UN Proposes “Good Practices” for Intelligence

The United Nations Human Rights Council last week presented a new set of institutional and policy practices for intelligence agencies that it said would help to improve accountability and protection of human rights in intelligence policy.

The new “Compilation of good practices on legal and institutional frameworks and measures to ensure respect for human rights by intelligence agencies while countering terrorism” (pdf) discusses 35 principles and practices in four categories: legal mandate, oversight, compliance with human rights standards, and issues related to specific intelligence functions.  The compilation was prepared for the UN by Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin with the assistance of the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.

The UN Human Rights Council does not have (or claim to have) authority to dictate the intelligence policies of member nations.  Moreover, the proposed “good practices” do not distinguish between democracies and dictatorships, or among governments that have an independent judiciary and those that came to power through electoral fraud or military coup.  The practices also do not differentiate among domestic, foreign and military intelligence services, though each of these may be subject to different legal and policy frameworks.  “It is not the purpose of this compilation to promulgate a set of normative standards that should apply at all times and in all parts of the world,” the document states.

Indeed, “Very few States have included all of the practices outlined below in their legal and institutional frameworks for intelligence services and their oversight.  Some States will be able to identify themselves as following the majority of the 35 elements of good practice.  Other States may start by committing themselves to a small number of these elements….”

But Mr. Scheinin told the Council last week that he “hoped that States would use his compilation of good practices in an assessment of their own law and practice, and identify the areas of full adherence, of partial adherence and of non-adherence. Thereafter, they would hopefully determine the areas where they wished to adhere with the identified good practices in the future and set benchmarks for getting there.”  In other words, the compilation can serve as a template which citizens can use for comparing and evaluating national intelligence policies.

In many respects, the United States is among the nations with the best intelligence practices, with a relatively well-developed legal framework for intelligence activities and a mature oversight apparatus.  But in other respects, it falls short.

For example, the UN compilation’s Practice 9 requires that “Any individual who believes that her or his rights have been infringed by an intelligence service [should be] able to bring a complaint to a court or oversight institution…. Individuals affected by the illegal actions of an intelligence service [should] have recourse to an institution that can provide an effective remedy, including full reparation for the harm suffered.”

But in cases like those of Khaled el-Masri and Maher Arar — who appear to have been wrongly detained, “rendered” abroad, and tortured — no adjudication or remedy is available from the U.S. government since their complaints have been deflected by the use of the state secrets privilege.

More generally, intelligence oversight in the U.S. has failed to generate a consensual public record concerning the extraordinary intelligence activities of the post-9/11 era, leaving the field open to continuing allegations of abuse and violations of law.  Today, Physicians for Human Rights issued a report alleging that CIA medical personnel were complicit in unlawful human experimentation through their collaboration in monitoring the application of “enhanced” interrogation techniques.  The CIA denies the charge.

In another instance where U.S. practice falls short of the ideal, the UN compilation’s Practice 3 directs that “The powers and competences of intelligence services [should be] clearly and exhaustively defined in national law.”

But the terms of current U.S. intelligence law are not entirely clear or exhaustive.  We don’t know, for example, the current nature or scope of domestic surveillance activities or what exactly was permitted under the most recently enacted amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

That absence of public clarity is deliberate, said NSA Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the new Commander of US Cyber Command, in a speech (pdf) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last week.

In response to a question from Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies about the feasibility of increasing public disclosure of cyber security policy, Gen. Alexander said that that was not his preferred approach.  Instead, he promised, government officials would be fully candid with each other, while continuing to withhold information from the public.  In other words, he said, what Americans can expect is “transparency at the classified level.”

Another Leak Arrest

The U.S. Army has arrested Spc. Bradley Manning of Potomac, Maryland for unauthorized disclosure of classified information.  Among other things, he is suspected of having provided the video of a 2007 Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad that killed several civilians to the Wikileaks web site, which published it online in April of this year.  The story was reported last night by Wired’s Threat Level blog.  See “U.S. Intelligence Analyst Arrested in Wikileaks Video Probe” by Kevin Poulsen and Kim Zetter.

Spc. Manning is currently being held in pre-trial confinement in Kuwait, according to an Army statement obtained by NPR.

