Selected CRS Reports

Some recently updated reports of the Congressional Research Service that are not readily available in the public domain include the following (all pdf).

“U.S. Foreign Aid to East and South Asia: Selected Recipients,” updated January 3, 2007.

“NATO’s Prague Capabilities Commitment,” updated January 24, 2007.

“Ballistic Missile Defense: Historical Overview,” updated January 5, 2007.

“Islamic Religious Schools, Madrasas: Background,” updated January 23, 2007.

“The Islamic Traditions of Wahhabism and Salafiyya,” updated January 17, 2007.

Though the general public is not permitted access to the congressional database of CRS reports online, these same reports can be purchased from a private vendor for about $4000 per year, the Washington Post noted yesterday.

“How I get them is my trade secret . . . but I get them all,” said Walt Seager, who digs up the reports for Gallery Watch, a legislative tracking service.

See “Information, Please” by Elizabeth Williamson, Washington Post, February 19.

In fact, however, Gallery Watch only gets those reports that are for common use by all Congressional offices. It does not provide the significant fraction of reports that are performed for the use of an individual Member. For the same reason, the claim by Gallery Watch that its reports provide some kind of advance insight into the Congressional agenda is exaggerated. Most of the reports it offers are updates of existing publications, along with others that are mostly undertaken at the initiative of CRS itself, not Members of Congress.

What is true is that current congressional policy on CRS reports promotes a kind of checkbook democracy, in which corporations, other large institutions and wealthy individuals have exclusive or preferred access to CRS products, while the general public is left to fend for itself.

Notable New CRS Reports

Some recent Congressional Research Service reports obtained by Secrecy News that are not readily available in the public domain include the following (all pdf).

“Sharing Law Enforcement and Intelligence Information: The Congressional Role,” February 13, 2007.

“India-U.S. Relations,” updated February 13, 2007.

“Changes to the OMB Regulatory Review Process by Executive Order 13422,” February 5, 2007.

“Al Qaeda: Statements and Evolving Ideology,” updated January 24, 2007.

“Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons,” updated January 9, 2007.

“Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2006,” updated January 8, 2007.

“‘Sensitive But Unclassified’ Information and Other Controls: Policy and Options for Scientific and Technical Information,” updated December 29, 2006.

Other New Resources

The average amount of time required by the government to conduct a background investigation and process a security clearance application has been around one year for a Top Secret clearance and 5 to 6 months for a Secret or Confidential clearance, which is “a totally unacceptable length of time,” according to a new report to Congress from the Office of Management and Budget. The February 15 Report of the Security Clearance Oversight Group (pdf) describes efforts underway to reduce security clearance processing time.

“The Putin Era in Historical Perspective” (pdf) was the topic of a conference of non-governmental experts sponsored by the DNI’s National Intelligence Council. The conference report hews closely to received wisdom and is surprisingly devoid of significant insight. (“Bereft of its former empire, Russia still aspires to be a great power and to be respected as such.”)

“The Infantry Battalion” (large pdf) is a new U.S. Army Field Manual (FM 3-21.20, December 2006) that describes the roles and missions of Army battalions at great length (599 pages, 20 MB PDF).

Book Review: Dictionary of Cold War Counterintelligence

Soviet intelligence agencies “rarely used the polygraph, but trained some of their officers with a machine stolen in 1965 by a Counterintelligence Corps sergeant, Glen Rohrer, who defected to Czechoslovakia.”

That curious factoid is just one of many intriguing nuggets contained in a new “Historical Dictionary of Cold War Counterintelligence” by British intelligence writer Nigel West, which is the sixth in a series of historical intelligence dictionaries published by Scarecrow Press.

From “abduction” to “Zlatovsky” the new Dictionary provides brief, capsule summaries of key topics, terms and events in the turbulent history of cold war counterintelligence.

All of the familiar entries are there, and quite a few unfamiliar ones.

“White Knuckle” is “the CIA codename for an operation to recover classified files that had been loaned to the KGB defector Anatoli Golitsyn to assist his research for the counterintelligence staff. The documents were retrieved from his home in New York City, as well as from his mill farm upstate.”

