Posts from October, 2013

Number of Secret Inventions Grew Last Year

There were 139 new “secrecy orders” granted on patent applications during Fiscal Year 2013, according to new data released under the Freedom of Information Act by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, secrecy orders may be imposed by government agencies on patent applications if their disclosure would be “detrimental to national security.”

With the new secrecy orders granted over the past year, and the 21 orders that were rescinded, the total number of invention secrecy orders in effect at the end of FY 2013 was 5,445.  This is the highest annual total since FY 1994, when the number reached 5,540.

The latest orders included 21 so-called “John Doe” orders, a term that refers to secrecy orders that are imposed on private inventors whose inventions and patent applications were generated without any government or military support (or “property interest”).  These John Doe orders, which were not identified further, may be particularly vulnerable to a First Amendment challenge as instances of prior restraint.  But no challenge of this kind seems to have been brought before a court.

The new invention secrecy statistics, while impressive in a way, are in the end opaque and unrevealing. There is nothing in the raw numbers that would provide an indication of the validity of the decision to block disclosure of a patent application, whether a secrecy order was appealed or challenged, and what adverse impacts, if any, such an order might have had.

Some inventors say that the Invention Secrecy Act has deprived them of the benefits of their own inventions by forcing them to miss commercial opportunities.  See “Government secrecy orders on patents keep lid on inventions” by G.W. Schulz, The Center for Investigative Reporting, April 16, 2013.

More broadly, national security secrecy, including official use of the state secrets privilege, is an additional source of friction in the patent process, which already can be highly contentious and litigious.

“The government can take whatever technology it wants from a U.S. company and hide behind military secrecy in refusing just compensation,” according to an opinion piece in Aviation Week & Space Technology (“USAF Seized Stealth Advantage, Literally” by Zsolt Rumy, October 7, 2013).

Last week, a bill (HR 3332) to promote judicial review of state secrets claims by the government was reintroduced by Congressman Jerrold Nadler and colleagues in both parties.

“In recent years, the executive branch has used the state secret privilege aggressively, often seeking outright dismissal of entire cases based on the claim that the very subject matter of a case is too secret to be heard by a court,” said Rep. Nadler. “This troubling trend cannot continue.”

Army Drawdown and Restructuring, and More from CRS

New or newly updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has withheld from online public distribution include the following.

Army Drawdown and Restructuring: Background and Issues for Congress, October 25, 2013

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, October 23, 2013

Chemical Regulation in the European Union: Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals, October 23, 2013

Proposed Reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in the 113th Congress: S. 1009 Compared with S. 696 and Current Law, October 23, 2013

Cybersecurity: Authoritative Reports and Resources, October 25, 2013

DoD Inspector General Report on Overclassification Misses the Mark

The Department of Defense Inspector General yesterday released its Evaluation of Over-Classification of National Security Information.  Unfortunately, the new report is superficial, incomplete and sheds little light on either the problem of overclassification or any potential solution.

Like other Inspectors General who have recently been evaluating classification policy under the Reducing Over-Classification Act, the DoD IG had to confront the fact that there is no generally accepted definition of overclassification. (See “What Is Overclassification?”, Secrecy News, October 21, 2013).

So the DoD IG review treats classification policy mainly as a procedural issue (how classification is performed) rather than a substantive one (what gets classified and why).

This is a limited though straightforward approach that lends itself to quantification. And there is no shortage of procedural faults in DoD classification activity. No less than 70% of all documents reviewed by the IG had “classification discrepancies,” such as faulty markings or citations to proper authority, the report said. Startlingly, “One-hundred percent of emails we reviewed contained errors in marking or classification.”

All of that is fine and interesting, but it is also beside the point.  The point is that the national security classification system has expanded beyond all consensus so that even the President of the United States has spoken of “the problem of over-classification.” The classification system is suffering a crisis of credibility, and it may be headed towards catastrophic failure.

According to a report last year from the congressionally-mandated Public Interest Declassification Board, “The classification system exists to protect national security, but its outdated design and implementation often hinders that mission. The system is compromised by over-classification….”

But if the classification system is “compromised by over-classification,” no one told the DoD Inspector General. Or maybe he neglected to ask. Although the Public Interest Declassification Board includes members with deep knowledge and experience of DoD classification policy (including former heads of the NRO and the NSA), the IG report does not acknowledge the Board’s work or contend with its findings.  Instead of advancing the debate, the IG report actually sets it back by ignoring established facts and prior analyses.

