Covert Action Against the Soviet Union, 1969-1970 (FRUS)

The Nixon Administration gave high priority to covert action against the Soviet Union and its interests around the world, according to newly published declassified records (pdf).

“With respect to black operations, the President enjoined me to hit the Soviets, and hit them hard, any place we can in the world,” wrote CIA director Richard Helms in a March 25, 1970 memorandum for the record.

“He said to ‘just go ahead,’ to keep Henry Kissinger informed, and to be as imaginative as we could. He was as emphatic on this as I have ever heard him on anything,” Mr. Helms wrote.

The Helms memorandum and other records on U.S. covert action against the Soviet Union were published this week in a new volume of Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS).

“The total cost of this program is $766,000,” one document noted, in a departure from previous CIA practice of redacting almost all intelligence budget expenditures.

The newly published documents on covert action against the Soviet Union are collected and posted here.

The full text of the source volume of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, volume XII (Soviet Union, January 1969-October 1970), may be found here.

A companion volume FRUS volume, volume XIV (Soviet Union, October 1971-May 1972), also newly published, is here.

Bush Administration cancels anthrax vaccine contract.

The same day that President Bush signed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act into law, the government canceled their contract for the production of 75 million doses of anthrax vaccine. The contract, with VaxGen, was the most significant from the much criticized Bioshield program. But the cancellation was anticipated by many after VaxGen, who has never brought a vaccine or drug to market missed several deadlines and, most recently, had their application for testing their vaccine in humans rejected by the FDA.

The company only has one other product in its pipeline, a new smallpox vaccine, but they do not have a contract to produce it. So, after shelling out approximately $175 million of its own cash, they have been left at the table with the bill. This scenario is precisely why no large pharmaceutical companies bid on the anthrax vaccine contract when it was offered. It was simply too much of a gamble. Granted, VaxGen’s 5 year time line for production of a next generation vaccine was overly ambitious by most standards, and they have no one to blame but themselves for signing a contract that there was little chance of completing on time.

The US will continue to stockpile the previously available anthrax vaccine from Emergent BioSolutions even though its safety has been a topic of concern for some time and that it has to be delivered in several doses over 6 months.

The cancellation of the contract and the passing of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act represent a welcome step back and reevaluation of how the US has been approaching countermeasure development. Amongst several provisions, the act calls for a reorganization of the Bioshield program and establishes the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, under the Department of Health and Human Services, which will be tasked with organizing vaccine and therapeutic development for potential bioterror agents. Having a more organized and accountable system for spending the $5.6 billion dollars in Bioshield funding will most certainly be a step forward.

FAS Asks Court to Compel NRO Compliance with FOIA

The Federation of American Scientists yesterday asked (pdf) a federal court to enforce a court order directing the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to process a Freedom of Information Act request for unclassified budget information after the NRO said it had “decided” not to do so.

In a July 24, 2006 order, D.C. District Judge Reggie B. Walton rejected an NRO claim that the requested budget information was an “operational” file that is exempt from the FOIA. He ordered the agency to process the request.

On September 20, the NRO filed notice that it would appeal that ruling.

Last month, the agency said that in light of the pending appeal it had “decided not to produce the document(s) in question.”

By law, however, the NRO is not entitled to make such a decision. Rather, it must request and receive a stay of the court order, which it failed to do.

In a December 18 motion in the case, Aftergood v. National Reconnaissance Office, we asked Judge Walton to enforce his July 24 order.

Govt Withdraws Subpoena Against ACLU

Last week it emerged that the Department of Justice had adopted the unprecedented tactic of employing a subpoena in order to recover copies of a classified document that had been provided without authorization to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Yesterday, in a swift and somewhat farcical conclusion to the controversy, the government withdrew the subpoena and announced that the document had been declassified (pdf).

The use of a subpoena was not intended as a threat, a government attorney wrote (pdf) to the court, but was issued in response to a “request” from the ACLU, so that the organization would not have to voluntarily surrender the document without “due process”:

“The Government issued the subpoena based on […] what it believed to be the ACLU’s request for a subpoena in lieu of voluntarily returning the then-classified document.”

