House Approves 2009 Intelligence Bill Despite Veto Threat

The House of Representatives yesterday overwhelmingly approved its version of the Fiscal Year 2009 intelligence authorization act, including new requirements that the executive branch provide more complete briefings for all members of the intelligence oversight committees. The White House threatened a veto if that and other provisions were enacted.

“This bill is about ensuring the proper oversight of our nation’s intelligence agencies and that the administration complies with the law requiring Congress be kept fully and currently informed,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI). “There may be concerns with the bill, but I am not sure they rise to the veto level unless the objection is to proper oversight.”

“I am very glad that 75 percent of the dollars for covert action have been fenced [until reporting requirements are fulfilled],” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). “In other words, no notification from the administration and from the intelligence community, no money. And that’s the way it should be.”

“As someone who sat through countless hours of Intelligence Committee hearings and briefings, I have been appalled by the unwillingness and outright stonewalling of the Bush Administration when Members have asked even the most basic of questions about our intelligence community policies and practices,” said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL).

“I think it would be sufficient to say that this administration has taken a cavalier attitude toward its legal obligations to keep the committees fully and currently informed,” said Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ).

The floor debate also addressed funding for space surveillance systems, said by some to be inadequate, and the role of contractors in intelligence activities.

Feasibility of Improved Information Sharing Assessed

A newly disclosed report to Congress explores the feasibility of eliminating the use of markings that restrict the sharing of information within the “information sharing environment” that encompasses federal agencies as well as state, local and tribal entities.

The March 2008 report (pdf) from the Program Manager of the Information Sharing Environment describes how agencies are grappling with conflicting imperatives to share and to secure information, while trying to reconcile inconsistent information handling policies. The process has not yet reached a resolution.

“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is currently evaluating the best solution for managing the goal of maximum interagency sharing of national security information with that of protecting the sources and methods on which the IC depends to gather such information,” the report says.

The report evaluates and rejects an approach that would simply permit access to information needed for any “authorized use,” since this would conflict with various statutory requirements and agency regulations that limit access based on privacy and other concerns. The alternative approach would not be feasible without “legislation making clear that this ‘authorized use standard’ supersedes any contravening privacy-related laws or regulations.”

The report also considers “anonymization” of information to obscure sensitive source or privacy-protected information, and it includes a brief discussion of the potential for unauthorized reversal of the anonymization process.

The previously undisclosed report was prepared in response to a requirement in section 504 of the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Feasibility Report,” Report for the Congress of the United States, prepared by the Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment, March 2008.

Public Consultation Meeting of the NSABB

On Tuesday, July 15, 2008 the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) hosted a meeting to solicit public comment on the June 2007 report, “Proposed Framework for the Oversight of Dual Use Life Sciences Research: Strategies for Minimizing the Potential Misuse of Research Information”.

The meeting was broken into three panels that examined different aspects of the framework document, and each panel included several members of the public who shared their perspective on these issues. Continue reading

White House Threatens Veto of Intelligence Bill

The White House expressed strong opposition (pdf) to the Fiscal Year 2009 Intelligence Authorization Act that is pending before the House of Representatives today, in part because it includes provisions for increased disclosure of classified information to the congressional intelligence oversight committees.

One of the provisions, the White House complained, “would withhold 75 percent of requested funding for covert action programs until the Administration provides much greater access to highly sensitive national security information to all members of the congressional intelligence committees.”

“Such a provision is inconsistent with the statute that expressly authorizes limited notice to Congress in exceptional cases and would undermine the fundamental compact between the Congress and the President on reporting highly sensitive intelligence matters — an arrangement that for decades has balanced congressional oversight responsibility with the need to protect intelligence information,” the White House said.

The President’s advisors would recommend a veto if “any” of the objectionable provisions were adopted, today’s statement said. See “Statement of Administration Policy on Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2009,” July 16.

Science Education is Lagging, Business Groups Say

Not enough American students are studying science, engineering and mathematics, a consortium of business organizations warned this week, posing a threat to the nation’s economic vitality and security.

“U.S. scientific and technological superiority is beginning to atrophy even as other nations are developing their own human capital,” they said.

Among their recommendations the business executives called for increased funding in basic research, reform of immigration policies to attract and retain foreign students, and improvements in public education in the sciences leading to a doubling of bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by 2015.

They also noted the need for an expedited security clearance process. “Delays in processing security clearances continue to discourage U.S. citizens from filling vital technical positions that require clearances,” they wrote.

See “Tapping America’s Potential,” July 15.

Ideally, scientific education would do more than produce qualified industrial workers. To the extent that it encourages critical thinking and reality testing, scientific training can also promote and strengthen democratic values.

The U.S. Science and Technology Workforce, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service, most of which have not been made readily available to the public, include the following (all pdf).

“The U.S. Science and Technology Workforce,” June 20, 2008.

“Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with Russia: Statutory Procedures for Congressional Consideration,” June 20, 2008.

“The Global Nuclear Detection Architecture: Issues for Congress,” July 7, 2008.

“Protection of Classified Information by Congress: Practices and Proposals,” updated May 27, 2008.

