Auf Wiedersehen, Los Alamos

Today, May 31, 2006 marks the end of the University of California as the sole manager of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), after a 63-year run. Tomorrow LANL will come under the management of Bechtel, the University of California, BWX Technologies, and Washington Group International, collectively known as Los Alamos National Security (LANS), LLC, a private, for profit enterprise.
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FBI declassifies US bacterial warfare document

An FBI account of “Bacteriological Warfare in the United States” was obtained by through the Freedom of Information Act. In all, 709 pages were released relating to bacterial warfare efforts in the US from 1941-1950, some of which are heavily redacted. 1,074 pages have been witheld for further review by other agencies. The account contains a description of a “previously unknown simulated BW attack on the Pentagon” [circa 1950], notes Michael Ravnitzky, who obtained the document for Memory Hole. All 709 pages can be downloaded from their website in 4 parts.

ISOO Urged to Compel Vice President to Report on Secrecy

The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) should exercise its authority to compel the Office of the Vice President to disclose how frequently it classifies and declassifies information, the Federation of American Scientists urged in a letter (pdf) to ISOO Director J. William Leonard.

For the third year in a row, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) has failed to disclose such data, as all executive branch entities that handle classified information are required to do for publication in the ISOO annual report to the President.

But the OVP did not simply neglect to report the data, it declared that it had no obligation to do so.

OVP spokeswoman Lea Ann McBride told the Chicago Tribune last week: “This has been thoroughly reviewed and it’s been determined that the reporting requirement does not apply to [the office of the vice president], which has both legislative and executive functions.” (“Cheney Keeps Classification Activity Secret” by Mark Silva, Chicago Tribune, May 27.)

There is no basis for this claim that the OVP is exempt from reporting.

“Nothing in the executive order excuses the OVP from reporting on classification activity in the performance of its executive duties merely because it also has separate legislative functions,” I wrote in a May 30 FAS letter to ISOO.

“Since the OVP has publicly staked out a position that openly defies the plain language of the executive order, I believe ISOO now has a responsibility to clarify the matter. Otherwise, every agency will feel free to re-interpret the order in idiosyncratic and self-serving ways.”

FAS asked ISOO either to directly compel the OVP to comply with the executive order under threat of sanction, or else to formally request a determination from the Attorney General on the applicability of the executive order to the OVP.

“I recognize that the OVP’s classification activity is quantitatively small, by comparison with other executive branch elements, and that it could easily be overlooked without much detriment to the aggregate statistical reporting by ISOO,” our letter stated.

“But by casting its non-compliance as a matter of principle, the OVP has mounted a challenge to the integrity of classification oversight and to the authority of the executive order. In my opinion, it is a challenge that should not go unanswered,” I wrote.

“You raise some valid points,” wrote ISOO Director Leonard in an initial email response on May 30. “I will pursue.”

“Deemed Exports”: Commerce Department Retreats

In a victory for academic researchers, the Department of Commerce announced the withdrawal of a controversial rulemaking notice on so-called “deemed exports” that would have imposed new restrictions on access to information and technology by foreign-born scientists.

A “deemed export” has taken place when a foreign national who is working in the United States gains access to technology or information that is export controlled.

The 2005 Commerce rulemaking notice had triggered an outpouring of anxiety in academia and among scientists who said the Commerce proposal would complicate or render impossible many common interactions with foreign-born students as well as foreign collaborators. (See “Controls on ‘Deemed Exports’ May Threaten Research,” Secrecy News, 05/02/2005).

In response to hundreds of comments received, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) abandoned key features of its proposal, including a surprising provision that access restrictions should be based on an individual’s country of birth rather than on his current citizenship.

Along with withdrawal of the pending proposal, “BIS is establishing a Deemed Export Advisory Committee [that] will serve as forum to address complex questions related to an evolving deemed export control policy.”

The policy shift was described in a Federal Register notice published today.

“While the deemed export rule plays a crucial role in preventing foreign nationals from countries of concern from obtaining controlled U.S. technology, BIS also recognizes that export controls must take into account the integral and critical contribution of foreign nationals to U.S. fundamental research,” the Federal Register notice stated.

“U.S. research institutions play a vital role in advancing science and technology for future generations. Part of the vitality of the research enterprise is the contribution made by foreign national students, faculty, and visiting scientists.”

