Russian Strategic Submarine Patrols Rebound

Russian SSBN patrols tripled from 2007 to 2008.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russia sent more nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines on patrol in 2008 than in any other year since 1998, according to information obtained by Federation of American Scientists from U.S. naval intelligence.

The information shows that Russian missile submarine conducted ten patrols in 2008, compared with three in 2007 and five in 2006. In 2002, no patrols were conducted at all. Continue reading

Corrections and an Apology to CRS

In a recent news story about the public availability of Congressional Research Service reports (“Thousands of Congressional Reports Now Available Online” by Brian Krebs,, February 11), I was accurately quoted saying: “While 90 percent of the [CRS] reports are probably mediocre, at their best they are very good.”

I wish I had not said that 90% of CRS reports are probably mediocre.  It was disrespectful and condescending.  Besides, I have not read anywhere close to 90% of CRS reports and so I am not in a position to make such a judgment.  In other words, at least 50% of my statement was wrong.  I apologize for that.

I think my intent was to express skepticism about the utility of publishing another archive of CRS reports dating back a decade or more, as has recently done, since many of those reports address once-current policy issues that have been overtaken by events.  Such reports generally do not retain their original value over time.

I think I also meant to indicate that even when they are brand new, a large fraction of CRS reports are introductory in character.  Their purpose is primarily to organize and synthesize information that is already in the public domain, not to generate new insights or to provide original analysis or to advance a preferred policy.  But that doesn’t make them mediocre.  Sometimes it makes them especially useful.

Though I know better, I further implied that CRS itself is responsible for its policy of not permitting direct public access to its reports.  This is a tamer version of the recent Wikileaks assertion that CRS deliberately opposes public access so as to enable it to clandestinely influence Congress.  (“Free from meaningful public oversight of its work, the CRS… is able to influence Congressional outcomes, even when its reports contain errors,” according to Wikileaks. “Public oversight would reduce its ability to exercise that influence without criticism.”)  But that does not make sense, both because CRS does not advocate particular policy outcomes and because the majority of CRS reports are already in the public domain and have been available online for years.  It is Congress that prevents CRS from making its reports directly available to the public.  When Congress changes its policy, CRS will undoubtedly comply.

Perhaps the most important work that CRS performs does not find its way into the finished reports for Congress at all.  That is the day to day support that CRS analysts provide to congressional staff, some of whom are young and inexperienced, and many of whom may be overwhelmed by the complexity of the issues they face.  If Congress is ever to achieve its potential as a thoughtful, deliberative and co-equal branch of government, it will need all the help it can get, including the expert assistance of CRS.

A Forgotten Spy at GAO?

“There is no known instance in which classified information was leaked or compromised by Government Accountability Office (GAO) employees,” I wrote on February 9 (“Senate Bill Revisits GAO Oversight of Intelligence”).  But that may not be true, according to one former GAO analyst.

“Sadly, your assertion of GAO’s record of no loss or compromise of classified information is probably not correct,” the former analyst told me.  “There was a German-born staff member in the old Programs Evaluation Division in the 1970s and 1980s who turned out to have been a Stasi plant.”

“I don’t remember the gentleman’s name.  I don’t think it was ever proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he had committed espionage, but I do recall that he was allowed to quietly retire on essentially no notice.  I also recall that GAO went through a really thorough internal review thereafter to assess the damage.”

“I’m sorry I don’t remember my former colleague’s name, but I do recall that there was a great deal of handwringing on this one.”

If there was a compromise of classified information at GAO in this case, however, it was the exception that proved the rule, said the former analyst (who asked that his name be withheld).

“I will assert… that GAO was among the most cautious and careful of government agencies in which I have either worked or observed in the manner in which it handles classified information.”

“One of the most frustrating problems for Executive Branch agencies is that GAO consistently wants the original classification guidance/authorities for classified materials that end up in its possession.  This ‘auditor’s obsession’ with the ‘complete’ file unfortunately uncovers the fact that much classified material is incorrectly marked or is classified according to whim and whimsy, not a bona fide classification guide.”

“And therein lies the problem,” he said.