The IG report is also oblivious to current events. In recent years, including the period of the IG’s evaluation, the Department of Defense has suffered the most extensive and voluminous breaches of classification controls in its history. Remarkably, the perpetrators of those breaches (Manning and Snowden) expressed a perception that the information they released had been inappropriately classified and withheld from the public, and cited this as a motive for their actions. Strictly from a security policy point of view, it seems vital to evaluate such claims. Are similar perceptions widely held by others inside and outside the Department? And in retrospect, have such claims proved to be valid, even partially?  Unfortunately, the DoD Inspector General does not recognize any link between overclassification and unauthorized disclosures of classified information, and so such questions are neither asked nor answered in the report.

The DoD IG also has nothing to say about one of the most arresting failures of national security classification policy in recent memory, which is now transpiring: A December 2013 deadline set by President Obama himself (in 2009) for declassification and public release of the backlog of 25 year old historically valuable records will not be met.  This is a revelatory development. If the declassification process is not fully responsive even to direct presidential instruction, then it is truly broken and in need of repair. As the largest producer of classified records, the Department of Defense bears some responsibility for this problem, and also for its correction.  But lamentably, the DoD IG refused to engage, or even to acknowledge the problem. It is a missed opportunity.

In 1995 an earlier report from the DoD Inspector General was willing to admit that “The declassification process suffers from deficiencies that seriously impair its operation.”

But the latest DoD IG report does not even mention its own earlier finding, let alone any deficiencies or impairments in the operation of the declassification system, though these have arguably gotten worse as the volume of classified information has increased.

In fact, the new DoD IG report said it “did not evaluate declassification” at all. The entire topic was ignored. That is “because ISOO recently completed its five-year on-site assessment of agency declassification programs.” Readers of the IG report are referred to a scanty two-page summary in the latest annual report from the Information Security Oversight Office that did not even evaluate declassification productivity or efficiency.  Nor did the ISOO report address the imminent failure to complete the declassification and public release of the 25 year old backlog.

The DoD IG report also slights other important concerns, such as the disruptive effect of classification of nuclear weapons-related information under the Atomic Energy Act on the classification and declassification of other national security information. Instead of helping to chart a way forward towards simplification and reconciliation of the dual classification systems, the IG just says nothing on the subject.

In short, the new DoD Inspector General report on over-classification is a defective product. It should be rescinded and redone.

Withdrawal of a published IG report would be an extraordinary step, but it is warranted by the importance of the topic.

The DoD Inspector General could begin by consulting members of Congress and other inside and outside of government who have expressed dissatisfaction with DoD classification policy in order to understand their critique. The IG should review the existing literature on reform of classification and declassification practices (including its own prior work). The IG should assess the nature of the link between overclassification and unauthorized disclosures of classified information. It should diagnose the ongoing failure to timely declassify historically valuable records, and recommend appropriate changes. It should evaluate amendments to the Atomic Energy Act that may be needed to streamline and simplify the Department’s classification practices.

A more rigorous and probing Inspector General evaluation along those lines would be a service to the Department of Defense, to the government as a whole, and to the interested public.

Carbon Capture: A Technology Assessment, and More from CRS

New or updated reports from the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News include the following.

Carbon Capture: A Technology Assessment, October 21, 2013

Social Security: What Would Happen If the Trust Funds Ran Out?, October 21, 2013

Video Relay Service: Program Funding and Reform, October 22, 2013

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: Federal Aggravated Identity Theft, October 22, 2013

Hydraulic Fracturing: Selected Legal Issues, October 22, 2013

Federal Financial Reporting: An Overview, October 22, 2013

Fatherhood Initiatives: Connecting Fathers to Their Children, October 22, 2013

Promoting Global Internet Freedom: Policy and Technology, October 22, 2013

The G-20 and International Economic Cooperation: Background and Implications for Congress, October 23, 2013

U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues, October 22, 2013

Stephen Kim Leak Case Heats Up

Although former State Department contractor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim will not go to trial before next year on charges of leaking classified information to Fox News reporter James Rosen, the pre-trial maneuvering by the prosecution and the defense is accelerating.

Prosecutors notified the court last week that their theories regarding the defendant’s motive for allegedly leaking classified information would not be presented at trial.  Meanwhile, the defense appears to be engaged in its own search for other potential leak suspects.

The prosecution had previously said it “planned to rely on three motive theories at trial.” But when the Court ruled that the defense was entitled to discovery of classified information regarding those theories, the government reconsidered its position.