His arrest is the third known apprehension of a suspected leaker during the Obama Administration, after Shamai Leibowitz and Thomas A. Drake, and seems to reflect an increasingly aggressive response to unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

OSC Views Left-Wing Crime in Germany

“German security authorities reported a substantial increase in crime and attacks on police in 2009 related to left-wing political groups and individuals,” said a new report (pdf) from the DNI Open Source Center.  “According to Germany’s Interior Ministry, more extremist crimes and acts of violence occurred in 2009 than in any year since 2001. The ministry reported that in 2009, left-wing extremist crimes increased by almost 40% to 9,375,” the report said.

“The Berlin intelligence service chief called his city the ‘German stronghold of left-wing extremism,’ noting 2,200 resident radical individuals, 950 of whom are ‘autonomous’ leftist anarchists. According to the police, the number of leftist crimes in Berlin doubled to 1,300 in 2009…. This increase in left-wing crime represents an additional concern alongside Germany’s perceived problems with right-wing extremist and immigrant crime….Federal and local government officials have initiated measures to combat left-wing extremism,” the report said.

A copy of the unclassified report, marked For Official Use Only,” was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “German Left-Wing Crime Increase Adds to Public Security Concerns,” Open Source Center, April 27, 2010.

New Study Examines Global Trade of Ammunition

Chapter (PDF)

WASHINGTON DC — The Small Arms Survey released its tenth annual global analysis of small arms and related issues, the “Small Arms Survey 2010: Gangs, Groups, and Guns”.

Matt Schroeder, manager of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), co-authored the chapter on the global ammunition trade.

According to the new study, the first to examine the trade in ammunition for both small arms and light weapons, the global trade in ammunition is considerably less transparent than the trade in the weapons themselves.

This edition of the Survey also reveals that:
• The USD 4.3 billion ammunition finding shows that the long-standing estimate of USD 4 billion for the total trade (including weapons, parts, and accessories) considerably undervalues recent activity.

• In 2007, 26 countries had documented exports of small arms ammunition worth more than USD 10 million.

• The trade in propellant chemicals is worth at least tens, and perhaps hundreds, of millions of US dollars each year.

• Governments procure most of their light weapons ammunition from domestic producers when possible. Therefore, international transfers of light weapons ammunition are probably a small percentage of global public procurement.

• Ammunition imported by Western countries is overwhelmingly sourced from Western companies. Public procurement data from seven Western states indicates that in recent years they have received less than four per cent of their light weapons ammunition (by value) from non-Western firms.

• In 2007 the top exporters of all small arms and light weapons (those with annual exports of at least USD 100 million), according to available customs data, were (in descending order) the United States, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Austria, Belgium, the United Kingdom, China, Switzerland, Canada, Turkey, and the Russian Federation. The top importers of all small arms and light weapons for 2007 (those with annual imports of at least USD 100 million), according to available customs data, were (in descending order) the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, and Spain.

Published by Cambridge University Press, the report is the principle source of public information and analysis on all aspects of small arms and armed violence.


Matt Schroeder

BLOG: Strategic Security

HOME: Arms Sales Monitoring Project

Cheater’s Risk: Nuclear Disarmament Game

Cheater's Risk Logo Do you think you’re clever enough to build nuclear weapons in secret? Imagine a world in which countries have agreed to give up nuclear weapons. In such a world, nations would want a high level of confidence that there would not be breakout to build nuclear weapons in any nation. You can now test your skills at nuclear breakout. Alex Bollfrass and Barry Blechman of

the Henry L. Stimson Center have recently created an online game called Cheater’s Risk. The official launch of the game is today. I’m one of the nuclear weapons analysts interviewed for the game. The game is based on the book Elements of a Nuclear Disarmament Treaty, which features a chapter written by FAS’s Ivan Oelrich. Please check out the video trailer of the game and test your deceptive mettle by playing the game.

