Science Magazine Biodefense News – Army Bans Pathogen Work

Today Science Magazine is reporting that the Army has banned all pathogen research at one of its labs at the Armed Forced Institute of Pathology (AFIP) in Washington, DC. This decision was made December 2, 2008 as a result of an earlier failed Biological Surety Inspection, and not made public.

Science reports that “officials found that lab managers ignored information about certain employees that could have disqualified them from having access to dangerous pathogens. The redacted version of the IG’s [Inspector General’s] report released to Science does not divulge the nature of this so-called potentially disqualifying information, but it could be anything from alcoholism to mental instability.”

On October 28, 2008 AR 50-1 came into effect, stipulating a strict Biological Personnel Reliability Program for DOD employees as part of their Biological Surety Program. It includes and intense background investigation and interviews  of employees as well as regulations regarding substance abuse and mental health.

In early February the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) also suspended its research on biological select agents and toxins when it was realized that there were problems with the system of accounting for high risk microbes and biological materials in the laboratories at Fort Detrick, MD.

White House Urged to Withhold Detainee Photos

The White House should intervene to block the impending release of certain photographs showing detainees abused by U.S. military personnel, Senators Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham wrote in a letter to President Obama yesterday.  Release of the photos is expected by May 28 in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The release of these old photographs of past behavior that has now been clearly prohibited will serve no public good, but will empower al-Qaeda propaganda operations, hurt our country’s image, and endanger our men and women in uniform,” the Senators wrote.

“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to fight the release of these old pictures of detainees in the war on terror, including appealing the decision of the Second Circuit in the ACLU lawsuit to the Supreme Court and pursuing all legal options to prevent the public disclosure of these pictures,” they wrote in the May 6 letter (pdf).

The ACLU said release of the photos was imperative.

“These photographs provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib,” said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse.”

The disagreement reflects conflicting assessments of which is more dangerous and objectionable– the release of the photographs or the abusive behavior that they depict.  It also turns on unresolved questions concerning the scale of prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel, and the nature of the public accounting that can or should be required.

A response to the appeal from Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Graham was not immediately forthcoming from the White House.

Republicans Press for Greater Disclosure

Questions of secrecy and disclosure are increasingly prominent in congressional interactions with the executive branch, particularly on the part of Republican members of Congress.

House Republicans wrote (pdf) to Defense Secretary Gates this week to complain about what they called “a disturbing trend of restricting budget and inspection information within the Department of Defense.”

They complained specifically about a recent policy of classifying reports of ship inspections that were previously unclassified.  “It is sometimes only through the media and public awareness… that we learn of the urgent need to address some of the shortfalls the military has…. If these reports are classified, we are unable to communicate these needs to the public,” wrote Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and several Republican colleagues from the House Armed Services Committee on May 5.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has a “moral obligation” to declassify records concerning Uighur detainees who might be released into the United States from Guantanamo, insisted Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).

“This administration has already shown that it has no qualms about releasing selected classified documents,” Rep. Wolf said on May 4, referring to the release of Office of Legal Counsel memos on torture. “The White House cannot just pick and choose what classified information it deems worthy of releasing…. I call on the Obama administration to declassify and release all the information that they have available [about the Uighur detainees] so the American people can make a judgment.”

Safety Standards for Microbiology Labs

The U.S. Army yesterday issued a revised and updated safety policy for microbiology and biomedical laboratories.  The new policy “prescribes the technical safety requirements for the use, handling, transportation, transfer, storage, and disposal of infectious agents and toxins (IAT) rated at biosafety level 2 (BSL–2) and above.”  It applies to “all U.S. Army activities and facilities in which IAT are used.”

“Microbiological and biomedical activities are conducted by the U.S. Army in developing measures to identify, detect, diagnose, treat, and protect against IAT,” the 45 page document explains.  See “Safety Standards for Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories” (pdf), U.S. Army Pamphlet 385-69, May 6, 2009.

CRS on the Classified Information Procedures Act

The Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) was enacted in 1980 to provide a mechanism for handling classified information that was likely to arise in criminal trials.  The Act provided for the identification of such information, provisions for establishing its relevance and admissibility, and for introducing unclassified substitutions that could be openly discussed at trial.

The CIPA has figured prominently in numerous trials, most recently in the now-concluded case against two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.  It also serves as a possible model and inspiration for resolving other conflicts between national security secrecy and due process in civil cases, such as those involving state secrets.

“As Congress recognized when it passed the Classified Information Procedures Act, courts have many tools at their disposal to move litigation forward even when some of the evidence cannot be disclosed,” said Sen. Russ Feingold earlier this year in endorsing the State Secrets Protection Act (S.417).

A report on the CIPA, including discussion of its shortcomings and limitations, was prepared by the Congressional Research Service in 1989.  That report has not been updated to include recent developments, and it has been withdrawn from distribution by CRS.  A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA): An Overview,” March 2, 1989.

Odds and Ends from CRS

New reports from the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News include the following (all pdf):

“Sending Mail to Members of the Armed Forces at Reduced or Free Postage: An Overview,” April 27, 2009.

“State, Foreign Operations Appropriations: A Guide to Component Accounts,” March 30, 2009.

