Iraq War Casualties, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).

“Tibet: Problems, Prospects, and U.S. Policy,” April 10, 2008.

“Judicial Review of Removal Orders,” April 10, 2008.

“Avatars, Virtual Reality Technology, and the U.S. Military: Emerging Policy Issues,” April 9, 2008.

“International Violence Against Women: U.S. Response and Policy Issues,” March 31, 2008.

“Awards of Attorneys’ Fees by Federal Courts and Federal Agencies,” updated March 26, 2008.

“The Executive Office of the President: An Historical Overview,” updated March 17, 2008.

“Freedom of Speech and Press: Exceptions to the First Amendment,” updated March 17, 2008.

“United States Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom,” updated March 18, 2008.

“Iraqi Civilian Deaths Estimates,” udpated March 13, 2008.

U.S. Intelligence Agencies Rethink Classification Policy

U.S. intelligence agencies have embarked upon a process to develop a uniform classification policy and a single classification guide that could be used by the entire U.S. intelligence community, according to a newly obtained report (pdf) from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The way that intelligence agencies classify information is not only frustrating to outsiders, as it is intended to be, but it has also impeded interagency cooperation and degraded agency performance.

In order to promote improved information sharing and intelligence community integration, the ODNI undertook a review of classification policies as a prelude towards establishing a new Intelligence Community Classification Guide that would replace numerous individual agency classification policy guides.

The initial ODNI review, completed in January 2008, identified fundamental defects in current intelligence classification policy.

“The definitions of ‘national security’ and what constitutes ‘intelligence’ — and thus what must be classified — are unclear,” the review team found.

“Many interpretations exist concerning what constitutes harm or the degree of harm that might result from improper disclosure of the information, often leading to inconsistent or contradictory guidelines from different agencies.”

“There appears to be no common understanding of classification levels among the classification guides reviewed by the team, nor any consistent guidance as to what constitutes ‘damage,’ ‘serious damage,’ or ‘exceptionally grave damage’ to national security… There is wide variance in application of classification levels.”

Among the recommendations presented in the initial review were that original classification authorities should specify clearly the basis for classifying information, e.g. whether the sensitivity derives from the content of the information, or the source of the information, or the method by which it is analyzed, the date or location it was acquired, etc. Current policy requires that the classifier be “able” to describe the basis for classification but not that he or she in fact do so.

A copy of the unreleased ODNI report on classification policy was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Intelligence Community Classification Guidance: Findings and Recommendations Report,” January 2008.

From Secrecy News’ perspective, the initial ODNI review falls short in two respects.

First, it assumes that consistency in classification is intrinsically desirable and should therefore be imposed by a community-wide classification guide. But consistency is at most a secondary virtue. When a classification policy is poorly justified, it is preferable for it to be inconsistently applied, as in the case of intelligence budget secrecy (see below).

Second, the review does not touch upon what is probably the single most necessary change in intelligence classification policy, namely the need to narrow the definition of intelligence sources and methods that require protection. Almost anything can serve as an intelligence source or method, including a subscription to the daily newspaper. But not every intelligence source or method requires or deserves classification or other protection from disclosure.

State Department Reveals 2009 Intelligence Budget Request

The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) is among the most highly regarded members of the U.S. Intelligence Community. Not coincidentally, it is also among the most open and accessible.

In particular, it is one of the only Intelligence Community organizations that regularly publishes its budget (pdf). (The FBI also discloses much of its intelligence spending.)

Thus, the recent 2009 State Department budget justification book projects a 2009 INR budget of $59.8 million for a staff of 313 persons.

This would be unremarkable except for the fact that INR’s budget disclosure policy deviates from the norm of U.S. intelligence classification policy, in which most budget information is automatically classified. Even some intelligence organizations that are smaller and less influential than INR insist on classifying their budgets.

For more than a decade, the Department of Energy Office of Intelligence published its detailed budget each year. But under pressure from CIA (so I was told), DOE began withholding its intelligence budget information in 2004. The last reported figure for DOE intelligence was $39.8 million in FY 2004.

If consistency in classification policy were to prevail throughout the U.S. intelligence community, as the Director of National Intelligence has recommended, then State Department intelligence might be expected to follow DOE intelligence into pointless, unnecessary secrecy.

Some Classified DoD Assets Are Too Secret to Protect

In a stark illustration of how secrecy may undermine rather than reinforce security, the Government Accountability Office found that the Department of Defense has omitted many of its most sensitive assets from critical infrastructure protection planning because they are too secret to be identified.

“DOD has not taken adequate steps to ensure that highly sensitive critical assets associated with SCI and SAPs are accounted for,” the GAO reported last week (pdf). SCI means sensitive compartmented information that is derived from intelligence sources. SAPs are special access programs.

Only critical assets that are classified at the collateral level — i.e. plain Secret or Top Secret, but not compartmented or special access — are being processed in the Defense Critical Infrastructure Program, the GAO found. But if they are classified as SCI or special access, they have been excluded.

The Defense Intelligence Agency, for example, has withheld a list of over 80 critical assets because they are SCI and the infrastructure protection program is not equipped to receive such information.

“Unless critical SCI and SAP assets are identified and prioritized, DOD will lack sufficient information to assure the availability of the department’s most critical assets,” the GAO stated.

