In Congress

A House resolution to investigate the so-called Downing Street memo on pre-war intelligence on Iraq was considered and rejected, along with two other resolutions on Iraq and the Valerie Plame case, in a September 14, 2005 markup by the House Committee on International Relations. See the report of that Committee markup (pdf).

Sen. Arlen Specter introduced his “National Security Surveillance Act” on March 16 that would subject the Bush Administration’s warrantless surveillance program to the adjudication of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Also on March 16, Senator Dewine and three Republican colleagues introduced their “Terrorist Surveillance Act” which would nullify the requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and authorize warrantless surveillance for up to 45 days without any judicial authorization.

In the News

The Department of Defense withdrew from its web site a DoD inspector general report that was critical of information security in the Missile Defense Agency’s ground-based missile defense system. Federal Computer Week reported on the removal of the document and posted the missing document on its own web site. See “DOD removes missile defense system report from Web site” by Bob Brewin, Federal Computer Week, March 20.

Several critical assessments of the “sensitive but unclassified” information control marking were discussed in “New Reports Raise Questions About Secrecy Stamps” by Rebecca Carr, Cox News Service, March 19.

The consequences of applying espionage statutes not only to leakers but also to unauthorized recipients of classified information were considered by Fred Kaplan in “Spies Like Us: Listening to leakers could land you in jail,” Slate, March 17.

Petition Against New National Security Strategy.

A few months ago, physicist Jorge Hirsch [[email protected]] of the University of California, San Diego, and others, organized a petition signed by an impressive array of notable scientists. The petition condemns the administration’s new national security strategy for its over-emphasis on nuclear weapons. The petition also emphasized that just using the term “WMD” blurs the distinction between non-nuclear and nuclear weapons, which are in a class of their own. You can see the petition and a partial list of signatories here.

Beguiled in Belarus

Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday claimed a third term after receiving a whopping 82.6 percent of the vote, in what critics are calling a blatantly rigged election. International observers have stated that the election did not meet accepted standards, and that voting intimidation ran rampant. European Union leaders are now threatening to impose limited sanctions on Belarus.

This scenario is nothing new. Critics have long called Lukashenko a dictator, well known for his excessive behavior and public rants: he once closed a highway so that he could rollerblade; he banned the wearing of face masks in public. And recently, Lukashenko had vowed to prevent mass movements like those that occurred in Ukraine in 2004 and swept Western-leaning Viktor Yushenko into power.

Nevertheless, some 10,000 people turned out in Minsk on Sunday evening during a blizzard to show their disagreement with the polling results. Most protestors were young, including many twenty-somethings who have no memories of Soviet days when the communist party unfailingly always won nearly 100 percent of votes. Belarus’s main opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich received only 6 percent of Sunday’s vote. He called the official vote tally for Lukashenko “monstrously inflated.” He and other opposition leaders have called for additional peaceful protests – in defiance of a government ban on election-day rallies.

In Belarus, the Soviet Union still lives in many senses. Most of the economy is under state control and the government makes 5-year economic plans. Mr. Lukashenko has resurrected statues of Lenin in Minsk, and the city’s main square is still called Oktyabrskaya Square. The KGB still spies on and harasses political opposition.

It is true that President Lukashenko does maintain a large number of supporters because of his access to cheap Russian energy and the stability he has provided pensioners in the wake of the USSR’s collapse. Many older Belarussians claim that Lukashenko has improved their standard of living since his ascension to office in 1994. And Belarus has never been a rich or powerful country.

But the generation gap is growing. Older people remember how the population was decimated and Minsk razed during World War II, and how the nation’s health suffered from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power station accident. Younger people want a modern and convenient democratic country, and have less fear than their grandparents did of the Soviet government and its secret police, Stalin’s purges, artificially created famines, and hard labor camps.

Belarus has witnessed tough times in its long and torrid history; it will see tougher times ahead if genuine popular opposition to Lukashenko continues to grow and potentially violent clashes between democracy-seekers and riot police ensue.

Captured Iraqi Documents Look Strangely Familiar

The Director of National Intelligence yesterday announced the public release of Iraqi documents that were captured by U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The release came in response to pressure from House Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra and Senator Rick Santorum, who had both introduced legislation to compel disclosure of the captured Iraqi documents, and from The Weekly Standard magazine and the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

“The accessibility of these materials represents an important departure from the past when previous document release efforts have taken many years,” the Office of the DNI said in a news release.

But the documents released by the DNI are a decidedly mixed bag.

Illustrating their eclectic nature, one of the captured Iraqi documents (pdf) is a print-out of an article from the Federation of American Scientists web site.

“This file contains document relevant to the Mukhabarat or Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS), it explains the structure of the IIS,” according to the DNI synopsis of the document (record number CMPC-2003-006430).