“Eyewash” is “the CIA term for false entries made in files, usually to protect the security of a source, often indicating that a particular target has rejected a pitch, when in fact the offer was accepted.”

An excellent series of Appendices provide a convenient roster of espionage prosecutions in the United States; a list of U.S. defectors to the Soviet Union; a list of Soviet and Eastern bloc intelligence defectors to the United States; and more.

Part of the satisfaction of reading a book like this derives from seeking and finding errors, and there are at least a few of those. There is a “Philip” whose name is misspelled “Phillip.” More significantly, CIA covert action is not limited to, nor does it even consist principally of, “paramilitary operations,” as the Dictionary says.

The entries themselves are not sourced or annotated, so if a reader wants to pursue further information, he has to take his best guess as to where it may be found in the bibliography.

Some readers might wish the author had refrained from publishing speculation about the identities of individuals who he thinks correspond to spies known only by their Soviet code name. If the book is mistaken about the “likely” identity of RELAY, for example, it will have perpetrated an injustice that is difficult to correct.

Just a few writers have immersed themselves in the historical intelligence literature as extensively as the prolific Mr. West and returned to write about it. So almost anyone is likely to learn something new.

Some of the other volumes in the present series have been found wanting by Hayden B. Peake, a former intelligence officer and bibliophile who reviewed them for the CIA journal Studies in Intelligence. But an earlier volume on British intelligence that was also written by Mr. West was ruled by Mr. Peake “quite good,” which is high praise from that quarter.

The very high list price of the book ($115) will make it unaffordable for many readers and will probably limit its acquisition to larger libraries and special collections.

More information, including a table of contents and an excerpt, may be found on the Scarecrow Press web site here.

Questions about Iranian Weapons in Iraq

At an unusual press briefing on Monday, U.S. military officials provided the first physical evidence of Iranian arms shipments to Iraqi extremist groups. The display, which the New York Times called “extraordinary,” consisted of explosively formed penetrators, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile reportedly found in Iraq and bearing Iranian markings. Notably, the officials also claimed to have proof that the operation was being directed by “the highest levels of the Iranian government,” a claim that was rigorously denied by Tehran.

The briefing raised more questions than it answered. Topping the list are questions about the extent of the Iranian government’s involvement in the arms shipments. Defense Department officials reportedly provided little proof for their claims of high-level involvement by the Iranian government, and the next day General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chief of staff, appeared to contradict them. Commenting on the captured weaponry, Pace conceded that the weapons “[do] not translate to that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this.” Yesterday President Bush sided with General Pace, confirming that “we don’t…know whether the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds force to do what they did.”

The captured weapons themselves are also puzzling. Not only were they reportedly manufactured in Iran, they are also emblazoned with manufacture dates and lot numbers – hardly indicative of a government that wants to maintain “plausible deniability.” Architects of covert aid programs usually go to great lengths to conceal their government’s involvement by purchasing weapons from foreign suppliers and clandestinely shipping them through third countries. The Iranians apparently did neither. Why?
Continue reading

Tempo of Congressional Oversight Increases

Though it is still too early to identify concrete results, the pace of Congressional oversight activity on secrecy and intelligence matters has already increased markedly in the new Congress.

The House Intelligence Subcommittee on Intelligence Community Management said it “will monitor trends in classification of executive branch material, the costs of over-classification, the practice of selective declassification, and the exclusive reliance on a variety of ‘sensitive but unclassified’ designations by U.S. government agencies and departments,” according to a new Committee work plan (pdf). “The Subcommittee will also examine the issue of unauthorized disclosure of classified information.” See “Oversight Plan for the 110th Congress,” House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, February 7.

Rep. Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a February 13 hearing on the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that would extend protections to whistleblowers in intelligence and national security agencies. Prepared testimony from that hearing, including several informative statements on current issues in whistleblower protection policy, may be found here.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) introduced the Intelligence Community Audit Act (H.R. 978), a bill that would “reaffirm the authority of the [Government Accountability Office] to audit and evaluate the programs, activities, and financial transactions of the intelligence community.” It is a companion measure to S. 82, introduced by Sen. Akaka last month.