“Presidential Appointments to Full-time Positions in Executive Departments During the 109th Congress, 2005-2006,” June 10, 2008.

“The Interagency Security Committee and Security Standards for Federal Buildings,” updated November 23, 2007.

“Earthquakes: Risk, Monitoring, Notification, and Research,” updated June 19, 2008.

Various Resources

The Program Manager of the DNI’s Information Sharing Environment is tasked with improving the sharing of terrorism-related information between the federal government and state, local and tribal governments, while preventing public access to that same information. The latest Annual Report to Congress on the Information Sharing Environment (pdf) was transmitted earlier this month.

Civil-military operations are the subject of a new doctrinal publication from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. See Joint Publication 3-57, “Civil-Military Operations” (pdf), July 8, 2008.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Privacy Office will hold a public workshop on government data mining and its impact on personal privacy on July 24-25.

President Nixon’s Daily Diary — which is actually something like an appointment calendar, not a written record of intimate confidences — has recently been released and published on the web site of the Nixon presidential library.

Chinese Nuclear Notebook Published

A new Nuclear Notebook on Chinese nuclear forces has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The notebook provides an unofficial overview of China’s nuclear-capable missiles, submarines and aircraft based on analysis done by Robert S. Norris (NRDC) and myself of Chinese and U.S. government documents, media reports, and other publications.

The full article (PDF format) can be downloaded from here.

Foreign Relations Series Still Fails to Meet Legal Deadline

The “Foreign Relations of the United States” (FRUS) series, which is the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy, remains unlikely to meet the legal requirement that it be published no later than 30 years after the events that it describes, an official advisory committee has told the Secretary of State.

“Despite many and repeated assurances that this problem would be addressed by 2010, the committee is now very skeptical that the Office of the Historian will succeed in meeting the 30-year requirement for the Foreign Relations series at any time within the next decade,” the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation wrote in its new annual report.

Compliance with the 30 year deadline is not optional; it is a binding legal requirement. “The Secretary of State shall ensure that the FRUS series shall be published not more than 30 years after the events recorded,” according to a statute enacted in 1991.

But instead of advancing towards that goal, FRUS seems to be retreating further and further away from it. The FRUS series’ sparse publication record in 2007 “was a considerable disappointment, and does not bring with it much encouragement for the future,” the committee wrote in its report to the Secretary of State.

“Last year the committee reported that ‘it is reasonable’ to be optimistic that the series would be in compliance with the law by the end of 2010,” the committee noted. “We no longer have any reason to be optimistic, and are frankly very pessimistic.”

The annual report, dated May 19, 2008, will appear in the September 2008 issue of Perspectives on History, a publication of the American Historical Association. An advance copy is available here.

“The committee must really be concerned for the report to be so explicit and emphatic,” one former State Department official told Secrecy News.

In a delicate allusion to reports of morale problems in the Office of the Historian and the ensuing resignations of professional staff, the Advisory Committee strongly recommended that State Department Human Resources personnel “conduct mandatory exit interviews to determine the principal reasons behind the departure of skilled researchers.”

The committee also expressed dismay at plans to provide reduced coverage of U.S. policy during the Reagan Administration:

“The committee is concerned that despite a collection of 8.5 million classified pages in the Reagan Library, compared with the Nixon years’ 2.5 million pages, the Office plans substantially fewer volumes of the FRUS series.”

“The publication of the Foreign Relations series stands as a symbol of commitment to openness and accountability,” the Advisory Committee report affirmed.

Regrettably, with its persistent violation of mandatory publication requirements and its diminishing productivity, the Foreign Relations series may indeed be a fitting symbol of the current state of openness and accountability.

Controlled Unclassified Info May Be Classified, US-Czech Doc Says

Government agencies may redesignate “controlled unclassified information” (CUI) as classified information in order to prevent its disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, according to an agreement signed last week between the United States and the Czech Republic.

The July 8 agreemen (pdf) on establishment of a U.S. missile defense radar in the Czech Republic devotes an entire section (Article XII) to “controlled unclassified information,” which is defined as “unclassified information to which access or distribution limitations have been applied in accordance with applicable national laws.”

The new agreement surprisingly presents national security classification as an option when facing involuntary disclosure of CUI under the Freedom of Information Act:

“Each Party shall take all lawful steps, which may include national classification, to keep controlled unclassified information free from further disclosure (including requests under any applicable domestic legislation)…, unless the originating Party consents to such disclosure.”

While there is an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for “properly classified” information, there is no such exemption for CUI. (According to a May 7 White House policy statement, “CUI markings may inform but do not control the decision of whether to disclose or release the information to the public, such as in response to a request made pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.”)

Classification of CUI — which by definition is information that does not meet the standards for classification — in order to evade the requirements of the FOIA would be a violation of official classification policy, as set forth in the president’s executive order.

Coincidentally or by design, the text of the new Agreement between the U.S. and the Czech Republic has not been made available on any publicly accessible U.S. government web site, though the State Department issued a July 10 Fact Sheet about it. But it was published in the Czech Republic and a copy is available here.