Further background is available in “Government Backs Down in its Attempt to Seize ‘Secret’ Document,” ACLU, December 18, and “Prosecutors Drop A.C.L.U. Subpoena in Document Fight” by Adam Liptak, New York Times, December 19.

Venezuela’s Military Build-up: Who’s Watching the Guns?

On November 29th, Venezuela received the final shipment of the 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles that it purchased from Russia last year. Despite the high-profile nature of this sale, little is known about Venezuela’s plans for safeguarding the rifles, which would be a hot commodity on the region’s vibrant black market. It’s time to start asking some tough questions about the rifles and President Chavez’s plan for protecting them.
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Counterinsurgency Manual Flies Off the Shelf

The new Army Field Manual on Counterinsurgency doctrine has been downloaded from the Federation of American Scientists web site at an extraordinary rate — more than 250,000 times since it was posted on Friday morning.

But unlike previous drafts obtained by Secrecy News, the new manual is no secret. It has been published and actively disseminated by the Army.

“Why don’t you also put up our press release announcing the manual which can also be found on our web site?” inquired Col. Steven A. Boylan of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. That December 15 news release (pdf) and the accompanying manual (large pdf) can be found on the Fort Leavenworth web site.

Col. Boylan also objected to Secrecy News’ statement that the new counterinsurgency doctrine was at odds with current U.S. policy in Iraq.

“This manual was in production for about two years and is not and was not intended to counter any current or future policy as you indicate in your article. This document is also not specific to Iraq or Afghanistan. If you understand the basis of doctrine, then you know that our doctrine is geared to be used anywhere our Army might deploy.”

The Grandeur of Error Correction

On December 17 the New York Times published a correction of a December 3 Times story which said that polonium-210 had been used to power U.S. spacecraft after a December 14 Secrecy News story showed that the claim was almost certainly incorrect:

    “An article on Dec. 3 about the many uses of polonium 210 referred incorrectly to the radioactive material utilized in early American satellites. While plans were drawn up to use polonium 210 as a power source, and one federal document said it was used, nuclear experts say that the government decided instead to rely on plutonium 238; no American satellites ever flew with polonium 210,” the Times wrote.

The error was trivial but the correction was grand.

Some institutions and some government officials have an aversion to admitting error, viewing it as a sign of weakness. But admitting and correcting errors paradoxically enhances credibility, not diminishes it. It makes it possible to approximate the truth ever more closely.

An openness to admitting error is also essential to a vital functioning democracy.

The president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Gilbert S. Omenn, touched on this point recently in a wide-ranging address published in Science Magazine:

    “Science works best in a culture that welcomes challenges to prevailing ideas and nurtures the potential of all of its people. Scientific ways of thinking and of re-evaluating one’s views in light of new evidence help strengthen a democracy.”

Entrenched Views of the Defense Science Board

Hans Kristensen has just posted an excellent analysis of the new Defense Science Board (DSB) report Nuclear Capabilities. The report presents what is known to the military as a “target rich environment” so we might make a few more comments over the next couple of days.

I want to focus here on the section, starting on p. 2, entitled “Some Entrenched Views on Nuclear Capabilities.” I will leave to the reader the analysis of the word “entrenched.” This section of the DSB report sets up some straw men and then knocks them down. But the straw is a bit tougher than they think.
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Army Counterinsurgency Doctrine Charts a New Course

The U.S. Army has completed a long-awaited new manual (large pdf) presenting military doctrine on counterinsurgency. It is the first revision of counterinsurgency doctrine in twenty years.

In several respects, the new doctrine implicitly repudiates the Bush Administration’s approach to the war in Iraq.

“Conducting a successful counterinsurgency campaign requires a flexible, adaptive force led by agile, well-informed, culturally astute leaders,” the foreword states.

The new manual emphasizes the importance of planning for post-conflict stabilization, and it stresses the limited utility of conventional military operations.

“The military forces that successfully defeat insurgencies are usually those able to overcome their institutional inclination to wage conventional war against insurgents.”

A copy of the new 282 page unclassified manual was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “Counterinsurgency,” U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24, December 15, 2006 (12.9 MB PDF).