On February 11, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Bennie Thompson and several colleagues that would “reaffirm and clarify the authority of [the GAO] to audit and evaluate the programs, activities, and financial transactions of the intelligence community.”  The new bill, HR 1008, is a companion to Senator Daniel Akaka’s Intelligence Community Audit Act, S.385, that was introduced in the Senate on February 5.

Marine Corps: Expose Yourself to Secrecy News

U.S. Marine Corps personnel who are responsible for protecting classified information should consult a variety of sources including Secrecy News in order to maintain their professional awareness, a new Marine Corps newsletter advised (pdf).

To begin with, “you should read every security-related regulation/article you can get your hands on,” including the executive order on classification, the Information Security Oversight Office implementing directive, and so forth.

Then the newsletter recommended “exposing yourself to opposing views over the proper protection of CMI [classified military information],” a category that it said includes the views of Secrecy News and the National Security Archive.

See “Security Standard,” the official newsletter of the MARFORPAC [U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific] Command Security Branch, January 2009, page 1.

Stimulus Update Coming…

The House and Senate came to an agreement on a final, compromised version of the stimulus package yesterday. As of this afternoon, the final language hasn’t been released yet, so I dont know the specifics as to what made the final cut, and what funding levels will be. Once the language gets released I’ll post an update with some thoughts.

Stay tuned…

Management Crisis Threatens “Foreign Relations” Series

A management crisis in the State Department Office of the Historian threatens the future of the official “Foreign Relations of the United States” (FRUS) series that documents the history of U.S. foreign policy, according to a newly disclosed report on the situation.

“We find that the current working atmosphere in the HO [Historian’s Office] and between the HO and the HAC [Historical Advisory Committee] poses real threats to the high scholarly quality of the FRUS series and the benefits it brings,” the January 13, 2009 report to the Secretary of State said.  A copy of the report (pdf) was obtained by Secrecy News.

The report was commissioned in December by then-Secretary Condoleezza Rice following the dramatic resignation of the chairman of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee Prof. W. Roger Louis as well as escalating complaints from fellow HAC members, staff, colleagues, and others.  (See “State Dept: Crisis in the ‘Foreign Relations’ Series,” Secrecy News, December 11, 2008.)

At first glance, the new report is rather anticlimactic.  It does not even mention the name of the State Department Historian, Dr. Marc J. Susser, who has been the focus of the complaints regarding mismanagement.  It also does not explore, much less resolve, any of the specific personnel disputes that have arisen in the Office.  (“It quickly became apparent that emotions ran high and that there was a great deal of contradictory testimony,” the report says.  “Reconciling the contradictions seemed both unlikely… and unproductive.”)

But on closer inspection, the report makes at least two crucial points.  First, it confirms that the crisis is real.  Out of several dozen people who were interviewed and consulted, “only a single person suggested that there was no crisis, no problem beyond what is normal in an office.”

Second, regardless of who may be to blame, “we believe that effective management is the responsibility of the managers, not the managed….”  In other words, the Office leadership, including the Historian himself, has failed to manage the Office in an appropriate manner.

The review therefore delicately recommends “serious consideration of a reorganization” of the Office of the Historian.

The nature of such a potential reorganization was not spelled out in the new report.  Conceivably, it could imply removal of current management, or rearrangement of existing functions to place the FRUS series under new authority, or something else.  In the meantime, the search for a new General Editor of the FRUS series has been suspended pending a decision about how to proceed.  (The previous General Editor resigned abruptly last year in a sign of the growing turmoil in the Office.)

“At this point no decisions have been made as to next steps concerning the Office of the Historian,” State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood told Secrecy News on February 6.

There are several complicating factors that will impede prompt correction of the situation.  Bad management is not a firing offense in the U.S. government.  Even if the Historian has lost the confidence of a sizable fraction of his colleagues and subordinates, that does not mean he can be summarily removed.  To the contrary, he has strong civil service protections as a member of the Senior Executive Service.  By law (5 U.S.C. 3395) he “may not be involuntarily reassigned” within 120 days after the appointment of a new agency head.  Nor can the significant expertise of now-departed staff members be quickly reconstituted.  For these reasons, and because of the myriad other issues involved in restoring the vitality of the FRUS production process, no short-term resolution of the problem is in sight.

