The Return of Orange Julia

By late 2005, the promises of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution appeared to have fallen flat on their face: President Viktor Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine party so far have failed to deliver on numerous promises made during his election; Ukraine today is not much closer to the European Union or NATO than in past years. And Yushchenko sacked his former Orange Revolution ally and prime minister Julia (pronounced “Yulia”) Timoshenko eight months ago over suspicions of corruption. Susequently Yushchenko and Julia had an apparent irreconcilable falling out.

Ukraine’s recent parliamentary elections witnessed Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions take the lead, but without enough seats to form a majority in the 450-seat parliament. Under the Ukrainian Constitution, the parliament must form a coalition majority within 30 days of the new parliament starting work, and appoint a new government within 30 days after that. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party is looking weak: in the recent election it came in third, while Julia’s Bloc came in second.

Remember Yanukovich? He claimed to have won the presidency in 2004 as a successor to Leonid Kuchma, in what was likely a rigged election bolstered by neighboring Russia. The Orange Revolution changed this verdict, but Yushchenko’s Western-leaning government is in trouble. So Julia is back in the limelight, proposing to form a new alliance with Our Ukraine to keep the Party of Regions at bay. On her website,, on April 7, 2006, she said, “A union between Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc would keep Ukraine enthusiastically on the road to Europe, with a possibly greater chance than last year to pass needed reforms. “ And Julia has also said publicly that she will not cooperate with Yanukovich.

Who is Julia, exactly? A very powerful and rich woman, for starters. After Ukrainian independence from the USSR, she became the enterprising owner of a video rental company. Soon after she rose very quickly in the energy industry – becoming known as the “gas princess,” and a Ukrainian oligarch. She has long-standing political ambitions, and to her credit, has survived imprisonment by Kuchma and at least one attempt on her life in the last several years.

What is she like? Silnaya! (Strong!) an elderly Ukrainian colleague of mine reported. She is certainly that, and drop-dead gorgeous by the way: in the words of one of my male colleagues – she’s a total babe. And a very smart one, too. This can be a very powerful combination of features if she chooses to use her talents wisely. Julia wants once again to be prime minister, and quite possibly Ukraine’s next president.

Her proposal for a coalition has not gone unheard. Senior members of Our Ukraine have approved an orange coalition and Yushchenko confirmed: “This is the beginning of discussions and it’s not a big secret that we are aiming to create an orange coalition.” But Julia will not agree to any coalition that does not return her to her former job of prime minister.

In the meantime Yanukovich’s popularity is rising. He has warned against the formation of an orange coalition in the country’s new parliament: playing on voters’ fears, on April 6 his party stated that a renewed orange coalition “will lead Ukraine into an abyss.” Such statements make for entertaining political drama. And although popular with pensioners and many residents of eastern Ukraine, Yanukovich would be too Soviet in his approach to governing and would hinder Ukraine’s path towards democracy and the free market. Ukraine should not be allowed to slip back further under Russia’s influence or bend backwards towards its Soviet past.

The final decision to form an orange coalition with Julia will be up to Yushchenko. But can he and Julia overcome their petty differences and bickering and lead Ukraine forward towards Europe and the West? The next few months may tell.

House Intel Committee Urges New Action Against Leaks

Existing laws prohibiting unauthorized disclosures of classified information have not been effective, the House Intelligence Committee stated in a new report on the 2007 intelligence authorization act published today.

“Additional and more creative steps to deter unauthorized disclosures are warranted,” the report said.

Towards that end, the Committee asked the Director of National Intelligence to study the feasibility of revoking the pensions of those who commit unauthorized disclosures.

Furthermore, “the Committee has initiated a review of certain specific potential unauthorized disclosures of classified information at the request of the Speaker of the House.”

“That review primarily is concentrating on an investigation of four cases to develop a better understanding of the related facts and circumstances. The investigation is in turn expected to better enable the Committee to understand how and why unauthorized disclosures occur, and how the protection of classified information is perceived in practice.”

