FAS Roundup: October 29, 2012

Syria’s chemical weapons, plea in Kiriakou case, Cuban Missile Crisis order of battle and much more.


Up for Debate: Syria’s Chemical Weapons

A 2011 unclassified report to Congress said Syria’s chemical weapons “can be delivered by aerial bombs, ballistic missiles, and artillery rockets.” The U.S. has monitored closely these stockpiles as the Syrian civil war continues. However, recently, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta admitted that stockpiles have been moved without U.S. knowledge. Some have called for military intervention to secure those stockpiles, which threaten the Syrian people, the U.S., or its allies. Others argue that a military intervention would worsen the situation, leading potentially to the use of those chemical weapons.

In a new edition of the FAS online debate series “Up for Debate,” Mr. Doug Bandow of The CATO Institute and Mr. Luke Coffey of the Heritage Foundation debate  the risks and benefits of a U.S. military intervention to secure Syria’s chemical weapons.

Read the debate here.

From the Blogs

  • Kiriakou Pleads Guilty in Leak Case: On October 23, former CIA officer John Kiriakou pled guilty to one count of disclosure of information identifying a covert agent, a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Under the terms of a plea agreement, the parties agreed that a prison term of 30 months would be “the appropriate sentence in this case.”  Other charges against him, including several counts under the Espionage Act, were dismissed. Steven Aftergood writes that by foregoing a trial, Mr. Kiriakou loses an opportunity to try and persuade a jury that his motives were benign, and that the harm to national security resulting from his disclosure was negligible and insignificant.
  • Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Invite Public Input: The long-dormant Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) announced that it will hold its first public meeting next week and it invited members of the public to provide input to help shape the Board’s near-term agenda. The PCLOB was created in response to a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission that “there should be a board within the executive branch to oversee… the commitment the government makes to defend our civil liberties.”
  • Duck and Cover- Two Bits on the Risk from Nuclear Attacks: Dr. Y reflects on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis and current nuclear threats to the United States and the impact of mass fires (what used to be called a firestorm) from a nuclear attack in a new post on the ScienceWonk Blog.
  • An Updated Catalog of Army Weapon Systems: Secrecy News has obtained a copy of the 2013 edition of the U.S. Army’s annual Weapon Systems Handbook, which is filled with updated information on dozens of weapon systems, the military contractors who produce them, and the foreign countries that purchase them.
  • “Negative Reciprocity” Emerges in the Security Clearance System: In the world of security clearances for access to classified information, the term “reciprocity” is used to indicate that one executive branch agency should ordinarily recognize and accept a security clearance that has been granted by another executive branch agency. So possessing a clearance from one agency should simplify the process of access approval at another agency.  But the opposite is not supposed to be true.  If an agency refuses for some reason to recognize the clearance granted by another agency, that refusal is not supposed to incur loss of clearance in the original agency.
  • Intelligence Imagery Set to be Disclosed in 2013: Intelligence community officials say that a massive quantity of historical intelligence satellite imagery from the KH-9 HEXAGON program is being declassified and will be made public in a series of releases that are scheduled over the coming year. In January 2011, DNI James R. Clapper formally declared that the KH-9 HEXAGON program was obsolete, and that declassification review of all program imagery should therefore commence.  KH-9 HEXAGON was operational from 1971 to 1984.
  • Cuban Missile Crisis- Nuclear Order of Battle: At the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States had some 3,500 nuclear weapons ready to use on command, while the Soviet Union had perhaps 300-500. The Cuban Missile Crisis order of battle of useable weapons represented only a small portion of the total inventories of nuclear warheads the United States and Russia possessed at the time. Illustrating its enormous numerical nuclear superiority, the U.S. nuclear stockpile in 1962 included more than 25,500 warheads (mostly for battlefield weapons). The Soviet Union had about 3,350.
  • Court Orders FBI to Release Withheld Information: As often happens, the Federal Bureau of Investigation invoked national security a few years ago to justify withholding certain information from a Freedom of Information Act requester named Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler. But as rarely happens, a court last month critically assessed the FBI national security claim and ordered the Bureau to release some of the withheld information. Ms. Hetzler, acting pro se (i.e. without an attorney), had requested records concerning her deceased father, who had once been the subject of an FBI investigation.  The FBI provided her with some records but withheld others, stating that they remained classified in order to protect an intelligence activity.
  • Historian Anna K. Nelson, RIP: Steven Aftergood remembers Professor Anna K. Nelson, a tenacious and effective advocate for improved public access to national security records who passed away last month. Among many other posts, she served as a presidentially-appointed member of the JFK Assassination Records Review Board, which was tasked to oversee the declassification of records concerning the assassination of President Kennedy.  Because of the perseverance of Dr. Nelson and her colleagues, that Board was uniquely productive in overcoming longstanding barriers to declassification, particularly those pertaining to intelligence agency records.



  • On October 24, Dr. Robert Standish Norris, Senior Fellow for Nuclear Policy, spoke on a panel at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis and the nuclear order of battle. Presentation slides can be viewed here. 


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