“Because of the Intelligence Community equities implicated by the Court’s ruling, the United States hereby gives notice that it has elected not to rely on these motive theories at trial, thereby eliminating the basis for the defendant’s classified discovery demands related to motive…,” prosecutors said in an October 18 filing.

In another filing this week, the parties described a novel procedure they agreed upon by which the government would perform a search for a series of telephone numbers supplied by the defense– apparently in pursuit of alternate suspects or other exculpatory information.

“Defense counsel will provide … a list of telephone numbers, or telphone area codes and exchanges” and an independent team of reviewers “will compare the defendant’s list with the two days of government commercial telephone records… If any number on the defendant’s list overlaps with any number in the government commercial telephone records, the filter team will inform counsel for both parties…. If that comparison yields any hits, then the parties will discuss how to proceed,” the October 21 joint notice said.

In a Report on Review of News Media Policies last July, the Department of Justice had expressed its first hint of ambivalence about leak prosecutions, and had said that it would consider administrative penalties as an alternative to criminal trials:

“The Department will work with others in the Administration to explore ways in which the intelligence agencies themselves, in the first instance, can address information leaks internally through administrative means, such as the withdrawal of security clearances and imposition of other sanctions,” the Report said.

But no one should infer that there will be any discernable change in current or pending criminal trials.  “The DOJ Report does not purport to take a litigation position in this legal proceeding or any other,” prosecutors said in a September 30 filing in the Kim case.

In leak prosecutions, the punitive phase of the proceeding need not await the actual conviction of the defendant; it starts, in effect, right away.

“This has been a huge blow for me and for my entire family,” said Stephen Kim in an interview with the Korean publication The Hankyoreh on October 11. “I had to give up a job that I had liked. It also destroyed my marriage. My family had to spend all of the money they had saved up and even sell their house to pay my legal fees. I hardly have any remaining assets. Being brought to court and knowing that people believe I did something I didn’t actually do is a hurtful and painful experience. You cannot imagine what it’s like to be charged with a crime you didn’t commit,” he said.

Yesterday New York Times reporter James Risen sought a stay of a Fourth Circuit appeals court ruling that would require him to testify regarding a confidential source in the leak trial of former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling. He indicated his intent to petition the Supreme Court for relief. “The Government said that it takes no position on whether a stay should be granted.”

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has withheld from online distribution include the following.

Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: The 18 U.S.C. 924(c) Tack-On in Cases Involving Drugs or Violence, October 21, 2013

The Mental Health Workforce: A Primer, October 18, 2013

Student Bullying: Overview of Research, Federal Initiatives, and Legal Issues, October 18, 2013

Improper Payments and Recovery Audits: Legislation, Implementation, and Analysis, October 18, 2013

Tax-Advantaged Accounts for Health Care Expenses: Side-by-Side Comparison, 2013, October 18, 2013

Army Corps of Engineers Water Resource Projects: Authorization and Appropriations, October 18, 2013

The 2013 Farm Bill: A Comparison of the Senate-Passed (S. 954) and House-Passed (H.R. 2642, H.R. 3102) Bills with Current Law, October 18, 2013

Budget Issues Shaping a Farm Bill in 2013, October 21, 2013

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Incentives: A Summary of Federal Programs, October 18, 2013

Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, October 18, 2013

What is Overclassification?

When people criticize overclassification of national security information, what exactly are they talking about?  Is it too much secrecy?  The wrong sort of secrecy?  Classifying something at too high a level?  Oddly, there is no widely-accepted definition of the term.

But since the solution to overclassification, if any, will naturally be shaped by the way the problem is understood, it is important to specify the problem as clearly as possible.

In 2010 Congress passed (and President Obama signed) the Reducing Over-Classification Act, which mandated several steps to improve classification practices in the executive branch.  But in a minor act of legislative malpractice, Congress failed to define the meaning of the term “over-classification” (as it was spelled in the statute).  So it is not entirely clear what the Act was supposed to “reduce.”

Among its provisions, the Act required the Inspectors General of all classifying agencies to perform an evaluation of each agency’s compliance with classification rules.

To assist them in their evaluations, the Inspectors General turned to the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) for a working definition of overclassification that they could use to perform their task.  ISOO’s answer was cited by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice in its new report.  (Audit of DOJ’s Implementation of and Compliance with Certain Classification Requirements, Inspector General Audit Report 13-40, September 2013.)

