Some Other Secrecy News

Pressure to adopt “sensitive but unclassified” control markings on information that does not qualify for classification is growing, along with opposition to such controls, among some academic researchers who study terrorism-related topics. See “Scientific Openness: Should Academics Self-Censor Their Findings on Terrorism?” by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Science, May 19.

“The secrecy that has become such a hallmark of the Bush administration did not begin with Sept. 11, as the White House often suggests. It began in the earliest days of January 2001, as the administration was taking shape,” according to a National Public Radio account. See “From the Start, Bush White House Kept Secrets” by Don Gonyea, NPR Weekend Edition, May 21.

DNI Reports “Substantial Progress” in Intelligence Reform

In an unusually informative new report to Congress, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) advised that he “is making substantial progress in the implementation of the [Intelligence Reform Act of 2004].

The DNI outlined the actions he has taken to integrate the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy and alluded in passing to several new initiatives he has undertaken. For example:

“For the first time, the IC [intelligence community] is reassessing all of its relationships with foreign counterparts to determine whether new relationships may be beneficial and whether there are additional activities that need to be deconflicted.”

And: “The ODNI is reviewing information disclosure policies and is working to improve training and awareness of information security procedures, implement audit technologies, and ensure that unauthorized disclosures are investigated.”

“The ODNI will soon issue a community-wide directive on unauthorized disclosures.”

“The ODNI has established a digital library of all new intelligence products produced by the community to bring together all available national intelligence on any given topic…. To ensure that analysis is based on all available sources, the ODNI is exploring ways to increase the capacity of analysts across the community to exploit the full range of classified data and openly available information relevant to national security.”

“The analytic ombudsman recently reviewed IC tradecraft and assumptions on the recent Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, and lessons learned from that exercise are already being put into place.”

See “Report on the Progress of the Director of National Intelligence in Implementing the ‘Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004’,” May 2006.

The Hayden Confirmation Hearing

“I do think we overclassify, and I think it’s because we got bad habits,” said Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the nominee to be the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

See the full transcript of his May 18 confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence here (pdf).

In Print: Imaginary Weapons

The military subculture that pursues the development of fabulous, physically impossible weapons concepts at taxpayer expense is the subject of a new book by defense reporter Sharon Weinberger called “Imaginary Weapons.”

Weinberger introduces the hafnium bomb, a hypothetical weapon that would supposedly harness the energy released from a nuclear transition within a hafnium isomer. It is a purely speculative notion that has been largely discredited, but one that attracted nearly cultish attention — and millions of dollars — within the defense establishment.

It is akin in its eccentricity, and lack of reproducibility, to “zero point energy,” “psychic teleportation” (pdf), and other notions that Weinberger terms “fringe science.”

Fringe science, she contends, “has reached new heights under the Bush Administration. We have fewer and fewer scientific experts in the government, and an increasing unwillingness by the government to turn to outside scientific advisers.”

“The real danger in this story is not the existence of fringe science, but of fringe science in government, particularly when it receives substantial funding or guides decision-making.”

“I see this problem getting worse, not better. If the government doesn’t take steps to shore up its scientific expertise, I think we are facing a future filled with imaginary weapons.”

Her highly readable new book, filled with entertaining or disgusting anecdotes, has just been published.

See “Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon’s Scientific Underworld” by Sharon Weinberger, Nation Books, June 2006.

CRS Views Government Access to Phone Records

The government’s acquisition of telephone records of tens of millions of Americans, as reported last week in USA Today, raises a host of thorny legal issues. In a new report (pdf), the Congressional Research Service performed a preliminary assessment of those issues.

“The factual information available in the public domain with respect to any such alleged program is limited and in some instances inconsistent,” the CRS authors caution, “and the application, if at all, of any possibly relevant statutory provisions to any such program is likely to be a very fact specific inquiry.”

Having said that, the CRS explains that there are several statutes that may be pertinent and that could conceivably entail civil or criminal penalties for telephone companies that provide information to the government without statutory authorization.

“This [CRS] report …summarize[s] statutory authorities regarding access by the Government, for either foreign intelligence or law enforcement purposes, to information related to telephone calling patterns or practices. Where pertinent, we will also discuss statutory prohibitions against accessing or disclosing such information, along with relevant exceptions to those prohibitions.”

