U.S. Military Given Secret “Execute Order” on Cyber Operations

Last June, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a classified “execute order” to authorize and initiate a military operation.

The nature, scope and duration of the military operation could not immediately be determined — even the title of the order is classified — but it evidently pertains to the conduct of military cyberspace activities.

The existence of the previously undisclosed execute order was revealed last week in a new Air Force Instruction.

“Classified processes governing C2 [command and control] of AF [Air Force] offensive and defensive cyberspace operations conducted by AF Cyber Mission Forces are addressed in a classified CJCS [Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff] Execute Order (title classified) issued on 21 Jun 13,” said Air Force Instruction 10-1701, entitled “Command and Control (C2) for Cyberspace Operations,” dated 5 March 2014.

An execute order goes beyond planning or preparation for conflict, and represents the commencement of a military operation.

The formal definition of an execute order (or EXORD) is “an order issued by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the direction of the Secretary of Defense, to implement a decision by the President to initiate military operations,” according to the official Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (JP 1-02).

“Execution begins when the President decides to use a military option to resolve a crisis,” according to Joint Publication 5-0 on Joint Operation Planning. “Only the President or SecDef can authorize the CJCS to issue an execute order (EXORD).

“Execution continues until the operation is terminated or the mission is accomplished.”

“The CJCS-published EXORD defines the unnamed day on which operations commence or are scheduled to commence (D-day) and the specific time an operation begins (H-hour) and directs execution of the OPORD [operation order].”

“The CJCS’s EXORD is a record communication that authorizes execution of the COA [course of action] approved by the President or SecDef and detailed in the supported commander’s OPORD,” explained JP 5-0.

In response to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the nominee for Commander, US Cyber Command (and Director, NSA), said that “Geographic combatant commanders already have authority to direct and execute certain Defensive Cyberspace Operations (DCO) within their own networks.”

Judging from the new Air Force Instruction, however, the June 2013 execute order extends to offensive cyberspace operations as well.

All or most execute orders naturally start out as classified documents. But sooner or later, they are declassified.

A March 2011 execute order for Libya Contingency Operations can be seen here.

A January 1991 execute order for Operation Desert Storm, incongruously signed “Warm Regards, Colin Powell,” is here.

A rare reference to another currently classified execute order appeared in a paper published in Joint Force Quarterly (issue 69, April 2013, p. 53): “In compliance with the guidelines outlined in the Global Response Force Execute Order, JCSE [Joint Communications Support Element] maintains an alert-postured force that can deploy and have its communications packages fully operational within hours of notification for an emerging requirement.” That execute order dates from September 2012, and is classified Secret.

The Senate Armed Services Committee asked Adm. Rogers whether there was a need for greater transparency concerning “the nature of cyber warfare, and the balance between offensive and defensive capabilities.”

Adm. Rogers replied: “I believe the recent disclosures of a large portion of our intelligence and military operational history may provide us with [an] opportunity to engage both the American public and our international partners in discussion of the balance of offense and defense, the nature of cyber warfare, norms of accepted and unacceptable behavior in cyberspace, and so forth.”

“As cyberspace matures as a warfighting domain, I believe our classification policies will also evolve to support growing domestic and international partnerships and relationships,” Adm. Rogers wrote.

Some Legislators Seek More Intelligence Budget Disclosure

Now that annual disclosure of the intelligence budget total has become routine, some legislators are seeking more transparency on intelligence spending.

As anticipated, the requested U.S. intelligence budget for Fiscal Year 2015 that was submitted to Congress this week fell below the current year’s level and continued a decline from the post-9/11 high that it reached in FY 2010.

The “base” funding request for the National Intelligence Program (NIP) for FY 2015 was $45.6 billion, while the base funding request for the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) was $13.3 billion. (“Base” funding does not include funding for “overseas contingency operations,” which is to be requested later in the year.)

By comparison, the base funding request for the NIP in FY 2014 was $48.2 billion, and the base funding request for the MIP was $14.6 billion. Additional data on intelligence budget appropriations can be found here.

An unclassified summary of the FY 2015 National Intelligence Program budget request (that was included in the overall budget request) implied that the publication of the request was a voluntary act of transparency.

“Reflecting the Administration’s commitment to transparency and open government, the Budget continues the practice begun in the 2012 Budget of disclosing the President’s aggregate funding request for the NIP,” the summary said.

In fact, however, the publication of the NIP budget request is required by law, since it was included in the FY 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Public Law 111-259, section 601). An ODNI news release on the budget request correctly cited the legal requirement to publicly disclose the budget request figure.

On the other hand, there is no corresponding legal requirement for the Department of Defense to publish the budget request for the Military Intelligence Program. But DoD has done so voluntarily since 2012, a move that represents a genuine reduction in official secrecy by the Obama Administration.

Even so, dozens of Congressmen say that there is still too much secrecy in intelligence spending. The Intelligence Budget Transparency Act of 2014 (HR 3855), introduced by Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis (R-WY), would require disclosure of the total budget of each of the individual 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.

“Writing checks without any idea of where the money is going is bad policy,” said Rep. Lummis in a January 14, 2014 release. “Disclosing the top-line budgets of each of our intelligence agencies promotes basic accountability among the agencies charged with protecting Americans without compromising our national security interests.”

