Selected CRS Reports on National Security Policy

Some notable, newly updated reports of the Congressional Research Service, obtained by Secrecy News and published on the Federation of American Scientists web site, include the following:

“Conventional Warheads For Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues for Congress,” updated February 13, 2006.

“U.S. Nuclear Weapons: Changes in Policy and Force Structure,”
updated January 27, 2006.

“U.S. Armed Forces Abroad: Selected Congressional Roll Call Votes Since 1982,” updated January 27, 2006.

“Interrogation of Detainees: Overview of the McCain Amendment,” updated January 24, 2006:

Schopenhauer and Unconscious Thought

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not always advantageous to engage in thorough conscious deliberation before choosing,” according to a paper published in the latest issue of Science magazine.

Unconscious thought, defined as “thought or deliberation in the absence of conscious attention directed at the problem,” can sometimes yield superior results, University of Amsterdam psychologists found. And they suggest that the same effect can be “generalize[d] to other types of choices — political, managerial, or otherwise.”

See “On Making the Right Choice: The Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect” by Ap Dijksterhuis, et al, Science, vol. 311, 17 February 2006 (free abstract).

So does that mean that the processes of political deliberation should be restructured to place greater emphasis on intuition and “hunches”? Not exactly.

The strengths and limits of “unconscious thought” were considered by author Sue Halpern in a review of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” in the New York Review of Books (April 28, 2005).

“Intuition is often understood as an antithesis to analytic decision-making, as something inherently nonanalytic or preanalytic,” Halpern quotes neuropsychologist Elkhonon Goldberg. “But in reality, intuition is the condensation of vast prior analytic experience; it is analysis compressed and crystallized.”

In other words, the productivity of “unconscious thought” is probably dependent upon all of the conscious thought, analysis and experience that precedes it.

(Making a similar point, a favorite teacher once advised that “It is one thing for Aldous Huxley to take LSD,” since Huxley was immensely learned. “It is something else for you to do it.”)

“The possibility of unconscious thought (as well as the term) was explicitly used for the first time by Schopenhauer,” write Dijksterhuis et al in their new Science paper.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was also credited by Freud as a forerunner of psychoanalysis.

“Schopenhauer argued at length, and with a psychological insight which was altogether unprecedented, that empirical evidence points to the conclusion not only that most of our thoughts and feelings are unknown to us but that the reason for this is a process of repression which is itself unconscious,” wrote Bryan Magee in his magnificent “The Philosophy of Schopenhauer” (Oxford, rev. 1997).

In several respects Schopenhauer was an unsavory character. He had a bad case of anti-semitism which earned him a favorable mention in Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

But Magee does for Schopenhauer what the late Walter Kaufmann did for Nietzsche several decades ago — he makes him intelligible to the non-specialist reader, as well as interesting and, quite unexpectedly, important.

Magee served briefly in British intelligence (to return to more familiar territory) and wrote a quasi-existentialist spy novel called “To Live in Danger” (1960, long out of print) that is not entirely bad.

Washington Post on the AIPAC Case

The Washington Post took further note today of the potentially severe implications for the press of the controversial prosecution of two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

“The Bush administration said that journalists can be prosecuted under current espionage laws for receiving and publishing classified information but that such a step ‘would raise legitimate and serious issues and would not be undertaken lightly,’ according to a court filing made public this week,” the Post reported.

See “Press Can Be Prosecuted for Having Secret Files, U.S. Says,” by Walter Pincus, Washington Post, February 22.

The half-life of plutonium recycling information.

Thinking the President might mention it in his State of the Union Address, I had put up on the FAS website a page on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which includes a plan to restart plutonium reprocessing in the United States after a thirty year hiatus. The President did not, in fact, mention the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership specifically but it figured prominently in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) FY2007 budget rollout.

After the DOE budget came out, I needed to update my Global Nuclear Energy Partnership page (which is the number two hit in Google, right after DOE’s page, and the update will be done in a day or so). The one attempt the US ever made at commercial plutonium reprocessing was in West Valley, New York. So I googled “West Valley New York plutonium” to get some information on it. It turns out the DOE wrote a history of plutonium reprocessing at West Valley and it was, as you might expect, the very first Google hit: Plutonium Recovery from Spent Fuel Reprocessing by Nuclear Fuel Services at West Valley, New York from 1966 to 1972, U.S. Department of Energy, February 1996.
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Reclassification Program at National Archives Exposed

U.S. military and intelligence agencies have assigned personnel to review and reclassify declassified historical records at the National Archives where they have withdrawn thousands of records from public access.

The seven year old secret program was reported today on the front page of the New York Times.

See “U.S. Reclassifies Many Documents in Secret Review” by Scott Shane, New York Times, February 21.

A detailed examination of the background and conduct of the reclassification program was prepared by historian Matthew M. Aid and posted on the web site of the National Security Archive today.

The Archive also posted several documents that have been withdrawn from public access under the secret review program.

An effort by historians is underway to enlist the Information Security Oversight Office and congressional oversight committees to check the unsupervised reclassification activity.

See “Declassification in Reverse: The Pentagon and the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Secret Historical Document Reclassification Program,” National Security Archive, February 21.

“Worried that sensitive information may have been improperly declassified in the late 1990s, government agencies took to scrubbing public records at the National Archives and elsewhere, pulling untold thousands of public records for ‘review’ and possible reclassification,” I wrote last March in Slate.

“Many 30- or 50-year-old archival collections are a shadow of what they were just a few years ago.”

A National Archives official challenged the accuracy of this claim at the time, but it now appears to be validated.

See “The Age of Missing Information” by Steven Aftergood, Slate, March 16, 2005.

CRS on Appropriation Earmarks

The number of earmarks included in congressional appropriations bills, directing that money be spent in a particular and often self-interested way, has multiplied over the past decade, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service.

The CRS study has been widely cited in the press, but has not been readily available online. Now it is.

See “Earmarks in Appropriation Acts: FY1994, FY1996, FY1998, FY2000, FY2002, FY2004, FY2005,” (pdf), January 26, 2006.

A Sixteenth Member of the U.S. Intelligence Community

With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, the U.S. intelligence community gained its fifteenth member.

Last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) became the sixteenth member.

“This designation does not grant DEA new authorities, but it does formalize the long-standing relationship between the DEA and the IC,” according to a February 17 news release from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

No Questions on Military budget.

The President has submitted a military budget of $440 billion dollars, with request for more than an additional hundred billion for the Iraq war expected later. It is finally time to say that the Pentagon budget has slipped its leash and is out of control. Not in the sense that the country is splashing money around without accounting for it but that the military budget process has escaped from meaningful political review and oversight. The Republicans know their biggest appeal to the American voters is as guarantors of their security, which they interpret as giving the Pentagon whatever it asks for, even as deficits climb. The Democrats are terrified of being seen as soft on defense so they don’t even dare ask questions. In this climate of fear we operate more on momentum than careful analysis and Congress can’t say “No” to the Pentagon on anything.
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Ivan Oelrich is back after a brief medical adventure

Just after the FAS Strategic Security blog got going, I had to take a little time off for some surgery. Now I am back. Well most of me is back. My gallbladder is not back, but the rest of me is back.

I understand that the ethos of the blog world is that everything must be up to the second. Comments on the State of the Union address are expected before the speech is finished. But since we are just starting out, I will reach back into ancient history, sometimes are far as several weeks, to get items that are of interest before we settle down.

Next will be a little op-ed like piece.