NRO Releases Portion of 2009 Budget Justification

The National Reconnaissance Office, which develops, launches and operates U.S. intelligence satellites, last week released most of the unclassified portions (pdf) of its Congressional Budget Justification Book for FY2009.  While those unclassified portions are only a small fraction of the full budget document, they still provide a fresh glimpse or two of the agency and its four directorates (IMINT, SIGINT, Advanced Systems and Technology, and Communications).

“The U.S. is arguably more reliant on overhead collection that ever before,” the NRO says, while “intelligence problems are becoming more complex and increasingly require synergistic, multi-INT, multi-source solutions.”  See “National Reconnaissance Program,” FY2009 Congressional Budget Justification, February 2008, released under the Freedom of Information Act July 2009.

The NRO has suffered serious acquisition failures in recent years and it has been rumored, unconfirmably, that the agency may be broken up or reorganized.  (“Spy Agency May Face Ax” by Colin Clark, DoD Buzz, July 1, 2009).  Meanwhile, President Obama reportedly issued a directive last spring — Presidential Study Directive 2 — ordering a review of classified space activities.  (“President Orders Sweeping U.S. Space Policy Review” by Amy Klamper, Space News, July 6, 2009).

Current Spreading & the Center for Security Evaluation

A newly disclosed report from the JASON defense advisory panel may not excite the interest of anyone who is not a student of electrical engineering.  It examines the distribution of electrical current flowing through a long, narrow conductive object.  See “Current Spreading in Long Objects” (pdf), October 2008.

Somewhat more interesting is the fact that the JASON study was sponsored by the Center for Security Evaluation.  The Center is a component of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that supports the Department of State in protecting intelligence and other classified information in U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad.  Its charter was set forth in “Center for Security Evaluation” (pdf), Intelligence Community Directive 707, October 17, 2008.

IG Report on “President’s Surveillance Program” Released

Last year, Congress directed intelligence agency Inspectors General to prepare an unclassified report on the Bush Administration’s warrantless surveillance program. That report has just been released. It traces the origins, implementation, and utilization of the Program, and discusses the legal questions surrounding its development. See Unclassified Report on the President’s Surveillance Program (pdf), Joint Inspector General Report, 10 July 2009.

Covert Action Notification Policy in Dispute

The intelligence authorization bill that is pending in the House of Representatives would generally require all members of the intelligence committees to be briefed on covert actions, not just the so-called “Gang of Eight,” unless the Committee itself decided to limit such briefings.

“The Committee understands well the need to protect intelligence information from unauthorized disclosure and the prerogatives of the executive branch with respect to the protection of classified information. However, these principles must be balanced against the constitutional requirement for congressional oversight,” the Committee wrote in its report.

The White House said it “strongly objects” to that provision and suggested the President would veto the bill to block it.  The revised notification procedures would undermine “a long tradition spanning decades of comity between the branches regarding intelligence matters,” the July 8 White House Statement of Administration Policy (pdf) said.

But a new report from the Congressional Research Service reminds readers that the “tradition” regarding covert action notification is not so long, and that it is subject to modification in response to changing circumstances.  It was first put in place in 1980, during the Iran hostage crisis.  In 1991, following the Iran-Contra Affair, it was elaborated in congressional report language.  Following the momentous challenges to congressional oversight in recent years, it would not be surprising if it were adjusted further.

A copy of the new CRS report was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Sensitive Covert Action Notifications: Oversight Options for Congress,” July 7, 2009.

The CRS report mentions in passing an apparent discrepancy in the public record concerning covert action and the CIA detainee interrogation program.  In pre-confirmation responses to questions (pdf, p.9), DNI Dennis Blair told the Senate Intelligence Committee that neither the Terrorist Surveillance Program nor the CIA detention, interrogation and rendition programs were covert actions and that therefore neither should have been subject to limited “Gang of Eight” notification procedures.  But former CIA director Michael Hayden said in an April 16, 2009 news interview that the CIA interrogation program “began life as a covert action.”  CIA Director Leon Panetta, when asked about both programs (pdf, pp. 16-17) prior to his confirmation, said that the Terrorist Surveillance Program was not a covert action, but he was silent about the CIA program.  Both DNI Blair and DCIA Panetta prefaced their responses with a disclaimer that they were not yet privy to classified information on these matters, though presumably the contents would have been reviewed prior to submission to eliminate factual errors.  The discrepancy between their statements and that of former DCIA Hayden is unresolved.