Senator Christopher Dodd introduced the Restoring the Constitution Act (S. 576) that would amend the much-criticized Military Commissions Act of 2006, which curtailed habeas corpus claims by suspected enemy combatants. Co-sponsor Sen. Russ Feingold said the new bill would “restore basic due process rights and ensure that no person is subject to indefinite detention without charge based on the sole discretion of the President.”

Countering Air and Missile Threats

Military doctrine on maintaining air superiority against enemy aircraft and missiles is presented in a newly updated publication (pdf) from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Counterair operations include both offensive counterair (OCA) to destroy enemy aircraft, missiles or other weapons before they can be used, and defensive counterair (DCA) to detect, intercept and destroy enemy weapons in use.

Military planners “should expect MANPADS [shoulder-fired missiles] and AAA [anti-aircraft artillery] coverage wherever enemy forces are encountered,” the new doctrine states.

Seven U.S. helicopters have been shot down in Iraq in the last month, the Associated Press noted today.

See “Countering Air and Missile Threats,” Joint Publication JP 3-01, February 5, 2007.

DoD Adds “Credibility Assessment” to Polygraph Program

The Department of Defense has revised and supplemented its polygraph program to include non-polygraph techniques for detecting deception.

A new Pentagon directive (pdf) introduces the term “Credibility Assessment (CA),” which refers to “The multi-disciplinary field of existing as well as potential techniques and procedures to assess truthfulness that relies on physiological reactions and behavioral measures to test the agreement between an individual’s memories and statements.”

The new directive also transfers the polygraph program from the Defense Security Service to the secretive DoD Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA). The program will be overseen by the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.

Eleven military and defense intelligence organizations listed in the directive are authorized to conduct polygraph and credibility assessment examinations.

The reliability of polygraph testing for employee screening is widely disputed on scientific grounds. But many government security officials nevertheless insist on its value and utility, and the practice persists.

See “Polygraph and Credibility Assessment Program,” Department of Defense Directive 5210.48, January 25, 2007.

U.S. Army on Improvised Explosive Device Defeat

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are a major source of U.S. and allied casualties in Iraq. Military doctrine for confronting and defeating the IED threat is set forth in a 2005 U.S. Army field manual (excerpt, pdf).

“The proliferation of IEDs on the battlefield in both Iraq and Afghanistan has posed the most pervasive threat facing coalition forces in those theaters,” the manual states. “The persistent effectiveness of this threat has influenced unit operations, U.S. policy, and public perception.”

The manual discusses the nature of the threat, describes the defining characteristics of IEDs, and presents a framework for developing opposing strategy and tactics.

The manual has not been approved for public release and portions of the document that may be operationally sensitive are being withheld from publication online by Secrecy News.

See “Improvised Explosive Device Defeat (excerpt),” Field Manual Interim FMI 3-34.119, September 2005 (44 pages of a total 142 pages).

The 2005 document makes no mention of the explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) that have recently been described by the Department of Defense as a particularly dangerous variant of IED. See a February 11, 2007 DoD briefing on “Iranian Support for Lethal Activity in Iraq,” via TPM Muckraker.

U.S. Navy on Release of COMSEC Material to Industry

The transfer of sensitive government communications security (COMSEC) information and equipment to industry is the subject of a newly revised U.S. Navy Instruction (pdf).

“Government cryptographic equipment operations will ordinarily be conducted by the Government,” the Instruction states.

“However, when there is a valid need and it is clearly in the best interest of the Navy and the Government, cryptographic equipment, keying material, related COMSEC information, and access to classified U.S. Government traffic may be provided to U.S. contractors….”

See “Release of Communications Security (COMSEC) Material To U.S. Industrial Firms Under Contract to the U.S. Navy,” OPNAVINST 2221.5C, February 7, 2007.