The Congressional Research Service does not make its products directly available to the public. But a copy of the latest report was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “Government Access to Phone Calling Activity and Related Records: Legal Authorities,” May 17, 2006.

SBU and the Challenge of Information Sharing

The widespread use of “Sensitive But Unclassified” (SBU) control markings is a major impediment to information sharing inside and outside of the federal government, according to testimony (pdf) last week from Thomas E. McNamara, the program manager for the Information Sharing Environment, who reports to the Director of National Intelligence.

“More than 60 different marking types are used across the Federal Government to identify SBU, including various designations within a single department,” he observed.

And even “[when] different agencies … use the same marking to denote information that is to be handled as SBU, a chosen category of information is often defined differently from agency to agency, and agencies may impose different handling requirements. Some of these marking and handling procedures are not only inconsistent, but are contradictory.”

See his prepared testimony from a May 10 hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence.

“There is, quite frankly, much [SBU] that has no legal basis and doesn’t deserve a legal basis,” he told the Subcommittee. “We should be getting that stuff out.”

See “Congress urged to help make more ‘sensitive’ information public” by Chris Strohm, Congress Daily, May 11.

An interagency working group completed an inventory of SBU procedures in March, and is due to develop recommendations for standardizing such procedures by next month.

Rethinking Intelligence Analysis, Cont’d

As well established as the practice of intelligence analysis may be, researchers continue to ask elementary questions about what analysis is, how it is done, and how it can be done better.

“Intelligence analysis involves a complex process of assessing the reliability of information from a wide variety of sources and combining seemingly unrelated events. This problem is challenging because it involves aspects of data mining, data correlation and human judgment,” one recent study (pdf) performed for the Office of Naval Research observed.

The study focused on development of computer tools to support the analytical method known as Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH), previously explored by Folker (pdf), among others.

See “Assisting People to Become Independent Learners in the Analysis of Intelligence” by Peter L. Pirolli, Palo Alto Research Center, Inc., Final Report to the Office of Naval Research, February 2006.

Historical Dictionary of Israeli Intelligence

A “Historical Dictionary of Israeli Intelligence,” published this month, is the third in a new series of reference works on major intelligence services, following volumes on British and U.S. intelligence.

“Mossad,” the name of the Israeli foreign intelligence service, is probably the best known Hebrew word after “shalom,” the preface suggests.

The new Dictionary, written by Israeli professor Ephraim Kahana, provides background, updated organizational charts, and other information on the Mossad and several other Israeli intelligence and security agencies.

The 424-page Dictionary provides an introduction to Israeli intelligence, along with entries on significant persons, operations and key historical episodes. All of the obvious topics are covered, from the capture of fugitive Nazi Adolf Eichmann to the Jonathan Pollard case, as are other relatively obscure subjects, such as the defense security organization Malmab, and its querulous director Yehiel Horev.

The individual subject entries are mostly brief, and do not include sources or references. But the book includes a fine bibliography (at least for those who lack Hebrew) featuring hardcopy and online resources on Israeli intelligence.

See “Historical Dictionary of Israeli Intelligence” by Ephraim Kahana, Scarecrow Press, Inc., Lanham, MD, May 2006.

Biosecurity, Flu and Chemical Weapons updates

FAS has posted a new a Congressional Research Service report on Avian Influenza and two Biosecurity reports from the military. We also launched a revised chemical weapons resource website.

Congressional Research Service Report entitled “US and International Responses to Global Threat of Avian Flu” from May 1, 2006. It provides an up-to-date account of global H5N1-related human infections and deaths, outlines U.S. government global avian flu programs, and presents some foreign policy issues for Congress. (36 pages)

April 26, 2006 Air Force Policy Directive on Safeguarding Select Agents and Toxins. This directive lays out the Air Force policy on handling biological agents. (7 pages)

April 18, 2006 DoD Instruction on the Minimum Security Standards for Safeguarding Biological Select Agents and Toxins. (28 pages)

Finally, FAS has updated its Chemical Weapons Information Resource Page and will continue to add new content to it in the coming months.