Computing at Los Alamos in the 1940s and 1950s

Last week, in response to a request from Secrecy News for a copy of a thirty year old history of computer development at Los Alamos in the 1940s and 1950s, a reference librarian at Los Alamos National Laboratory apologetically explained that she could not release the requested document.

“We are sorry but due to a mandate from NNSA to the Laboratory and Research Library policies, we are unable to provide technical reports until further notice,” the librarian wrote. You want information from the Library? Don’t be silly!

Fortunately, a copy of the document (pdf), which was not otherwise available online, was obtained independently and it has been added to our Los Alamos document collection.

Among other curiosities, the report describes work on an early chess-playing program for the MANIAC computer in the 1950s:

“Because of the slow speed of MANIAC (about 10,000 instructions per second) we had to restrict play to a 6 by 6 board, removing the bishops and their pawns. Even then, moves averaged about 10 minutes for a two-move look-ahead strategy.”

See “Computing at LASL in the 1940s and 1950s” by Roger B. Lazarus, et al, report number LA-6943-H, May 1978.

DoD Has More Than a Thousand Chinese Linguists

There are more than a thousand members of the U.S. military who are qualified Chinese linguists, a Defense Department official told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year.

“I have been told that information regarding the number of DOD intelligence analysts who speak Mandarin and/or Cantonese is classified,” said James J. Shinn, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, who was confirmed in December 2007.

“At the unclassified level, I can tell you that there are over 5,800 military personnel (officers and enlisted) with at least a basic capability in Mandarin and/or Cantonese. Of those, over 1,000 are considered proficient in Mandarin.”

“I would like to see these numbers grow by increasing our investment in Chinese language skills for both civilians and military personnel,” Dr. Shinn said.

“The U.S. Department of Defense has a fairly sophisticated understanding of China’s growing military capabilities, but we lack insight into China’s intent because China’s military buildup is occurring in the absence of transparency,” he said. “Without greater transparency, the United States and other Asian nations cannot fully determine the degree and type of risk that China’s buildup poses.”

According to his official biography, Dr. Shinn himself “once spoke good Japanese, passable French, and functional German, but no more.”

His remarks appeared in an exceptionally rich new volume of “Nominations Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, First Session, 110th Congress” (pdf), Senate Armed Services Committee (at p. 1247).

Rep. Rush Holt, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Panel on Intelligence Oversight, said in a statement released today that his Panel “is once again recommending a robust investment in foreign language training.”

“We must do more to ensure that our education systems — civilian and military — place a greater emphasis on language and culture skills and on producing the teachers who can transmit those language and cultural skills to others,” he wrote.

More generally, “The funding recommendations that the Panel will forward to the Defense Subcommittee are classified, but I can tell you that these recommendations include an increase to the National Intelligence Program and the Military Intelligence Program from the fiscal year 2008 levels and a significant reduction from the President’s request,” Rep. Holt stated.

Intelligence is Secure at Hoover Building, FBI Says

All intelligence and other sensitive information at the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building is properly safeguarded, the FBI says.

A June 23 Senate Appropriations Committee report, cited by Secrecy News on July 7, had stated: “The Hoover Building does not meet the Interagency Security Committee’s criteria for a secure Federal facility capable of handling intelligence and other sensitive information.”

That statement is basically true, an FBI spokesman wrote in response to an inquiry from Eric Umansky of ProPublica, the new investigative journalism organization.

But he said it doesn’t mean that FBI intelligence information is not secure.

“The Interagency Security Committee (ISC) criteria deal only with physical security of federal facilities. The J. Edgar Hoover Building, which is a GSA-owned federal building, does not meet the ISC (physical security) criteria, in terms of standoff distance and other blast mitigation measures. These criteria do not have anything to do with information security or handling intelligence or sensitive information,” wrote FBI Assistant Director Patrick G. Findlay to Mr. Umansky.

“From an information security standpoint, FBI information is secure,” Mr. Findlay wrote. “All intelligence and sensitive information are properly safeguarded and classified information is properly contained, to include being processed and/or discussed in accredited SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) space.”

Despite the Senate Committee’s peculiar reference to “handling intelligence and other sensitive information,” the Committee was only discussing building security at the FBI and not information security, a Committee spokeswoman told Mr. Umansky.

Iranian Nuclear Science: An Open Source Bibliography

A newly updated bibliography of published Iranian nuclear science and engineering research (pdf) documents that country’s substantial commitment to the field.

“The Iranian nuclear program appears to be entering a more mature stage of research and development,” said Mark Gorwitz, an independent researcher who compiled the bibliography.

In addition to previously cited research on nuclear reactor safety, isotope separation and related topics, the new bibliography also covers Iranian publications on nuclear waste treatment, shock waves, carbon fibers and carbon composites.

See “Iranian Nuclear Science Bibliography: Open Literature References” by Mark Gorwitz, July 2008.