The Pentagon concurred with the GAO’s recommendation that critical SCI and SAP assets should be incorporated in infrastructure protection.

See “Defense Critical Infrastructure: DOD’s Risk Analysis of Its Critical Infrastructure Omits Highly Sensitive Assets,” April 2, 2008.

House Dems Warn DHS on Domestic Intelligence Program

The Department of Homeland Security has not adequately addressed the civil liberties concerns associated with the new National Applications Office (NAO) that would promote the use of intelligence capabilities such as overhead surveillance for homeland security and other domestic purposes, three Democratic Congressmen said this week.

“Turning America’s spy satellites on the homeland for domestic law enforcement purposes is no trivial matter,” wrote Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, along with Rep. Jane Harman and Rep. Christopher P. Carney.

“Although we support any Department effort to engage in more effective and responsive information sharing with our nation’s first preventers, the serious privacy and civil liberties issues that the NAO raises are manifold and multifaceted,” they wrote in an April 7 letter (pdf) to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

“Job number one needs to be the completion of a detailed legal framework and SOPs applicable to all NAO domains…. Only after we have had an opportunity to review these documents and to bring the privacy and civil liberties community into the process should NAO commence hiring and other development efforts.”

“Should you proceed with the NAO without addressing our concerns, we will take appropriate steps to discontinue it,” they told DHS.

The National Applications Office was formally established as “an advocate for IC [intelligence community] capabilities to serve, among others, non-traditional users in the civil, homeland security, and law enforcement communities.” See the February 2008 charter of the National Applications Office (pdf).

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the Department of Homeland Security will provide additional documentation to the House Homeland Security Committee in response to its concerns. See “Privacy Fears Threaten Satellite Program” by Siobhan Gorman, April 8.

Collapse of Bee Colonies Explained?

Updated/Corrected below

The cause of the mysterious deaths of large numbers of honey bees across the United States that began in 2006 has apparently been discovered.

Scientists from the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and the University of California at San Francisco identified both a virus and a parasite that are associated with the massive decline in the honey bee population.

See “Scientists Identify Pathogens That May Be Causing Global Honey-Bee Deaths,” Science Daily, April 26 (thanks to CB).

Update: As a commenter noted, this is old news. The Science Daily story dates from April 2007!

Additional background on the issue is available in “Recent Honey Bee Colony Declines” (pdf), Congressional Research Service, updated August 14, 2007.

The Case of Matthew Diaz

Last year, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Diaz was convicted of unlawfully disclosing classified information to an unauthorized person, after he provided the names of prisoners secretly held in military detention at Guantanamo Bay to a civil rights organization. He was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered discharged from the Navy.

Last week, Diaz was honored as a “truth teller” at the National Press Club in Washington, DC for the very same action.

He received the Ridenhour Award, named for the late Ron Ridenhour, who revealed the 1968 massacre of Vietnamese at My Lai.

“Lt. Cmdr. Diaz demonstrated independent judgment, fidelity to the Constitution, and uncommon courage,” according to the Ridenhour Award statement. “By disclosing the names of prisoners secretly detained at Guantanamo, he broke ranks and he violated the law, and for that he has paid a serious price. But we believe that he also demonstrated a profound loyalty to the United States and its enduring constitutional principles.”

The April 3 remarks of Matthew Diaz upon receiving the Ridenhour Award may be found here.

The award ceremony and some of the background to it were described by Joe Conason in “A Truth Teller Who Deserves Justice,”, April 4.

A longer treatment of the Diaz case appeared in “Naming Names at Gitmo” by Tim Golden, New York Times Magazine, October 21, 2007.

Remarkably, Diaz appears to be the first American ever convicted under the espionage statutes for disclosing classified information to another American rather than to a foreign person or government, according to a new study of espionage in America.

The Changing Face of Espionage in America

Financial incentives and external coercion play a diminishing role in motivating Americans to spy against the United States, according to a new Defense Department study (pdf). But divided loyalties are increasingly evident in recent espionage cases.

“Two thirds of American spies since 1990 have volunteered. Since 1990, spying has not paid well: 80% of spies received no payment for espionage, and since 2000 it appears no one was paid.”

“Offenders since 1990 are more likely to be naturalized citizens, and to have foreign attachments, connections, and ties, and therefore they are more likely to be motivated to spy from divided loyalties.” Even so, the majority (65%) of American spies are still native born.

The changing circumstances surrounding the practice of espionage today require revision of the existing espionage laws, the study concludes.

“Recent espionage cases involving stateless transnational groups illustrate the strain of how to sort out and apply … ambiguities in the current [espionage] statutues.”

The new study was performed for the Defense Personnel Security Research Center, with the support of the Counterintelligence Field Activity (which reportedly may soon be dismantled). A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “Changes in Espionage by Americans: 1947-2007,” by Katherine L. Herbig, Defense Personnel Security Research Center, March 2008.

More Support for State Secrets Reform

Pending legislation to reform the use of the state secrets privilege received a wave of support last week from numerous public interest, professional and civil liberties organizations.

While the bill is opposed by the Attorney General, it received strong endorsements from the American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Constitution Project and others. See their statements and responses to the Attorney General’s March 31 letter on the subject here.