“Over-classification,” according to ISOO, means “the designation of information as classified when the information does not meet one or more of the standards for classification under section 1.1 of Executive Order (EO) 13526.”  If something is classified in violation of the standards of the executive order– then it is “over-classified.”

So, for example, information that is not owned by the government, such as a newspaper article, cannot be properly classified under the terms of the executive order.  And neither can information that has no bearing on national security, such as an Embassy dinner menu.  And yet information in both categories has been known to be classified, which is indeed a species of overclassification.

Unfortunately, however, this ISOO definition presents the problem so narrowly that it misses whole dimensions of overclassification.

The most important and the most urgent aspect of overclassification pertains to classified information that does meet the standards for classification under the executive order, but that nevertheless should not be classified for one reason or another.

It is important to understand that the executive order on classification does not require the classification of any information at all. It is permissive, not mandatory.  It consistently says that information “may” be classified under certain circumstances, not that it “must” be classified.

(Even some government officials who should know better sometimes get this wrong.  The new DoJ Inspector General report states in passing that “Section 1.4 of EO 13526… includes intelligence sources or methods as a category of information that shall be classified” (p. 23, footnote 27, emph. added).  That’s a mistake.  Section 1.4 speaks of information that may or may not be “considered for classification,” including intelligence sources of methods, but it does not dictate the classification of such information.)

But while the executive order does not require classification of anything, it allows classification of an overwhelming, practically unlimited volume of information.  And it is within this permissible range of classification, far more than outside of it, that overclassification needs to be addressed.

The new Department of Justice Inspector General report didn’t grapple with this core problem.  It did find a surprisingly high number of errors in DOJ classification practices, including numerous errors in marking of classification records, as well as ignorance or misunderstanding of classification guidance (or faulty guidance), and inconsistencies in the application of classification controls.  These are serious administrative flaws, which should be amenable to improvement through training.  But fixing them will not do much to reduce overclassification.

Using the narrow ISOO definition of overclassification, the Justice Department Inspector General report said that it “did not find indications of widespread misclassification.”

But a more comprehensive and penetrating definition would have produced a different result, at DoJ and at other agencies.  Such an alternative definition might go something like this:

Overclassification refers to the classification of information that should not be classified, even if it falls within the scope of the executive order, because doing so interferes with some other critical function, such as a desirable process of information sharing, or because it precludes the possibility of public consent to major national security activities.

This contrasts with the ISOO definition in two important ways:  it applies to information that does meet the standards of the executive order, and it takes into account the adverse impact of classification on other important functions and values.  The contrast can be extended to actual (over)classification judgments.

So, for example, the use of simulated drowning as a CIA interrogation technique (“water boarding”) or the Justice Department legal reviews of the subject would not have been considered overclassified by the ISOO standard, since these are clearly within the scope of national security information defined by the executive order.  But they would be overclassified by the standard that requires an opportunity for public consent to major national departures from previously accepted norms.

Similarly, the bulk collection of American telephone records by the National Security Agency and the Justice Department opinions that seek to justify such collection would not be overclassified under the ISOO definition.  But they would be deemed overclassified under a standard that requires public consent to major intelligence initiatives affecting Americans’ own information.

On the other hand, not every mistaken classification decision is equally problematic, and many of them may be insignificant. If a particular component of a classified weapon program is classified Top Secret instead of Secret or Unclassified, it may not matter much at all.  But very often, classification decisions do matter a lot, and new efforts are needed to get them right.

When President Obama spoke of “the problem of over-classification” (in a May 27, 2009 memorandum), he almost certainly was not thinking of the kind of administrative errors in marking classified documents discovered by the DoJ Inspector General, but of something far more consequential.  It is a problem that still remains to be addressed in a systematic way.

If the classification process were exclusively a matter of information security, then it could be safely left to security professionals to implement as they see fit. But because the decision to classify often has broader implications for national policy and for democratic governance, it cannot properly be relegated to security officials alone;  even when applied in good faith, the security perspective by itself is too narrow. And so is any other singular perspective.

But if one grants that classification decisions often involve a multiplicity of important interests (or “equities”), then it follows that a broader, more consensual approach to classification is needed than the existing reliance on the judgment of individual classifiers can provide.  (I argued for such an approach here.)

In addition to the Department of Justice IG report, inspector general reports required under the Reducing Over-Classification Act have also been publicly released by the IGs of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Commerce. Others are pending.