“The Historical Advisory Committee has long been concerned about two interrelated issues,” said the new HAC chairman Prof. Robert J. McMahon last week, namely “the obvious morale problems among the staff and an alarming turnover among experienced FRUS editors. Those two issues, in our judgment, will inevitably lead to a slowdown in the production of FRUS volumes and we are concerned that the series is already years away from coming even close to the legislatively-mandated 30-year deadline.”  (By statute, FRUS is supposed to present a “thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of major United States foreign policy decisions” not more than 30 years after the events described.)  The next scheduled meeting of the HAC is March 2-3.

I should mention that I have had some limited, negative interaction with Dr. Susser, the State Department Historian.  After I wrote something critical of FRUS and the Historian’s Office that he disapproved of, he removed me from the distribution list for hardcopy volumes of the series.  This action might have been justified as a cost-cutting measure, particularly since I am not a professional historian and Secrecy News is not a public library.  But the punitive aspect of the move was, I thought, unseemly.  (See “Secrecy News Purged from State Dept History Mailing List,” Secrecy News, June 12, 2008.)  However, I don’t consider that episode to be part of the current controversy.

It also bears mentioning on this 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln that the venerable FRUS series dates back to the Lincoln Administration.

Open Source Center Views Iraqi Elections

A recent DNI Open Source Center publication presents a guide to the Iraqi provincial elections that took place on January 31.  The report was prepared prior to the elections and does not reflect their important results, but it does provide an informative overview of the electoral process, the Iraqi provincial council structure, and the thirty-six contending coalitions, with valuable individual profiles of the numerous coalition members.

Like most OSC analyses, it has not been approved for public release, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.   See “Iraq: Provincial Elections Guide 2009” (pdf), Open Source Center Report, January 21, 2009.  (For an initial assessment of the Iraqi election results by Philip Zelikow, see here.)

In a recent meeting with the Director of CIA Information Management Services, we reiterated our view that all unclassified, non-copyrighted publications of the Open Source Center (which is managed by CIA) should be made freely available to the public.

“I will convey the message,” the Director told us.

The Center for Democracy and Technology and are inviting members of the public to suggest categories of government documents that they believe should be easily available online, but are not.

Iran’s Economic Conditions, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public — despite the widelynoted publication and republication of other CRS reports by this week — include the following (all pdf).

“Iran’s Economic Conditions: U.S. Policy Issues,” updated January 15, 2009.

“U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians,” updated January 30, 2009.

“The Google Library Project: Is Digitization for Purposes of Online Indexing Fair Use Under Copyright Law?” February 5, 2009.

“FEMA’s Disaster Declaration Process: A Primer,” January 23, 2009.

“Nuclear Waste Disposal: Alternatives to Yucca Mountain,” February 6, 2009.

More From President Obama On Retrofits

President Obama held his first prime-time press conference yesterday, fielding questions focusing on the current economic crisis and the bailout currently being debated on capitol hill.  Responding to a question on finding bipartisan solutions in the bailout, President Obama continued to support the idea of energy-efficient retrofits as a means of job creation and economic stimulus:

“This is another concern that I’ve had in some of the arguments that I’m hearing. When people suggest that what a waste of money to make federal buildings more energy-efficient — why would that be a waste of money? We’re creating jobs immediately by retrofitting these buildings or weatherizing 2 million Americans’ homes, as was called for in the package. So that right there creates economic stimulus, and we are saving taxpayers, when it comes to federal buildings, potentially $2 billion. In the case of homeowners, they will see more money in their pockets. And we’re reducing our dependence on foreign oil in the Middle East. Why wouldn’t we want to make that kind of investment?”

I couldn’t agree more.

The full text of President Obama’s press conference is available here.

UK Home Retrofits

It looks like we’re not the only ones seeing the value in home energy retrofits as a means of reducing energy use and CO2 emmissions, as well as a way of creating jobs. The UK is set to announce a plan to offer a complete “eco-makeover” for one in four homes. The campaign will involve providing roughly 7 million houses a complete retrofit to improve insulation. Householders could also be encouraged to install small-scale renewable and low-carbon heating systems such as solar panels and wood-burning boilers. Details of the program have not been announced yet, but it is expected to be voluntary, possibly through loans that can be paid back over 25 years from the expected savings on energy bills.

Read more about the announcement here.