Troop Levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, More from CRS

The number of U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the decade following 9/11 is documented or projected in a detailed new report from the Congressional Research Service.  “Using five DOD sources, this report describes, analyzes, and estimates the number of troops deployed for each war from the 9/11 attacks to FY2012 to help Congress assess upcoming DOD war funding requests as well as the implications for the long-term U.S. presence in the region.”  See “Troop Levels in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, FY2001-FY2012: Cost and Other Potential Issues” (pdf), July 2, 2009.

Other substantively new and interesting CRS reports that have not previously been published online include the following (all pdf).

“U.S. Security Assistance to the Palestinian Authority,” June 24, 2009.

“North Korea’s Second Nuclear Test: Implications of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874,” July 1, 2009.

“Indonesia: Domestic Politics, Strategic Dynamics, and American Interests,” updated June 17, 2009.

Last month, for the first time since 1989, the House of Representatives impeached a federal judge, Samuel B. Kent of the Southern District of Texas.  Background on the process is helpfully provided in “Impeachment: An Overview of Constitutional Provisions, Procedure, and Practice,” June 22, 2009.

Resolutions of Inquiry are increasingly used in the House of Representatives to elicit information from the executive branch.  In the current Congress, eleven such resolutions had been introduced by mid-June.  An updated account of this legislative instrument is given in “House Resolutions of Inquiry,” June 17, 2009.

Other News and Resources

Last year, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case brought by the ACLU against the National Security Agency challenging the constitutionality of the Terrorist Surveillance Program.  Sen. Arlen Specter wrote to Judge Sonia Sotomayor this week asking the Supreme Court nominee to be prepared at her confirmation hearing next week to say, among other things, whether she would have favored Supreme Court review of the matter.

The DNI Information Sharing Environment has released its latest annual report (pdf), detailing progress made and challenges remaining in the effort to improve sharing of terrorism-related information among authorized users, which generally does not include members of the public.

The public interest group OMB Watch reviewed the evolving policy on “controlled unclassified information” and offered its own critique in “Controlled Unclassified Information: Recommendations for Information Control Reform” (pdf), July 2009.

Compliance with IAEA nuclear safeguards agreements is mandated in a new Air Force Instruction that also provides useful background on the safeguards process.  See “Implementation of the US-International Atomic Energy Agency Integrated Safeguards Agreements” (pdf), Air Force Instruction 16-605, June 23, 2009.

The effectiveness and the unintended consequences of U.S. export control policies were discussed at a hearing of the House Science and Technology Committee.  The record of that hearing, with extensive post-hearing questions for the record, has just been published.  See “Impacts of U.S. Export Control Policies on Science and Technology Activities and Competitiveness” (pdf), February 25, 2009.

Public comments and recommendations on classification and declassification policies and related matters are being received until July 19 on the White House Office of Science and Technology blog.

START Follow-On: What SORT of Agreement?

Presidents Obama and Medvedev sign a joint understanding on a START follow-on treaty.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Joint Understanding for the START Follow-on Treaty signed by President Obama and Medvedev on July 6, 2009, commits the United States and Russia to “reduce their strategic warheads to a range of 1500-1675, and their strategic delivery vehicles to a range of 500-1100.”

Negotiators will still have to hammer out the details and draft a new treaty that the presidents can sign, hopefully by the end of the year, to be implemented in seven years.

The Summit was a good effort to revive U.S.-Russian relations, but seven years is a very long timeline for a START follow-on that doesn’t force either side to change very much. Does it rule out deeper cuts for the rest of the Obama administration? Continue reading

Pentagon Intel Ops “Often” Evade Oversight

Last month, the House Intelligence Committee complained that the Department of Defense has blurred the distinction between traditional intelligence collection, which is subject to intelligence committee oversight, and clandestine military operations, which are not.  Because they are labeled in a misleading manner, some DoD clandestine operations that are substantively the same as intelligence activities are evading the congressional oversight they are supposed to receive.

“In categorizing its clandestine activities,” the Committee said in its report on the 2010 intelligence bill, “DoD frequently labels them as ‘Operational Preparation of the Environment’ (OPE) to distinguish particular operations as traditional military activities and not as intelligence functions.  The Committee observes, though, that overuse of the term has made the distinction all but meaningless.”