Agency inspectors general “are now playing a significant role in monitoring national security practices curtailing individual rights,” according to a recent law review article on the subject.  “IGs are well suited to increase transparency, evaluate the propriety of national security conduct, and reform internal practices; on the other hand, their independence can be undermined, they may avoid constitutional questions, and they rely on political actors to implement reforms.”  See Protecting Rights from Within? Inspectors General and National Security Oversight by Shirin Sinnar, Stanford Law Review, Vol. 65, p. 1027, Spring 2013.

Telecom (and Privacy) Statutes Need Updating, and More from CRS

The laws that govern and regulate the communications industry are substantially out of date and need to be revised, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

“The communications sector does not look at all as it did when the Telecommunications Act was passed in 1996. Most significantly, consumer behavior in 2013 bears little resemblance to that in 1996,” the report says.  See Updating the Statutory Framework for Communications for the Digital Age: Issues for Congress, September 30, 2013.

The new CRS report does not address communications privacy issues or surveillance-related concerns. However, the underlying statutes in these areas are no less obsolete and urgently in need of updating, almost everyone agrees.  Related hearings earlier this year in the House Judiciary Committee have recently been published.

“The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, or ECPA, is complicated, outdated, and largely unconstitutional,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chair of the Judiciary Committee, at the first hearing.  “The 1986 law governing the Internet is like having a national highway policy drafted in the 19th century.” See ECPA (Part I): Lawful Access to Stored Content, March 19, 2013,  and Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) (Part II): Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance, April 25, 2013.

Relatedly, a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice “takes a comprehensive look at the multiple ways U.S. intelligence agencies collect, share, and store data on average Americans.”  See “What the Government Does with Americans’ Data,” October 8, 2013.

Here are some other new reports from the Congressional Research Service:

FY2014 Appropriations: District of Columbia, October 15, 2013

FY2014 Appropriations Lapse and the Department of Homeland Security: Impact and Legislation, October 11, 2013

Oil and Chemical Spills: Federal Emergency Response Framework, October 10, 2013:

Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated October 17, 2013

Nuclear Weapons Scientists Are Sad

Scientists in the nuclear weapons program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) are feeling blue, according to a recent internal report.

“We heard that there is a sense of increased stress and reduced morale among LLNL technical employees in the weapons program, stemming from a (perceived, at least) combination of reduced resources and increased work requirements,” the report said.

Of course, many people are sad, for many reasons. The Shekhinah is in exile. But low morale among weapons scientists can have negative programmatic and national security consequences.

Therefore, “We recommend attention to the potential danger that activities that are important for long-term stockpile stewardship may be dropped in favor of seemingly urgent near-term requirements,” the report said. See “Predictive Science Panel: Unclassified Report,” LLNL Meeting, August 20-22, 2013.

A new study of the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal proposes “a framework for evaluating future reductions or modifications of the U.S. nuclear force.”  The study, performed for the Department of Energy, warns against irreversible changes in the arsenal (which it calls “roach motels of reduction”), reversible but undesirable changes (“box canyons in the Valley of Disarmament”), and other types of unfavorable actions (“wrong turns on the road to the future”). See “Reductions Without Regret” by John A. Swegle and Douglas J. Tincher, Savannah River National Laboratory, September 2013. The report does not necessarily represent the views of DoE or the US Government (or FAS).

A new report from the CATO Institute calls for the elimination of two legs of the nuclear triad (missiles and bombers) in favor of an entirely submarine-based nuclear force.  See “The End of Overkill?” by Benjamin Friedman, Christopher Preble, and Matt Fay, September 24, 2013.

Meanwhile, Hans Kristensen of FAS discovers a surprising fact: “The latest data from the New START Treaty shows that Russia has reduced its deployed strategic nuclear forces while the United States has increased its force over the past six months.” This is an anomalous result of the counting process, not a new arms buildup, but it is noteworthy nonetheless. See “New START Data Shows Russia Reducing, US Increasing Nuclear Forces,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, October 2.

Cryptographer Adi Shamir Prevented from Attending NSA History Conference

In this email message to colleagues, Israeli cryptographer Adi Shamir recounts the difficulties he faced in getting a visa to attend the 2013 Cryptologic History Symposium sponsored by the National Security Agency. Adi Shamir is the “S” in the RSA public-key algorithm and is “one of the finest cryptologists in the world today,” according to historian David Kahn. The NSA Symposium begins tomorrow. For the reasons described below, Dr. Shamir will not be there.