FAS Contributes to SIPRI Yearbook

By Hans M. Kristensen

The world’s nuclear weapon states possess an estimated 22,600 nuclear weapons, of which more than 7,500 are deployed. This and much more according to a chapter I co-authored in the latest yearbook from the Swedish International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Copyright prevents us from making a copy of the chapter available here, but we’re allowed to share a PDF-copy with individual contacts. Otherwise a brief summary is available here. The estimates are similar to the ones I update on the FAS web site, with slight differences due to production time and counting categories, and are based on the analysis I do with Robert Norris in the Nuclear Notebook in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

DoD Affirms Policy on Open Research

In a move that may help to discourage habitual secrecy in military-funded research, the Department of Defense last week reaffirmed a Reagan-era policy that the products of fundamental scientific research should normally be unrestricted. However, the policy also said that if national security required imposing controls on such research, then formal classification was the only permissible means of doing so.

“The Department of Defense fully supports free scientific exchanges and dissemination of research results to the maximum extent possible,” wrote Under Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter in a May 24, 2010 memo (pdf) to the military service secretaries, first reported by Inside the Pentagon.

“I have determined that additional clarifying guidance is required to ensure the DoD will not restrict disclosure of the results of fundamental research… unless such research efforts are classified for reasons of national security,” he wrote.  It is not evident why such “additional clarifying guidance” was deemed necessary or what prompted the memo last week.

The guidance closely follows and reinforces the policy that was first enunciated in President Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 189, and then elaborated in a 2008 DoD memorandum, which is nearly identical to the latest Carter memo.  Both documents were included as attachments to the new memo.

“NSDD 189 makes clear that the products of fundamental research are to remain unrestricted to the maximum extent possible,” Under Secretary Carter noted.  “When control is necessary for national security reasons, classification is the only appropriate mechanism.  The DoD will place no other restrictions on the conduct or reporting of unclassified fundamental research, except as otherwise required by applicable federal statutes, regulations, or executive orders.”

Moreover, he ordered, DoD program managers should actively avoid getting their research entangled in export controls or other potential restrictions on public disclosure.  “Unclassified contracted fundamental research awards should not be structured, managed or executed in such a manner that they become subject to controls under U.S. statutes and regulations, including U.S. export control laws and regulations,” Dr. Carter wrote.

“The performance of contracted fundamental research also should not be managed in a way that it becomes subject to restrictions on the involvement of foreign researchers or publication restrictions,” he added, echoing similar language from a 2008 policy memo.

A Look Back at Secrecy Reform

In 1992, the Department of Energy performed what may have been the most thoughtful and self-critical assessment of classification policy that any government agency has ever carried out.  It is now available online.

“This study represents the first fundamental review of classification policy for nuclear weapons and nuclear weapon-related information since the Atomic Energy Act became law [in 1946],” wrote George L. McFadden, then-director of the DOE Office of Security Affairs, in a transmittal letter (pdf).  It laid the foundation for the subsequent revision of specific classification practices in the 1995 Fundamental Classification Policy Review and other reforms.

The study asked basic questions — What is the purpose of classification (specifically, of nuclear weapons information)?  What is wrong with the status quo?  How can it be improved? — and then it considered various answers to these questions.  Many of the questions, and a few of the answers, are still valid today.  And the study as a whole remains impressive as a model for taking a “fresh look” at classification activity, especially at a time when the National Security Advisor is gathering recommendations for “a more fundamental transformation of the security classification system.”

The 1992 DOE study predated the world wide web, and as far as I know it has not previously been published online.  A copy is now posted on the Federation of American Scientists web site.  See “Classification Policy Study,” U.S. Department of Energy, July 4, 1992.

NPT RevCon ends with a consensus Final Document

by Alicia Godsberg

The NPT Review Conference ended last Friday with the adoption by consensus of a Final Document that includes both a review of commitments and a forward looking action plan for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the promotion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  In the early part of last week it was unclear if consensus would be reached, as states entered last-minute negotiations over contentious issues.  While the consensus document represents a real achievement and is a relief after the failure of the last Review Conference in 2005 to produce a similar document, much of the language in the action plan has been watered down from previous versions and documents, leaving the world to wait until the next review in 2015 to see how far these initial steps will take the global community toward fulfilling the Treaty’s goals. Continue reading

OSC Views Jordanian Cabinet Officials

The DNI Open Source Center recently prepared a pictorial profile of members of the Cabinet of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan who were appointed in December 2009 by King Abdallah II. (The bios of the Cabinet members are derived from reporting in the Jordan Times.) A copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See “Jordanian Cabinet” (pdf), Open Source Center, March 24, 2010.