“By definition, no individual–whether a journalist, government official, or intelligence community employee–can or should singlehandedly presume to determine what information ‘deserves’ to be withheld from disclosure in order to protect national security, especially without full knowledge of the surrounding context,” the Committee stated.

In one startling passage, the Committee suggests that even the unauthorized receipt of classified information, and not merely its unauthorized disclosure, should be subject to legal penalties:

“The Committee’s work plan for this fiscal year includes reviewing all legal avenues to bring to justice those who violate the law, including those who knowingly receive, what is essentially, stolen classified information.”

It goes without saying that the President’s irregular treatment of classified information in the Libby case invites cynicism about the whole subject.

See the House Intelligence Committee report on the FY 2007 Intelligence Authorization Act.

In a minority statement at the end of the report, Democrats criticized the President’s warrantless surveillance program: “Allowing the NSA surveillance program to proceed without fully complying with the law threatens to undermine our entire Constitutional order–our system of checks and balances,” they said.

Committee Republicans, in response, rejected what they termed “false and reprehensible claims of improper or illegal activities.”

DCIA Goss Invokes State Secrets Privilege

Director of Central Intelligence Agency Porter J. Goss invoked the state secrets privilege last month to block litigation filed against the CIA and another U.S. Government agency.

The likely effect is to terminate the case, for reasons that DCIA Goss said cannot be explained on the public record.

“After deliberation and personal consideration, I have determined that the bases for my assertion of the state secrets privilege cannot be filed on the public court record, or in any sealed filing accessible to the plaintiffs or their attorneys, without revealing the very information that I seek to protect,” Director Goss stated in an unclassified March 16 Declaration (pdf).

Little is known about the case. Even the identity of one of the government agencies that is a defendant in the suit has been withheld from disclosure.

What is known is that last September, attorney Mark S. Zaid filed a lawsuit on behalf of an anonymous plaintiff, Jane Doe, and three minors, alleging violations of the Privacy Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the U.S. Constitution, in this country and abroad. See the severely redacted complaint (pdf).

The government defended its assertion of the state secrets privilege and moved for dismissal of the case in a March 29, 2006 memorandum of law (pdf).

“Use of the state secrets privilege in courts has grown significantly over the last twenty-five years,” wrote William G. Weaver and Robert M. Pallitto in a study of the privilege in Political Science Quarterly last year (“State Secrets and Executive Power,” PSQ, volume 120, no. 1, Spring 2005).

“Recent use of the state secrets privilege shows a tendency on the part of the executive branch to expand the privilege to cover a wide variety of contexts,” they found.

The Secret History of the JASONs

One of the lacunae in the history of defense policy and science advice to government concerns the role of the JASON advisory panel. A fascinating new book on the JASONs helps to fill in that mysterious gap.

Established in 1960, the JASONs first gained unwelcome public attention as the result of a reference in the leaked Pentagon Papers. They have only rarely since been heard from in public.

Their membership is not publicized. Their meetings are closed. The publications are mostly classified. Their impact is hard to assess.

Author Ann Finkbeiner interviewed 36 JASONs, “roughly half of the membership,” and gleaned more about their activities than has ever appeared on the public record before, beginning with a definitive account of the origin of the JASON name (it was coined by Mildred Goldberger, the wife of Murph Goldberger, who is a JASON founding member and a friend of Secrecy News).

In her engaging and highly readable book, Finkbeiner traces the work of the JASONs over four decades and introduces many of the group’s original, eccentric and hyper-intelligent members.

See “The JASONs: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite” by Ann Finkbeiner, Viking, April 2006.

A selection of unclassified JASON reports may be found here.

Bipartisan Executive Branch Reform Bill Advances in House

An ambitious bill (pdf) to promote an entire menu of “good government” reforms in the executive branch was endorsed on a bipartisan basis in the House Government Reform Committee today and reported to the full House.

The bill would notably limit the use of “pseudo-classification” markings such as “sensitive but unclassified” and “for official use only” unless they are authorized by statute or regulation. Such markings have been increasingly used by government agencies to restrict public access to unclassified information.