From: Adi Shamir
Date: October 15, 2013 12:16:28 AM EDT
To:
Subject: A personal apology

The purpose of this email is to explain why I will not be able to attend the forthcoming meeting of the History of Cryptology conference, even though I submitted a paper which was formally accepted. As an active participant in the exciting developments in academic cryptography in the last 35 years, I thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity to meet all of you, but unfortunately the US bureaucracy has made this impossible.

The story is too long to describe in detail, so I will only provide its main highlights here. I planned to visit the US for several months, in order to attend the Crypto 2013 conference, the History of Cryptology conference, and to visit several universities and research institutes in between in order to meet colleagues and give scientific lectures. To do all of these, I needed a new J1 visa, and I filed the visa application at the beginning of June, two and a half months before my planned departure to the Crypto conference in mid August. I applied so early since it was really important for me to attend the Crypto conference – I was one of the founders of this flagship annual academic event (I actually gave the opening talk in the first session of the first meeting of this conference in 1981) and I did my best to attend all its meetings in the last 32 years.

To make a long story short, after applying some pressure and pulling a lot of strings, I finally got the visa stamped in my passport on September 30-th, exactly four months after filing my application, and way beyond the requested start date of my visit. I was lucky in some sense, since on the next day the US government went into shutdown, and I have no idea how this could have affected my case. Needless to say, the long uncertainty had put all my travel plans (flights, accommodations, lecture commitments, etc) into total disarray.

It turns out that I am not alone, and many foreign scientists are now facing the same situation. Here is what the president of the Weizmann Institute of Science (where I work in Israel) wrote in July 2013 to the US Ambassador in Israel:

“I’m allowing myself to write you again, on the same topic, and related to the major difficulties the scientists of the Weizmann Institute of Science are experiencing in order to get Visa to the US. In my humble opinion, we are heading toward a disaster, and I have heard many people, among them our top scientists, saying that they are not willing anymore to visit the US, and collaborate with American scientists, because of the difficulties. It is clear that scientists have been singled out, since I hear that other ‘simple citizen’, do get their visa in a short time.”

Even the president of the US National Academy of Science (of which I am a member) tried to intervene, without results. He was very sympathetic, writing to me at some stage:

“Dear Professor Shamir

I have been hoping, day by day, that your visa had come through. It is very disappointing to receive your latest report. We continue to try by seeking extra attention from the U. S. Department of State, which has the sole authority in these matters. As you know, the officers of the Department of State in embassies around the world also have much authority. I am personally very sympathetic and hopeful that your efforts and patience will still yield results but also realize that this episode has been very trying. We hope to hear of a last-minute success.

Yours sincerely, Ralph J. Cicerone”

What does all of this have to do with the History of Cryptology conference? In January 2013 I submitted a paper titled “The Cryptology of John Nash From a Modern Perspective” to the conference, and a short time afterwards I was told by the organizers that it was accepted. In July 2013 I told the NSA-affiliated conference organizers that I was having some problems in getting my visa, and gently asked whether they could do something about it. Always eager to help, the NSA people leaped into action, and immediately sent me a short email written with a lot of tact:

“The trouble you are having is regrettable…Sorry you won’t be able to come to our conference. We have submitted our program and did not include you on it.”

I must admit that in my 35 years of attending many conferences, it had never happened to me that an accepted paper of mine was yanked out from the official program in such a unilateral way. However, since I never try to go to places where I do not feel wanted, I decided to inform MIT that a window had become available in my busy schedule. They immediately invited me to visit them on October 17 and 18, and to give a major lecture during my visit. Naturally, I accepted their gracious invitation.

The final twist in this saga happened a few days ago, when out of the blue I was suddenly reinvited by the conference organizers to attend the event and to present my paper. However, this is too late now, since I am already fully committed to my visit to MIT.

So what is the bottom line of this whole unhappy episode? Clearly, no one in the US is trying to see the big picture, and the heavy handed visa bureaucracy you have created seems to be collapsing under its own weight. This is not a security issue – I have been to the US close to a hundred times so far (including some multi-year visits), and had never overstayed my visas. In addition, the number of terrorists among the members of the US National Academy of Science is rather small. As a friend of the US I am deeply worried that if you continue to delay visas in such a way, the only thing you will achieve is to alienate many world-famous foreign scientists, forcing them to increase their cooperation with European or Chinese scientists whose countries roll the red carpet for such visits. Is this really in the US best interest?

Best personal wishes, and apologies for not being able to meet you in person,

Adi Shamir