House Moves to Limit “Sensitive Security Information”

The scope of the “sensitive security information” (SSI) control category that prevents disclosure of certain kinds of transportation security-related information would be significantly curtailed by the House version of the 2007 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act.

The House bill would mandate automatic disclosure of SSI when it becomes three years old if it is not part of an active security plan and unless a written determination is made by the Secretary that it must be withheld.

It would also require DHS to revise its written policy on SSI to provide common representative examples of what constitutes SSI, and it would make it easier for parties in litigation to gain access to SSI. See the SSI provision in the 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which awaits final action on the House floor, here.

The White House denounced the House measure.

“The Administration strongly opposes Section 525 [the SSI provision], which would jeopardize an important program that protects Sensitive Security Information (SSI) from public release by deeming it automatically releasable in three years…,” according to a May 25 Statement of Administration Policy (pdf).

“This provision would require the Secretary to undertake an ongoing, burdensome review process to protect this secure sensitive information that would otherwise remain appropriately protected by regulation,” the White House said (at page 4).

And see, relatedly, “Homeland Security Department: FY2007 Appropriations” (pdf), Congressional Research Service, May 10, 2006.

Some Notable Declassifications

The National Security Archive announced the publication of a large collection of Henry Kissinger’s Memoranda of Conversation (memcons), a detailed and candid record of his diplomatic contacts with world leaders from 1969 to 1977, edited by the Archive’s William Burr.

An FBI account of “Bacteriological Warfare in the United States” was published by It contains a description of a “previously unknown simulated BW attack on the Pentagon” [circa 1950], notes Michael Ravnitzky, who obtained the document.

The second and final installment of declassified National Security Agency records on Vietnam and the Tonkin Gulf Incident was published yesterday on the NSA web site.

NNSA Walking a Fine Line on Divine Strake

Update (February 22, 2007): DTRA announces that Divine Strake has been canceled.

In a surprising move, the National Nuclear Security Administration last week withdrew (!) its Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for Divine Strake, a document issued in April that declared that a planned detonation of 700 tons of chemical explosives at the Nevada Test Site “would not result in the suspension or dispersion of radioactive materials or human exposure to radioactive materials.”

The question therefore is: Does this mean that Divine Strake could result in the suspension or dispersion of radioactive materials or human exposure to radioactive materials? And do other assurances about the test need to be reassessed?
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Threat Reduction Legislation Sails through House and Senate Committees

Last week, lawmakers demonstrated their commitment to reining in the black market trade in deadly conventional weapons by forwarding two important bills to the full House and Senate. On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Lugar-Obama Act (S. 2566) by voice vote and without amendment. The bill calls on the State Department to “carry out an accelerated global program” to secure or dispose of surplus and poorly secured man-portable air defense systems and other conventional weapons, and authorizes an additional $25 million in funding for the State Department to accomplish this mission. Two days later, the House International Relations Committee followed suit by passing, also by voice vote and without amendment, the “Shoulder-fired Missile Reduction Act of 2006” (HR 5333), which authorizes an additional $35 million for securing and destroying poorly secured weapons and imposes sanctions on governments that knowingly transfer MANPADS to terrorists and their state sponsors. Both bills enjoy broad bipartisan support.

A summary of HR 5333 was posted on the SSP blog on May 11th. The full text of the bill and the Lugar-Obama Act is available on the ASMP’s “Bills and Laws” page.

Make Trident Conventional

The week before last, Harold Brown and James Schlesinger argued in an op-ed in the Washington Post that the United States should arm some of the ballistic missiles on the Trident submarine with conventional warheads. Michael Gordon had a story in yesterday’s New York Times explaining that Rumsfeld fully supports the idea and hopes to get the system operational within two years. This is the implementation of the Global Strike plan that FAS’s Hans Kistensen has recently documented in detail.
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Visting the Titan Missile Museum

On a recent trip to Tucson, Arizona I visited the Titan Missile Museum, something I recommend for all FAS blog readers who might be in the area. The tour was great. You get to visit the silo and the launch control area. They even have a decommissioned Titan missile in the silo. All very impressive.

I confess, I was a bit apprehensive about the lecture I was going to get as part of our orientation. I fully expected it to be a Cold War propaganda fest. But the comments were, in fact, quite good. There was one description of deterrence that I could have quibbled with a bit but overall I was pleased. Still, it is sometimes best to look to a child for clarity. One young visitor sent in a drawing that I think sums up the Titan missile perfectly, everything else is just details. I posted it here.