In fact, the document was written in 1997 by John Pike (then at FAS, now at GlobalSecurity.org), except for an added cover page which is handwritten in Arabic.

The newly released documents may be found here.

See also “U.S. Reveals Once-Secret Files From Hussein Regime” by Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, March 17.

The interesting possibility that raw intelligence materials like these could be productively assessed by members of the public working together online was optimistically considered by former intelligence officer Michael Tanji.

“A successful collaborative analysis of Iraqi documents has implications that go beyond just this problem set. Such an endeavor will not go unnoticed by the reform-minded in the intelligence community,” he wrote.

See “An Army of Analysts,” by Michael Tanji, The Weekly Standard, March 14.

Writing in the blog GroupIntel, Mr. Tanji also had a provocative response to the March 13 Secrecy News story on the new intelligence community document marking “RELIDO.”

See his “RELIDO: Why Bother?”

Bill to Authorize Warrantless Surveillance Introduced

Senate Republicans led by Sen. Mike DeWine yesterday introduced a bill (pdf) that would authorize warrantless intelligence surveillance for up to 45 days, after which it could be renewed upon review by the Attorney General.

The bill would require notification to Congress of various aspects of the program.

But significantly, it would impose no external constraints on domestic surveillance by the executive branch.

The bill (pdf) would also impose penalties of up to $1 million and/or 15 years in prison for unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to such surveillance activity.

Stung by criticism that this approach could be used to punish reporters who write about illegal government surveillance, the Senators declared that the proposed penalty, an amendment to 18 U.S.C. 798, “does not apply to journalists.”

Thus, while the current 18 U.S.C. 798(a) apparently prohibits unauthorized disclosures of certain specific types of classified information by “any person”, the new proposed section 798(b) would only apply to “any covered person,” which means someone who has authorized possession of the classified information, but not a reporter or other recipient of the information.

See “DeWine, Graham, Hagel and Snowe Introduce the Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006,” news release, March 16.

On March 13, Sen. Russ Feingold introduced a resolution to censure President Bush for what he described as a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Some Notable Docs

Prepared testimony from a March 14 House Government Reform subcommittee hearing titled “Drowning in a Sea of Faux Secrets” that addressed overclassification, reclassification, and the use of the “sensitive but unclassified” control marking can be found here.

“Congressional Notification of Intelligence Activities, Intelligence-Related Activities, Special Access Programs, and Covert Actions Within the Department of the Navy” (large pdf) is the subject of Secretary of the Navy Instruction 5730.13A, updated February 1, 2006 (badly scanned by the Navy into a 5 MB file).

Transcript of Franklin Sentencing Hearing Online

“All persons who have authorized possession of classified information, and persons who have unauthorized possession, who come into possession in an unauthorized way of classified information, must abide by the law. They have no privilege to estimate that they can do more good with it.”

“So, that applies to academics, lawyers, journalists, professors, whatever. They are not privileged to disobey the laws, because we are a country that respects the rule of law.”

Thus spoke Judge T.S. Ellis, III, in a January 20, 2006 sentencing hearing (pdf) for former Defense Department official Lawrence A. Franklin, who was convicted of unauthorized disclosures of classified information. His remarks were first reported (in slightly truncated form) by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Judge Ellis’ statement was extraordinary because it appeared to endorse the new Bush Administration theory that not only leakers but also unauthorized recipients of classified information can be prosecuted for retaining or disclosing such information to others.

This reading of the law, which has never prevailed before, could now be used against academics, lawyers, newsletter writers, newsletter readers, whatever.

It is currently being tested in the prosecution of two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who are accused of mishandling classified information that was provided to them by Mr. Franklin. Neither of the two AIPAC employees held a security clearance.

A copy of the transcript of the January 20 sentencing hearing (pdf) at which Judge Ellis made his surprising remarks was obtained by Secrecy News.

See, relatedly, “Suppression of witness names underlines battle in AIPAC case” by Ron Kampeas and Matthew E. Berger, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 15, 2006.

Report Shows Prominence of Nuclear Weapons in Global Strike Mission

Nuclear weapons are surprisingly prominent in the Pentagon’s new offensive Global Strike mission, according to the new FAS report Global Strike: A Chronology of the Pentagon’s New Offensive Strike Plan. The 250-page report traces the development of Global Strike through a comprehensive compilation of guidance documents, public statements, budget program descriptions, contracts, and declassified military documents obtained under the FOIA.

One of the FOIA documents is the Concept of Operations for the Joint Functional Component Command for Space and Global Strike, the new organization established in 2005 at U.S. Strategic Command to prepare and execute the Global Strike mission. The mission is normally portrayed as a conventional mission, but the Concept of Operations reveals the prominent nuclear role the command has.

Publication of the FAS report coincides with a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Global Strike on March 16. [Update: Hearing postponed. Check link for details.]

Download: The full report | Background information and FOIA documents.