Missile Watch: Somalia

As part of its on-going efforts to track and call attention to the illicit trade in shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, the FAS is launching a new e-newsletter called “Missile Watch.” Subscribers will receive periodic updates on the black market trade in shoulder-fired missiles, stockpiling and use of these missiles by non-state groups, and related topics. A comprehensive archive of “Missile Watch” updates will be available on the Strategic Security Blog and on the Arms Sales Monitoring Project’s website at

To sign up for this free service, go to

The latest report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia sheds new light on the SA-18 Igla missiles illicitly acquired by armed Somali groups in recent years. Since 2006, UN investigators and journalists working in Somalia have documented the transfer of dozens, possibly hundreds, of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles to Islamic insurgents. The missiles range in sophistication from the relatively primitive SA-7b Strela to the third generation SA-18 Igla. In March 2007, two SA-18s were used to shoot down a Belarusian Ilyushin-76 cargo plane shortly after it departed from Mogadishu airport. All eleven crew members were killed.

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Intelligence Abuses and the FISA Amendments Act

“The history of the Intelligence Community is replete with instances of abuse of civil liberties,” observed Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper last year in the course of his confirmation as Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.

That is not news, of course, though it is useful to have it acknowledged by the Pentagon’s senior intelligence policy official. Also useful is Gen. Clapper’s proposed remedy:

“The requisite elements of a program to prevent such abuse are: (1) clearly articulated and widely publicized policies; (2) training, both basic and refresher; and (3) a mechanism to verify compliance independently,” he wrote (pdf) in reply to a question from Sen. Carl Levin.

By these standards, the pending amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that is being considered by the Senate today leaves much to be desired.

Far from being “clearly articulated,” the legislation leaves even experts uncertain as to what its provisions mean. And by granting retroactive immunity to telephone companies for unspecified illegal acts that they may have committed, the legislation compromises the most important mechanism for independent verification of legal compliance, namely the judicial process.

“Does the new FISA bill authorize wholesale interception of all communications to and from the US,” asked James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology, “or does it only authorize the interception of the communications of particular individuals?”

Incredibly, the answer is not reliably known. “Both national security and civil liberties interests weigh in favor of clarity on this question,” Mr. Dempsey wrote last month.

Meanwhile, the congressional grant of immunity to telephone companies that are being sued for suspected acts of illegal surveillance under the President’s warrantless surveillance program “is a naked intrusion into ongoing litigation,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) on the Senate floor yesterday.

“I am aware of no precedent for the Congress of the United States stepping into ongoing litigation, choosing a winner and a loser, allowing no alternative remedy,” he said.

“I believe it will be determined by a court that ultimately this section of the legislation is unconstitutional, in violation of the separation of powers, because we may not, as a Congress, take away the access of the people of this country to constitutional determinations heard by the courts of this country.”

“If I were a litigant, I would challenge the constitutionality of the immunity provisions of this statute, and I would expect a good chance of winning,” Sen. Whitehouse said.

DoD Renounces Security Restrictions on Unclassified Research

Department of Defense agencies have been directed not to impose any security-related access restrictions on unclassified fundamental research.

“The products of fundamental research are to remain unrestricted to the maximum extent possible,” wrote John J. Young Jr., the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics in a June 26, 2008 memorandum (pdf) to the military services and defense agencies.

The new DoD policy responds to concerns about an increase in post-9/11 restrictions on disclosure of unclassified DoD-funded research in academia and industry. The new policy reaffirms a 1985 presidential directive (NSDD-189) which stated that national security classification is the only mechanism that may be used to limit disclosure of scientific research when there are valid national security concerns, but that unclassified research may not be restricted for security reasons.

“DoD will not restrict disclosure of the results of contracted fundamental research… unless the research is classified for reasons of national security, or as otherwise required by statute, regulation, or Executive Order,” Mr. Young wrote.

“The performance of fundamental research… should not be managed in a way that it becomes subject to restrictions on the involvement of foreign researchers or publication restrictions,” he wrote.

The new policy memorandum was first reported in “Pentagon: ‘Fundamental’ Research Best Left Unclassified” by Sebastian Sprenger,, July 7.

“Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, many research institutions have reported more restrictions on participation in government contracts and research grants, as well as more limits on publishing,” wrote Jacques S. Gansler, a former Under Secretary of Defense, and Alice P. Gast, a former vice president at MIT, in the July 11 issue of Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req’d).

The writers, who chaired a National Research Council committee on “Science and Security in a Post-9/11 World,” also noted with concern the rise of a “growing number of research projects that are categorized as ‘sensitive but unclassified,’ a designation that limits the scientific community’s right to publish the research results and restricts participation of foreign-born scientists.”

Rendition, Ordinary and Extraordinary

“Rendition” refers to the transfer of a detained person to another jurisdiction for trial. For most purposes it is the same thing as extradition.

