal Officials, April 12, 2013

International Trade and Finance: Key Policy Issues for the 113th Congress, April 15, 2013

Why Certain Trade Agreements Are Approved as Congressional-Executive Agreements Rather Than as Treaties, April 15, 2013

The United Kingdom and U.S.-UK Relations, April 15, 2013


A Fresh Look at Invention Secrecy

The Invention Secrecy Act of 1951 has been used for more than half a century to restrict disclosure of patent applications that could be “detrimental to national security.” At the end of the last fiscal year, no fewer than 5,321 secrecy orders were in effect.

These secrecy orders have been difficult to penetrate and the stories behind them have usually been left untold.  But several inventors whose work prompted imposition of a secrecy order were interviewed by G.W. Schulz of the Center for Investigative Reporting.  See his new account in Government secrecy orders on patents keep lid on inventions, April 16, 2013.