Where do soldiers get their news?

A new Zogby poll came out today. What is getting coverage in a New York Times article is that 72% of U.S. soldiers in Iraq believe we should substantially withdraw sooner rather than later. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, I have been to Iraq, and I would want to come home, too. But what did surprise me (and was not mentioned in the NYT) is that 85% believe that the primary reason we are in Iraq is “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks,” while 77% said that “the main or a major reason” for the war was “to stop Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq.” This is a year and a half after the 9/11 Commission dismissed any meaningful relationship between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks or al Qaeda. Perhaps we cannot expect American soldiers to be better informed than the public at large and a large slice of the public has often linked Iraq and 9/11, in no small part because of innuendo from the Administration or direct claims, particularly from Vice President Cheney. Yet, today polls indicate that less than a third of the public still believe that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11. Soldiers in Iraq get their news through media that the military controls or at least is aware of. It is a shame that they are so poorly informed about why they are fighting.

FAS releases clearinghouse for biosecurity information

FAS has just released our internet resource for biosecurity policy, bioterrorism information, and biodefense research. The site includes an interactive map that provides the locations of both operational and planned laboratories in the U.S. The organizations linked on the site present a wide array of perspectives on what actions individual scientists, research institutions, science journals, the public, and government can do to minimize the threat of bioterrorism while maximizing the benefits of life science research. They also provide important information on select agents, the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention and new approaches to biosecurity. We will be adding to the site over the coming years and welcome feedback on its design and content. You can visit the site at http://fas.org/biosecurity/resource/

Furor Over Reclassification Grows

Anyone can purchase a copy of the 1958 Department of Defense “Emergency Plans Book,” an early cold war description of response planning for a nuclear attack on the United States. It is available for sale through Amazon.com and elsewhere under the somewhat lurid title “The Doomsday Scenario” (Motorbooks International, 2002).

But don’t look for it at the National Archives, where author L. Douglas Keeney originally obtained it in 1997, because it is no longer there. It is among the thousands of government documents that have been reclassified and withdrawn from public access.

“When I returned in 2005 for another round of research in the Secretary of the Air Force Files, RG [record group] 340, the boxes were decimated,” Mr. Keeney told Secrecy News. “100% of the documents I retrieved 9 years ago were gone.”

In their place, he found a “withdrawal notice” (pdf) of the sort that has been quietly proliferating at the National Archives. An official stamp ironically certifies that the withdrawal notice itself is declassified and may be safely disclosed.

The documents in this case were removed from public access in 1997, near the beginning of the ongoing reclassification process that has undermined the integrity of the National Archives.

If it cannot be halted and reversed, bureaucratically-driven reclassification threatens to reduce the Archives to a mere repository of officially-sanctioned history.

“Those who control the past control the future, Orwell famously wrote in ‘1984’,” recalled Fred Kaplan in an article in Slate that supplied some of the back story of the reclassification initiative.

See “Secret Again: The absurd scheme to reclassify documents” by Fred Kaplan, Slate, February 23.

The continuing assault on history was also reported in “U.S. reclassifies government memos” by Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, February 24.

“This effort to stuff this harmless toothpaste back into the tube would be funny if it weren’t so emblematic of a disturbing new culture of government secrecy,” a Washington Post editorial opined. See “Classifying Toothpaste,” February 27.

Resistance to Online Secrecy Builds

Confronted by a government that seems intent on erecting unnecessary new barriers to public access, members of the public are not entirely without resources to oppose such barriers, and even to overcome them.

“Decrying secrecy, citizen groups fight back” is the thrilling headline of a story by reporter Aliya Sternstein in Federal Computer Week today (2/27/06) which explores the withdrawal of government information from the world wide web, and the public response.

“More federal agencies are taking data off the Web, while citizens seek ways to restore public access,” as described in the article.

“The concerted use of the Freedom of Information Act by public interest groups and their constituents” offers one way of recovering public access to official information that has been removed from government websites, advises law professor and librarian Susan Nevelow Mart in a new paper.

See “Let the People Know the Facts: Can Government Information Removed from the Internet Be Reclaimed?” (pdf), Law Library Journal, Volume 98, No. 1 (2006).

CDC Policy on “Sensitive But Unclassified”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated and revised its policy on “sensitive but unclassified” (SBU) information, the increasingly common twilight category of information that is neither classified nor publicly released.

“Marking information SBU does not automatically qualify it for a public release exemption,” the CDC policy observes. (There is no “SBU exemption” to the Freedom of Information Act.)

On the other hand, “the absence of the SBU or other related marking does not necessarily mean the information should be publicly released.”

“Therefore, all information should be reviewed and approved prior to its public release,” the CDC instructs.

A copy of the revised SBU policy was posted on the CDC intranet and obtained by Secrecy News.

The Government Accountability Office will publish a major report on the use of Sensitive But Unclassified control markings next month.

Nuclear Weapons Reassert Russian Might, Sort Of

A new review of Russian nuclear forces published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says that the Kremlin appears to be attempting to reassert its nuclear strength after years of decline in order to underscore Russia’s status as a powerful nation. Large-scale exercises have been reinstated and modernizations of nuclear forces continue with reports about a new maneuverable warhead and the mobile version of the SS-27 (Topol-M) expected to become operational later this year.