The “Executive Branch Reform Act of 2006,” HR 5112, was introduced by Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) and Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA), and unanimously supported by the Committee’s members.

Among its various provisions the bill would: end secret meetings between lobbyists and most executive branch officials; enhance protections for national security whistleblowers; and ban covertly sponsored government propaganda.

DoD Says Threat Database Included Improper Info

Of the 13,000 entries in the Pentagon’s TALON database of potential threats to the Department of Defense facilities and personnel, some two percent did not involve threats and should not have been retained, Pentagon officials acknowledged yesterday.

The TALON system “should be used only to report information regarding international terrorist activity,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England in a March 30 memo (pdf).

See “Pentagon Threat Database Kept Reports It Shouldn’t Have” by Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, April 6.

The fact that the TALON database included information on American citizens engaged in peaceful protest activities was first disclosed several months ago by NBC News and researcher Bill Arkin.

The DoD experience provides an empirical basis to question the propriety of intelligence collection under the President’s warrantless surveillance program. But investigations of that program have been blocked in Congress.

Federal Secrecy After September 11

The implications of increasing government secrecy are examined in a special issue of “I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society.”

A series of articles, mainly academic in tenor, address both the “theory” and the practice of secrecy from various perspectives and on topics such as Biosecurity and Secrecy Policy, for example.

The I/S Journal is published by Ohio State University and Carnegie Mellon. The special issue on secrecy was sponsored by The Century Foundation and The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (which also supports Secrecy News).

See “Federal Secrecy After September 11 and the Future of the Information Society”.

Opposing the Indian Nuclear Deal, not India.

An earlier FAS blog entry analyzed, and criticized, proposed legislation that grants the Bush Administration pre-approval of the details of an eventual nuclear trade deal with India. FAS has also organized a petition campaign to encourage members of Congress to vote against the legislation. (And blog readers are encouraged to sign the petition.) The Times of India picked up on the petition. The Times piece was, in my view, pretty good and fair. They did not agree entirely with the FAS position but I think the article did a good job of representing the FAS position.
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Bush Authorized Disclosure of NIE to NY Times’ Miller

President Bush specifically authorized Vice Presidential aide Scooter Libby to disclose information from a classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller in July 2003, effectively declassifying the information, according to a government filing (pdf) in the Libby prosecution yesterday.

“Defendant’s [i.e. Libby’s] participation in a critical conversation with Judith Miller on July 8 [2003] occurred only after the Vice President advised defendant that the President specifically had authorized defendant to disclose certain information in the NIE,” the government filing stated (at pp. 19-20).

“Defendant [Libby] testified that the circumstances of his conversation with reporter Miller — getting approval from the President through the Vice President to discuss material that would be classified but for that approval — were unique in his recollection.”

The new filing in the Libby case was first reported today by Josh Gerstein in the New York Sun.

Whatever its significance for the Libby case, the latest filing helps to resolve a lingering question that arose last February regarding the Vice President’s role in authorizing the disclosure of classified information. It appears that the Vice President did not direct disclosure on his own authority but on that of the President.

“Defendant [Libby] testified that the Vice President later advised him that the President had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE. Defendant testified that he also spoke to David Addington, then Counsel to the Vice President, whom defendant considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr. Addington opined that Presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document,” the government filing said (p. 23).

See “Government’s Response to Defendant’s Third Motion to Compel Discovery,” April 5, 2006.

Harkin Amendment for Avian Flu funding passes!

Yesterday, the Senate passed a whopping $107 billion Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill to fund the war in Iraq. Attached to the bill was an amendment by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) that adds $2.3 billion to prepare for an influenza pandemic. Such money will also prepare the country for other public health emergencies and is a strong indication that Congress is starting to take the threat of Avian Influenza seriously. The bulk of the bill consists of $67.8 billion for the Pentagon to support the war in Iraq and $27 billion in hurricane relief.

The whole amendment can be found in the extended comments section:

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