A Radiological Survey of Washington DC

In mid-January 2009, in advance of the inauguration of President Obama, a radiological survey of downtown Washington, DC was conducted at the request of the Secret Service.

No statistically significant man-made radiological activity was detected in the survey.  Typical variations in natural background radiation were found, along with slightly elevated readings at the National World War II Memorial and elsewhere “caused by the building materials containing naturally occurring radioisotopes.”

See “Radiological Survey of Downtown Washington DC for the 2009 Presidential Inauguration” (large pdf), National Nuclear Security Administration, March 2009.

China Has Jobs for Foreign Reporters

At a time when U.S. news organizations are shedding jobs at an alarming rate, the People’s Republic of China has been hiring a growing number of reporters from outside of China.

“Since July of this year, Xinhua’s English-language service– China’s official news service for English-language audiences — has hired several experienced Western journalists to serve as overseas correspondents,” according to a new report (pdf) from the DNI Open Source Center (OSC).

“Following Xinhua’s introduction in 2003 of bylines on items filed in English, OSC has observed that the number of non-Chinese correspondents employed by the news agency has grown to more than 80. Most of these new hires, however, have been non-Western reporters.”

The OSC report has not been approved for public release, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “China — Xinhua’s Growing Ranks of ‘Foreign’ Correspondents,” Open Source Center, November 5, 2009.

Another new OSC report notes that state-owned China Central Television has “dropped a number of talk shows and pre-recorded news magazine programs in favor of a heavy focus on live newscasts and news commentaries.”  See “China — Revamped CCTV-News Channel Increases Live Casts, Commentary” (large pdf), November 5, 2009.

CRS Fires a Division Chief

The Director of the Congressional Research Service fired the chief of its Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division after he criticized Obama Administration policy on prosecuting Guantanamo detainees in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month.

Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo who has been at CRS for the past year, argued that current U.S. policy on trying detainees amounted to a double standard.  “The administration must choose,” he wrote in the Journal on November 10. “Either federal courts or military commissions, but not both, for the detainees that deserve to be prosecuted and punished for their past conduct.”

This was too radical a statement for Daniel Mulhollan, the CRS Director, who terminated Mr. Davis effective December 21.  It was a surprising move, for several reasons.  First, Mr. Davis’s op-ed did not identify him as a CRS employee and he was clearly not representing that organization.  To the contrary, he is well-known to have independent standing and expertise to discuss military commissions.  Second, U.S. policy on military commissions is not within the purview of Mr. Davis’s division at CRS and so the possibility that his work there might be biased by his public position would not even arise.

The American Civil Liberties Union was expected to issue a letter today [now available here] urging CRS to reverse its action.  See “Top Congressional Researcher on Afghanistan Fired” by Michael Isikoff, Newsweek Declassified blog, December 3.

Mr. Mulhollan has previously punished some of his organization’s most capable experts for publicly expressing their own professional judgments.  In 2006, a clash between him and Louis Fisher, the former CRS constitutional law expert, led to the departure of the latter, who was quickly hired by the Law Library of Congress.  (“More Turmoil at the Congressional Research Service,” Secrecy News, February 9, 2006.)

New CRS reports not previously made available to the public include the following (both pdf):

“China’s Assistance and Government-Sponsored Investment Activities in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia,” November 25, 2009.

“Venezuela: Issues in the 111th Congress,” November 17, 2009.

Assorted New Military Doctrine

According to a new U.S. Army field manual, when a soldier is about to throw a hand grenade at any enemy target he should normally follow the specified procedures and assume one of five authorized positions (standing, kneeling, etc.). However, “If a Soldier can achieve more distance and accuracy using his own personal style, he should be allowed to do so….”  See “Grenades and Pyrotechnic Signals” (large pdf), U.S. Army Field Manual 3-23.30, October 2009.

Other noteworthy new U.S. military doctrinal publications include the following (all pdf).

“Marine Corps Space Policy,” Marine Corps Order 5400.53, September 28, 2009.

“Joint Urban Operations,” Joint Publication 3-06, November 8, 2009.

“Counterterrorism,” JP 3-26, November 13, 2009.

Government Secrecy in Academia

Government secrecy is becoming an increasingly popular field of inquiry in academic circles, with several upcoming conferences and journals devoted to the subject.

The journal “Research in Social Problems and Public Policy,” edited by Susan L. Maret, has issued a call for papers on “the problem of government secrecy,” including theoretical and comparative treatments.

The Collaboration on Government Secrecy at American University’s Washington College of Law will address “Transparency in the Obama Administration: A First-Year Assessment” on January 20, 2010.  A webcast of a  program last month on “The State of the State Secrets Privilege” is now available here.

A two-day workshop on “Open Government: Defining, Designing, and Sustaining Transparency” will be held at Princeton University on January 21-22, 2010.

The journal “Social Research” will host a conference on “Limiting Knowledge in a Democracy” (in which I will participate) at the New School in New York City on February 24-26, 2010.

Military Commissions vs. Criminal Trials

Many of the procedural safeguards that are provided to a defendant in a criminal trial are not available to those tried in military commissions, or are present in attenuated or modified form.  Thus, for example, military commissions offer no right to a speedy trial and may allow hearsay into evidence.

These and numerous other distinctions between the two judicial frameworks were helpfully tabulated in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.  See “Comparison of Rights in Military Commission Trials and Trials in Federal Criminal Court,” November 19, 2009.  Related information on the rights of detainees in a criminal prosecution was discussed in “Closing the Guantanamo Detention Center: Legal Issues,” updated November 17, 2009.

Greenhouse Gas Policy in Various Countries

A comparative study of greenhouse gas control policies in several large industrial nations was presented in another report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service that has not been made readily available to the public.

“All of the countries examined have in place, or are developing, some enforceable policies that serve to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the CRS found.  “Most are at some stage of making their programs more stringent.”  See “An Overview of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Control Policies in Various Countries,” November 30, 2009.

Market Structure of the Health Insurance Industry

Why do Americans have to pay far more for health care than do citizens of other countries who receive comparable or even superior service?  A new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service does not answer that question, but it does provide some insight into the role of the health insurance industry in generating those high costs.

“Health costs appear to have increased over time in large part because of complex interactions among health insurance, health care providers, employers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, tax policy, and the medical technology industry.  Reducing the growth trajectory of health care costs may require policies that affect these interactions,” the CRS delicately said.

See “The Market Structure of the Health Insurance Industry,” Congressional Research Service, November 17, 2009.

Figuring Out Fordow

Last week, my ace research assistant, Ivanka Bazashka, and I published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists an analysis of Iran’s recently revealed Fordow uranium enrichment facility, lying just north of Qom.  In summary, we concluded that the timing of the construction and announcement of the facility did not prove an Iranian intention to deceive the agency but certainly raises many troubling questions.  The facility is far too small for a commercial enrichment facility, raising additional serious concerns that it might be intended as a covert facility to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) for weapons.  But we also argued that the facility is actually too small to be of great use to a weapons program.  A quite plausible explanation is that the facility was meant to be one of several covert enrichment facilities and simply the only one to be discovered.  We believe, however, that it is significant that the Iranians assured the agency that they “did not have any other nuclear facilities that were currently under construction or in operation that had not yet been declared to the Agency” because any additional facilities uncovered in the future will be almost impossible to explain innocently. This, however, does not preclude Iran from making a decision to construct new enrichment facilities in the future. Continue reading