Yet the reassertion is done with fewer strategic warheads than at any time since the mid-1970s, approximately 3,500 operational strategic warheads. The number of operational non-strategic nuclear weapons has been cut by more than half to approximately 2,300 warheads.

Moreover, during 2005, Russia’s 12 nuclear ballistic missile submarines only conducted three deterrent patrols. This is a slightly better performance than in 2002 when no patrols were made, but a far cry from the 1980s when Soviet ballistic missile submarines conducted 50-100 deterrent patrols each year.

Article: Russian Nuclear Forces, 2006
Background: Russian Submarine Patrols

The New Russia, and the New Russian Warhead

Been to Moscow lately? If you have, it’s impossible not to notice how commercial the city has become. New automobiles clog the wide boulevards and the air reeks with exhaust. Conspicuous consumption is now an ingrained part of life. Despite the staggering rift between rich and poor in Russia as a whole, Moscow has more billionaires than any other city in the world. Although still an emerging economy, Russia has been sailing along on profits made in the oil and gas industries, inspiring Russia’s leaders to reassert to the world that their nation is still a nuclear superpower.

Times are better in Russia than in the 1990s, when the ruble collapsed, and violent crime ran wild. President Putin is leading his country towards joining the global economy in an autocratic — but effective – fashion. Putin has wisely courted Western industry, and has secured Russia’s place as head of the G8. He also agreed to reduce Russia’s overall nuclear warhead count, but has at the same time stabilized the budgets for ROSATOM’s nuclear weapons programs. While not flaunting Moscow-style material wealth, Russia’s nuclear designers at the closed cities are now at least receiving their paychecks. And they’ve been busy building a new generation of warheads: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11179135/site/newsweek/from/ET/
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National Archives Responds to Reclassification

Responding to a February 21 New York Times story indicating that thousands of declassified documents had been reclassified by executive branch agencies and removed from public access in questionable circumstances, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) announced yesterday that an official investigation into the matter was underway.

An audit is being conducted by the Information Security Oversight Office, a NARA component, to determine the number of documents that have been withdrawn, the authorization and justification for the withdrawal, and the appropriateness of the reclassification action.

(Agencies dispute that any documents have been “reclassified.” Instead, they contend, the withdrawn records were never properly declassified and so have remained classified all along.)

“The audit will result in a public report designed to provide the greatest feasible degree of transparency to this classification activity,” NARA said. “It is anticipated that the report will be available within the next 60 days.”

See “The National Archives Responds to Reclassification of Documents,” NARA news release, February 22.

The reclassification issue is more than a minor bureaucratic glitch. It has become a threat to the integrity of the entire national security classification and declassification program.

It would not be surprising if there were isolated cases of mistaken declassification. But because many of the now-withdrawn documents are widely available in the public domain, on the National Security Archive web site and elsewhere, anyone can see that the authority to reclassify and remove them has been improperly exercised in many cases. Government officials have admitted as much.

“If those sample records [reviewed by the Information Security Oversight Office] were removed because somebody thought they were classified, I’m shocked and disappointed,” ISOO Director Bill Leonard told the New York Times. “It just boggles the mind.”

But if records were mistakenly withdrawn in this case, what confidence can anyone have that classification authority is being properly invoked, for example, in the ongoing review of declassified historical records conducted by the Department of Energy? That review, conducted under the 1999 Kyl/Lott amendment, has also led to the removal of many thousands of DOE and other agency records that supposedly contain classified nuclear weapons information.

And what about Bush Administration classification of present-day records, which has accelerated to a record high level? How credible are those classification actions?

Finally, what is the role of the National Archives? Is NARA the guardian of public access to historical records? Or has it become a passive accomplice to the classification abuses of other agencies?

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) announced that his House Government Reform subcommittee on National Security will hold a third hearing on classification policy on March 14.

Reclassification and the Espionage Act

Could the National Security Archive be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for publishing historical documents that U.S. intelligence agencies now say are classified?

Could Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be detained for continuing to publish historical intelligence records on the State Department web site that the CIA has flagged as classified?

Could thousands of historians and librarians around the country be arrested for retaining and circulating volumes of the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series that are now considered to contain classified documents?

These seem to be silly questions.

And yet the theory of the Espionage Act that has been adopted by the government in its prosecution of two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (who are not charged with espionage) may extend even to silly cases such as these.

The Espionage Act’s prohibitions on the unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information apply to “whoever” may violate them, the government insisted in a January 30 motion.

“Whoever means, ‘no matter who’,” the government contended. “The statute covers ‘anyone’.”

Until now, the Espionage Act has never been interpreted this broadly, and for good reason. Using the Act to penalize the public receipt and distribution of government information leads to absurd conclusions.

Justice Department Declassification Plan

The Department of Justice described its progress towards meeting the December 31, 2006 deadline for automatic declassification of 25 year old historical records in an updated Declassification Plan submitted to the Information Security Oversight Office last year.

Significant exemptions to the automatic declassification program have been sought by the FBI and the DoJ Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Otherwise some 30 million pages of DoJ records have been subjected to declassification review in recent years.

A copy of the Plan was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Michael Ravnitzky.

See “2003 Declassification Plan (Revised October 27, 2005),” U.S. Department of Justice.