Operational Preparation of the Environment (OPE) is an elusive, somewhat mysterious concept, variously described as a form of foreign intelligence collection, covert action, unconventional warfare, or a prelude to any of these.  The phrase does not appear in the otherwise comprehensive DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (pdf).  It was mentioned in passing in the 2006 Posture Statement (pdf) of the U.S. Special Operations Command, but not in subsequent posture statements.

Some say OPE closely resembles human intelligence collection.  OPE refers to “the ability of Defense to get into an area and know it prior to the conduct of military operations,” said Gen. Michael Hayden at his 2006 confirmation hearing to be Director of CIA.  “An awful lot of those [OPE] activities… are not, in terms of tradecraft or other aspects, recognizably different than collecting human intelligence for a foreign intelligence purpose,” he said.  “They look very much the same.  Different authorities;  somewhat different purposes;  mostly indistinguishable activities.”

From another point of view, OPE is more akin to covert action.  “There is often not a bright line between [covert action and] military activities to prepare the battlefield or the environment,” said DNI Dennis C. Blair in a written response to questions (pdf) about OPE in advance of his confirmation earlier this year (pp. 15-16).

Though it was neither intelligence collection nor covert action, “U.S. support to and in some cases leadership of irregular resistance to Japanese forces in the Philippine archipelago [in 1942-1945]… stands as a premier example of what military planners today call operational preparation of the environment,” according to a historical survey of unconventional warfare in the September 2007 Irregular Warfare Joint Operating Concept (pdf).

Perhaps the most extensive unclassified treatment of OPE (then still known as “operational preparation of the battlespace” or OPB) appears in a 2003 U.S. Army War College research paper, which noted that the term is “seldom used outside of Special Operations Forces channels.”  OPE “consists of both pre-crisis activities (PCA) and, when authorized, advance force operations (AFO),” both of which are described by the author at some length.  See “Combating Terrorism with Preparation of the Battlespace” (pdf) by Michael S. Repass, U.S. Army War College, April 2003.  Further discussion appeared in “Leveraging Operational Preparation of the Environment in the GWOT” (pdf) by Maj. Michael T. Kenny, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2006.  OPE should be reconceived as a stand-alone mission with its own doctrine, argued another research paper.  See “Ending the Debate: Unconventional Warfare, Foreign Internal Defense, and Why Words Matter” (pdf) by D. Jones, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2006.

In any event, “DoD has shown a propensity to apply the OPE label where the slightest nexus of a theoretical, distant military operation might one day exist,” according to the House Intelligence Committee report last month.  “Consequently, these activities often escape the scrutiny of the intelligence committees…. In the future, if DoD does not meet its obligations to inform the Committee of intelligence activities,” the House report concluded weakly, “the Committee will consider legislative action clarifying the Department’s obligation to do so.”

Yottabytes and the Data Analysis Challenge

The increasing capability of high-resolution military and intelligence sensors is producing ever growing quantities of data that could overwhelm the capacity to analyze them without new approaches to data management and analysis, according to a newly released report (pdf) from the JASON defense advisory panel.

“As the amount of data captured by these sensors grows, the difficulty in storing, analyzing, and fusing the sensor data becomes increasingly significant,” the report said.

Extrapolating from current trends, data production could hypothetically reach the Yottabyte range by 2015.  (The Yotta- prefix means ten raised to the twenty-fourth power.  Mega- means ten to the sixth power, Giga- means ten to the ninth power, and Tera- is ten to the twelfth power.)  If one byte of data were used to image one square meter of the Earth’s surface, then 1.6 Yottabytes would be generated by imaging the entire surface of the Earth every second for a hundred years, the report explained.

While the data management challenge is daunting, it is not unmanageable in principle, the JASONs said, nor is it entirely unprecedented.  “Important parallels can be drawn with data intensive science efforts such as high energy physics and astronomy.”  These efforts show how data filtering approaches can be applied to reduce data storage and processing requirements well below the Yottabyte range.

The report suggested several research and development strategies for improving data management and analysis.  The JASONs also proposed a series of “grand challenges” that would set ambitious technical goals and provide monetary rewards for their achievement.

The December 2008 JASON report was initially withheld from public access, but a copy was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Secrecy News.  See “Data Analysis Challenges”.