“Extraordinary rendition,” however, leaves out the trial. It means the transfer of a prisoner elsewhere for purposes of interrogation and, too often, torture.

“Putting ‘extraordinary’ in front of rendition changes the meaning fundamentally,” wrote constitutional scholar Louis Fisher in a comprehensive new law review article on the subject (pdf).

“Rendition operates within the rule of law; extraordinary rendition falls outside. Rendition brings suspects to federal or state court; extraordinary rendition does not.”

See “Extraordinary Rendition: The Price of Secrecy” by Louis Fisher, American University Law Review, volume 57, number 5, June 2008.

There are intermediate cases. When Israeli agents kidnapped the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann from Argentina in 1960, it was an act of abduction rather rendition. Yet Eichmann was taken to trial with full legal process.

“Because there was no extradition treaty between Israel and Argentina, the U.N. Security Council asked Israel to pay reparations to Argentina, and Israel complied,” Fisher recalled.

Secrecy in the Law Reviews

There has been a surge of publication of papers on official secrecy, national security classification and freedom of information in law reviews and other professional legal journals. Not all are equally original in their analysis or compelling in their conclusions, but they typically provide a scholarly perspective on matters of secrecy policy, and they often include valuable source citations.

Some of the more interesting new law review articles that have come to our attention are these (mostly pdf):

“Congressional Access to National Security Information” by Louis Fisher, Harvard Journal on Legislation, Volume 45, No. 1, Winter 2008.

“Classified Information Leaks and Free Speech” by Heidi Kitrosser, University of Illinois Law Review, 2008, Issue 3.

“The Chilling of Speech, Association, and the Press in Post-9/11 America” (multiple papers and conference presentations), American University Law Review, June 2008.

“Government Lawyers and Confidentiality Norms” By Kathleen Clark, Washington University Law Review, 2008.

“Our Very Privileged Executive: Why the Judiciary Can (and Should) Fix the State Secrets Privilege” by D. A. Jeremy Telman, Temple Law Review, 2007.

“‘Nothing Is So Oppressive as a Secret’: Recommendations for Reforming the State Secrets Privilege” by Emily Simpson, Temple Law Review, 2007.

“Secrecy and Access in an Innovation Intensive Economy: Reordering Information Privileges in Environmental, Health, and Safety Law,” by Mary L. Lyndon, University of Colorado Law Review, Volume 78, Issue 2, Spring 2007 (not online).

Congress Questions Secret Directives, Weakly

By classifying some recent Presidential directives on homeland security and restricting their disclosure, the Bush Administration has impeded their effective implementation, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported last month.

“The Committee notes the administration has released several Homeland Security Presidential Directives over the last year, including ones concerning the deterrence of the use of improvised explosive devices and efforts to enhance cyber security.”

“However, in both cases these documents are classified, putting them out of the reach of many of the people responsible for their implementation,” the Appropriations Committee said in its June 23 report on the 2009 Homeland Security Appropriations Act.

But instead of taking corrective action, the Committee could only beg the Administration to reconsider:

“While making determinations about the classification of sensitive materials is ultimately the responsibility of the executive branch, the Committee strongly urges the agencies responsible to re-examine their policies to be certain that the public good would not be better served if these documents and the information contained in them were more accessible to appropriate State, local, and private sector officials.”

This is an anemic, self-defeating approach to congressional oversight. It imposes no requirements and makes no demands. The Committee could have directed the Administration to prepare unclassified versions of the directives for broad dissemination. It could have asked the agencies to justify the directives’ secrecy with a report on the asserted basis for continued classification, including the costs and benefits involved. The Committee could even have mandated disclosure of key elements of the classified directives. But instead it merely “urged” reexamination, a rhetorical posture that cannot be expected to generate a meaningful response from a rule-driven bureaucracy.

Worst of all, the Committee preemptively surrendered its own authority with a mistaken declaration that classification “is ultimately the responsibility of the executive branch.”

Though the Committee seems to have forgotten it, Congress has its own role to play in defining the national security classification system.

Coincidentally, that point was stressed in a court ruling last week.

“The authority to protect national security information is neither exclusive nor absolute in the executive branch,” wrote Judge Vaughan R. Walker of the Northern District of California in a July 2 opinion (pdf) which affirmed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as the only legal mechanism for domestic intelligence surveillance.

“When Congress acts to contravene the president’s authority, federal courts must give effect to what Congress has required,” he found (at page 22).

If there were any doubt about that, he noted, “many Congressional enactments regulate the use of classified materials by the executive branch,” including some statutes that restrict disclosure of information or impose safeguarding requirements, and other statutes that require disclosure of information outside of the executive branch.

“Congressional regulation of the use of classified information by the executive branch… is therefore well-established,” Judge Walker concluded.