“The top-line intelligence budgets for America’s 16 intelligence agencies are unknown to the American taxpayer and largely unknown to the Members of Congress who represent them,” added Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), a co-sponsor of the bill. “It’s led to dubious policies, wasted money and questionable effectiveness. Requiring the public disclosure of top-line intelligence spending is an essential first step in assuring that our taxpayers and our national security interests are well served.”

Interestingly, the bill’s 59 congressional co-sponsors include a roughly equal number of Republicans and Democrats. Republican legislators have not previously been known to favor disclosure of individual agency intelligence budgets, with the exception of the late Sen. Arlen Specter, a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who once advocated release of the NRO budget total.

A February 12 letter to President Obama asking him to release the individual agency budget figures was signed by 62 members of Congress.

Many of the classified portions of the new Department of Defense budget request were tabulated in “Read the Pentagon’s $59 Billion ‘Black Budget’” by Brandy Zadrozny, The Daily Beast, March 6.

Russian Security Issues and US Interests, and More from CRS

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

Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests, March 5, 2014

China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress, February 28, 2014

Direct Overt U.S. Aid Appropriations for and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY2002-FY2015, March 6, 2014

Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations, February 28, 2014

Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, February 28, 2014

Army Drawdown and Restructuring: Background and Issues for Congress, February 28, 2014

Terrorism Risk Insurance: Issue Analysis and Overview of Current Program, March 4, 2014

Federal Minimum Wage, Tax-Transfer Earnings Supplements, and Poverty, February 28, 2014

U.S. Farm Income, February 28, 2014

Prevalence of Mental Illness in the United States: Data Sources and Estimates, February 28, 2014

Early Release for Federal Inmates: Fact Sheet, February 3, 2014

Disclosure of FISA Court Opinions: Legal Issues (CRS)

Could Congress legally compel the executive branch to disclose classified opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court?  Maybe not, a new analysis from the Congressional Research Service concludes.

The CRS report — entitled “Disclosure of FISA Court Opinions: Select Legal Issues” — has little to do with FISA Court opinions in particular. It is an analysis of the overlapping authorities of the three branches of government to classify or disclose national security information.

“The central issue is the extent to which Congress may regulate control over access to national security information, including mandating that the executive branch disclose specific materials — a question not definitively resolved by the courts,” the report says.

This is not a new question, but it is usefully reviewed and summarized by the CRS report.

The issue arises because “The executive branch has argued that the Commander-in-Chief clause bestows the President with independent power to control access to national security information. As such, according to this line of reasoning, Congress’s generally broad ability to require disclosure of agency documents may be constrained when it implicates national security.”

Although no statute regulating classification has ever been ruled unconstitutional, “Congress’s power to compel the release of information held by the executive branch might have limits,” CRS said. “There may be a limited sphere of information that courts will protect from public disclosure,” just as they have exempted properly classified information in FOIA cases, and state secrets in other cases.

The unsurprising bottom line is that “proposals that allow the executive branch to first redact information from FISA opinions before public release appear to be on firm constitutional ground.” However, the CRS report said, “a proposal that mandated all past FISA opinions be released in their entirety — without any redactions by the executive branch — might raise a separation of powers issue.”

All of this may seem academic and politically inapt since there are no active proposals in Congress to compel public release of FISA court opinions that are completely unreviewed or unredacted.

In fact, Congress has arguably been derelict in failing to press more assertively for release of legal rulings of the FISA court, and for disclosure of the general contours of the telephony bulk collection program. Had Congress forcefully required the publication of such information, much of the angst and turmoil of the past nine months that resulted from the Snowden disclosures might have been avoided.

The new CRS report has a couple of other noteworthy omissions.

It does not mention the authority claimed by the congressional intelligence committees to publicly disclose classified information without executive branch approval. (See Section 8 of Senate Resolution 400 of the 94th Congress, 1976.)  Though this authority has never yet been exercised, it remains available in principle.

The report also does not mention some recent instances when Congress has successfully compelled executive branch declassification while also navigating around potential constitutional obstacles.

So, for example, the Senate Intelligence Committee enacted a requirement in the FY 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act (Section 601) that the executive branch must disclose the annual budget request for the National Intelligence Program when the annual budget is submitted. Previously, the intelligence budget request had always been classified information. To save constitutional appearances and assuage the concerns of executive branch lawyers, the Act did include a provision for the President to waive the requirement on national security grounds — but he has never yet done so.

Last week, the Electronic Privacy and Information Center obtained copies of declassified Justice Department reports on the use of pen registers and trap and trace devices under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act from 2000 to 2013.

Drought in the US, and More from CRS

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

Drought in the United States: Causes and Current Understanding, February 26, 2014

The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and Defense Strategy: Issues for Congress, February 24, 2014

FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act: Selected Military Personnel Issues, February 24, 2014

Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, February 25, 2014

Critical Infrastructures: Background, Policy and Implementation, February 21, 2014

EU-U.S. Economic Ties: Framework, Scope, and Magnitude, February 21, 2014

Syria: Overview of the Humanitarian Response, February 25, 2014

Democratic Republic of Congo: Background and U.S. Policy, February 24, 2014

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) Negotiations, February 4, 2014

Free Trade Agreements: Impact on U.S. Trade and Implications for U.S. Trade Policy, February 26, 2014