President Bush this week ordered executive branch agency heads to respond to dozens of recommendations that were issued earlier this month by the Public Interest Declassification Board, an official advisory group, regarding the declassification of historical records.
The Board’s report, “Improving Declassification” (pdf), presented 49 recommendations to increase the utility and productivity of declassification, such as establishment of a National Declassification Center, creation of a public database of declassified documents, expedited declassification of presidential records including the President’s Daily Brief, and new procedures for declassification of closed congressional hearing records and other documents.
“Please submit in writing no later than April 15, 2008… your views on each of the recommendations, including with respect to each recommendation your view of whether and to what extent it should be implemented,” President Bush told the agency heads on January 29.
The Board’s report hardly made a ripple when it was released earlier this month. And since it is purely advisory, it could easily have been ignored.
But the President’s response increases the likelihood that the Board’s recommendations will now receive serious consideration, inside and outside of the executive branch.
A coalition of historians is petitioning a federal court in New York to release sealed grand jury records from the 1951 indictment of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and executed in 1953.
The Rosenberg case, a crucible of atomic secrets, American communism, Soviet spying, U.S. counterespionage, and more, remains a landmark in the history of the Cold War. But after decades of debate and disclosure, some of the basic records of the case still remain inaccessible. The historians’ initiative aims to change that.
The National Security Archive, one of the petitioners, has published the petition along with a diverse collection of declarations here.
Russia’s Okno and Krona space surveillance systems are profiled in a newly updated open-source documentary collection (pdf) by former CIA analyst Allen Thomson.
The precise location of the Okno facility, which is in Tajikistan, has not been publicly identified.
But last year, observed Mr. Thomson, a new “Krona-N radar site near Nakhodka was found in Google Earth (not by me) and the head of the Russian Space Forces says it’s going to be put into operation starting this year.”
“Like Krona Classic in the Caucasus, this is going to be an imaging radar,” he said. “Together with the 3-meter adaptive optics telescope being built in Siberia, the Krona radars will give Russia an excellent, all-weather capability to get high-resolution images of foreign satellites of interest. The new National Reconnaissance Office spysats scheduled for launch in the next few years seem likely to be among those.”
The new documentary collection is mostly in Russian, with selected translations and some nice images. See “Sourcebook on the Okno and Krona Space Surveillance Sites” by Allen Thomson.
A new U.S. Army Field Manual presents an introduction for soldiers to “the warrior ethos” (large pdf).
“Modern combat is chaotic, intense, and shockingly destructive,” the document states. “In your first battle, you will experience the confusing and often terrifying sights, sounds, smells, and dangers of the battlefield–but you must learn to survive and win despite them.”
“The Warrior Culture, a shared set of important beliefs, values, and assumptions, is crucial and perishable. Therefore, the Army must continually affirm, develop, and sustain it, as it maintains the nation’s existence.”
The warrior ethos (or any other) is not instilled simply by reading about it. But the new Army publication provides a common vocabulary and framework of reference for the aspiring warrior, along with basic survival and combat techniques.
See “The Warrior Ethos and Soldier Combat Skills,” U.S. Army Field Manual FM 3-21.75, January 2008 (316 pages in a very large 28 MB PDF file).
Espionage remains “a very real threat to U.S. national security,” a House Judiciary Committee panel was told this week.
“Since the end of the Cold War, there have been 78 individuals arrested for espionage or espionage-related crimes and since the 21st century began, there have been 37 individuals arrested in the US as agents of foreign powers,” according to David G. Major, a former senior FBI official who is now President of the private Counterintelligence Centre.
In his January 29 testimony (pdf), Mr. Major presented a convenient tabulation of “Agents of Foreign Powers Arrested in the United States in the 21st Century.”
But his list erroneously includes Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), who are charged with unauthorized receipt and disclosure of classified information.
They are not accused of espionage, nor does the U.S. Government argue that they are agents of a foreign power. To the contrary, prosecutors acknowledged in a January 30, 2006 court filing (pdf) that it is a “fact that the defendants were not agents of Israel, or any foreign nation.”
Recent espionage cases were also reviewed at the House Committee hearing by J. Patrick Rowan of the Department of Justice and Larry M. Wortzel of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
Author Max Holland takes an advance peek at a new, not-yet-published book about the 9/11 Commission.
“In a revelation bound to cast a pall over the 9/11 Commission, [New York Times reporter] Philip Shenon will report in a forthcoming book that the panel’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, engaged in ‘surreptitious’ communications with presidential adviser Karl Rove and other Bush administration officials during the commission’s 20-month investigation into the 9/11 attacks,” Mr. Holland writes. See “Commission Confidential,” January 30.
Noteworthy new and newly updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following (all pdf).
“Presidential Transitions,” updated December 27, 2007.
“Engineered Nanoscale Materials and Derivative Products: Regulatory Challenges,” January 22, 2008.
“NATO in Afghanistan: A Test of the Transatlantic Alliance,” updated January 7, 2008.
“The Changing U.S.-Japan Alliance: Implications for U.S. Interests,” updated January 10, 2008.
“Does the Army Need a Full-Spectrum Force or Specialized Units? Background and Issues for Congress,” January 18, 2008.
“Security Classified and Controlled Information: History, Status, and Emerging Management Issues,” updated January 2, 2008.
At a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing today, witnesses discussed the feasibility and advisability of legislating reforms to the state secrets privilege.
The state secrets privilege has been used by the executive branch to block discovery in civil litigation when the government believes that there is an unacceptable risk of disclosure of sensitive national security secrets. But on several occasions, the mere assertion of the privilege has led to termination of the lawsuit. It has effectively short-circuited the adjudication of claims against the government involving domestic surveillance, unlawful detention, and torture.
“I do believe thoughtful legislation is needed to insure that maximum and uniform efforts are made to strike the right balance between national security needs and fair judicial proceedings,” said the Hon. Patricia M. Wald, the retired chief judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in testimony today.
Legislative intervention was also endorsed by H. Thomas Wells, Jr. (pdf), the president-elect of the American Bar Association, and by Kevin Bankston (pdf) of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose lawsuit on warrantless domestic surveillance has prompted state secrets claims by the government.
Patrick Philbin, a former deputy attorney general, argued (pdf) that any legislative proposal to permit judges to overrule the executive branch regarding the sensitivity of particular information “would be a mistake.”
The prepared statements from today’s hearing are posted here.
Last week, Senators Kennedy, Specter and Leahy introduced “The State Secrets Protection Act.” The text of that legislation is now available here.
Newly updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).
“China’s Currency: Economic Issues and Options for U.S. Trade Policy,” updated January 9, 2008.
“Afghanistan: Post-War Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy,” updated January 14, 2008.
“Future of the Balkans and U.S. Policy Concerns,” updated January 10, 2008.
“Venezuela: Political Conditions and U.S. Policy,” updated January 11, 2008.
“Pakistan-U.S. Relations,” updated January 11, 2008.
“North Korea: Terrorism List Removal?,” updated January 14, 2008.
“Long-Range Ballistic Missile Defense in Europe,” updated January 9, 2008.
“Freedom of Information Act Amendments: 110th Congress,” updated January 7, 2008.
At a press briefing on Wednesday, John Rood, the Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, fielded questions about the Bush Administration’s new Export Control Directive – the latest attempt to reduce delays and inefficiencies in the State Department’s export control system. If implemented properly, some of the proposals could help to address long-standing staffing shortages, jurisdictional issues, and Information Technology (IT) problems. Improvements in these areas could help to reduce licensing delays, which, in turn, could alleviate pressure on the State Department to relax export controls.