“Foreign Operations Appropriations: General Provisions,” April 30, 2009.

“Taiwan-U.S. Relations: Developments and Policy Implications,” May 1, 2009.

“Proposals for a Congressional Commission on the Financial Crisis: A Comparative Analysis,” April 29, 2009.

“Assessment in Elementary and Secondary Education: A Primer,” April 9, 2009.

“U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: Senate Rejections and Committee Votes Other Than to Report Favorably, 1939-2009,” March 24, 2009.

“The 2009 Influenza A (H1N1) Outbreak: Selected Legal Issues,” May 4, 2009.

Congressional Commission and Nuclear “Requirements”

The Congressional Commission on the strategic posture report released yesterday is what the Air Force calls a “target rich environment.” There is a lot to shoot at. This essay follows up on the post that Hans Kristensen and I published yesterday. I want to continue the theme I discussed yesterday that the recommendations of the report are based on assumptions about nuclear weapons characteristics, assumptions that are implicit, unexamined, and unsupportable.
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Strategic Failure: Congressional Strategic Posture Commission Report

The final report from the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission seems focused on hedging rather than leading.

By Ivan Oelrich and Hans M. Kristensen

The Congressional Strategic Posture Commission report published today is definitely not the place that the President or the nation should look for new ideas on how to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and lead the world toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

Even for a compromise document written by a diverse group, it is a work of deeply disappointing failure of imagination.  The recommendations can be summarized as:  the nuclear world should stay pretty much the way it is but at slightly lower force levels, incrementalism is the most we can hope for, and even that should be approached very cautiously.

The report comes close to dismissing the President’s vision of a world free of nuclear weapons – and the enthusiastic support it has generated worldwide – as a utopian dream:  “The conditions that might make the elimination of nuclear weapons possible are not present today and establishing such conditions would require a fundamental transformation of the world political order.”  The United States should retain a viable nuclear deterrence “indefinitely.”  The Commission surrenders to the nuclear problems of the world rather than recommending a proactive way forward out of the mess.

Of course, the Commission is not opposed to nuclear reductions per se and supports them under certain conditions, but it recommends that the approach “balances deterrence, arms control, and non-proliferation.  Singular emphasis on one or another element,” the report says, apparently hinting at disarmament, “would reduce the nuclear security of the United States and its allies.”

If the Commission’s report is any preview of the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review, we should expect minimal changes in nuclear forces, structure, or mission.  The report recommends a nuclear policy of “leading and hedging” but seems to be focused on hedging.

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A GEOINT Analysis of Terrorism in Afghanistan

It is possible to discern potentially significant patterns in terrorist activity through an analysis of geospatial intelligence information concerning terrorist incidents, the DNI Open Source Center (OSC) says.

A recent OSC study of terrorism in Afghanistan (large PDF) illustrates the growing sophistication of geointelligence analysis tools.  By analyzing parameters such as location, timing, frequency, lethality and other such characteristics, the OSC study identified “hotspots” for terrorist activity and changes over time.  It also provided data for evaluating an OSC predictive model of terrorism in Afghanistan.

The study “revealed spatial patterns and a distribution of incidents that would be valuable to those interested in the dynamics of Afghanistan’s security.”

Some of the resulting conclusions are trivial or obvious.  Thus, OSC found that terrorist incidents are more likely to occur in populated areas of the country than in barren wastelands.  Other conclusions concerning seasonal variations and changes in target distributions may have more practical significance.

The OSC study has not been approved for public release, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Afghanistan — Geospatial Analysis Reveals Patterns in Terrorist Incidents 2004-2008,” Open Source Center, April 20, 2009 (in a very large 19 MB PDF file).

The study features “interactive GeoPDFs” that are embedded in the document.  In order to open them, it is necessary to activate the “Layers” function in Adobe Reader.  To do so, click on “View,” then select “Navigation Tabs” and click on “Layers.”

Tactics in Counterinsurgency

“Tactics in Counterinsurgency” (pdf), a new U.S. Army Field Manual, expands upon the Counterinsurgency doctrine of the best-selling December 2006 manual (pdf) on that subject.

The new manual was previously circulated in an interim, draft form and then abruptly withdrawn from public access.  (“‘Tactics in Insurgency’ Again Online,” Secrecy News, April 6, 2009).  Now it has been finalized and formally released.

“At its heart, a counterinsurgency is an armed struggle for the support of the population,” the manual declares. “This support can be achieved or lost through information engagement, strong representative government, access to goods and services, fear, or violence. This armed struggle also involves eliminating insurgents who threaten the safety and security of the population.”

“However, military units alone cannot defeat an insurgency. Most of the work involves discovering and solving the population’s underlying issues, that is, the root causes of their dissatisfaction with the current arrangement of political power. Dealing with diverse issues such as land reform, unemployment, oppressive leadership, or ethical tensions places a premium on tactical leaders who can not only close with the enemy, but also negotiate agreements, operate with nonmilitary agencies and other nations, restore basic services, speak the native (a foreign) language, orchestrate political deals, and get ‘the word’ on the street.”

See “Tactics in Counterinsurgency,” Field Manual 3-24.2, April 21, 2009 (300 pages, 10 MB PDF).