Iran’s New Dual Track: A Challenge to Negotiations?

by Ivanka Barzashka and Thomas M. Rickers

Coaxed by Turkey and Brazil, Iran seems to be actively pursuing fuel talks. France, Russia and the U.S. (also known as the Vienna Group) claim that they, too, are interested in a deal, even as the U.S. and EU passed their own tougher sanctions against the Islamic Republic as part of a dual-track approach. Now Tehran may even be willing to address what was once the major hindrance to a deal: its 20 percent enrichment. Yesterday, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s atomic energy head, said his country “will not need to enrich to 20 percent if [their] needs are met.”  And yet on July 18, the Majlis passed a law requiring the government to continue 20 percent enrichment and manufacture own fuel, which is an apparent contradiction to negotiations for foreign fuel supply. Clearly, Iran is sending mixed messages. But does this mean there is an internal disagreement about nuclear policy? Or is Iran not serious about a fuel deal? Continue reading

Extending Global Science Engagement: FAS Travels to Yemen

Consider this city:  climate models predict that its annual precipitation over the next fifty years will dramatically decrease, in some years disappearing altogether; the summers are likely to get hotter; the population is steadily growing and with it, electricity demand; as the population increases, the city is expanding outward and demand for transportation infrastructure, private automobiles, and vehicle fuels increasing.  But where is this city?  It could be Phoenix, Las Vegas or Los Angeles.  It could also be Sydney, Mexico City or Madrid, or even Tehran, Damascas or Sana’a.  Over the next 50 years, all these cities must confront the reality described above. Continue reading

FAS confronts global earth and environmental systems challenges

29 July 2010

The Earth Systems Program at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) was developed to seek solutions to environment and resource security challenges by developing and promoting sustainable, scientifically sound, and transparent policies, practices, and technological developments.

To meet this goal the Earth Systems Program works in the following  areas:

  1. Transparency. Improve dialogue and deliberation over and understanding of key environmental issues and challenges by transparency in environmental research, policy decisions, and building trust and communication between scientists, policy makers, and the public.
  2. Technology. Create tools to aid researchers, scientists, and policymakers in analyzing and visualizing complex issues and systems.
  3. Inquiry. Better scientific and public understanding of key socio-environmental and earth systems issues through undertaking and supporting systemic, multidisciplinary research that utilizes principles of scientific inquiry.
  4. Policy. Promote policy to further national and international environmental and energy sustainability and security and advocate for political processes that engage key stakeholders and scientists in deliberations.
  5. Partnership. Develop long term, multidisciplinary collaborations and partnerships between U.S. and foreign scientists and engineers to solve key environmental and technical issues.

Rethinking “Formerly Restricted Data”

Congress should eliminate the classification category known as “Formerly Restricted Data” in order to simplify and streamline classification policy, the Public Interest Declassification Board was told last week.

While most national security information (NSI) is classified by executive order, information related to nuclear weapons is classified under the Atomic Energy Act.  And such classified nuclear weapons information in turn falls into two categories:  Restricted Data (RD), which deals mainly with weapons design and production of nuclear material, and Formerly Restricted Data (FRD), which typically concerns the storage, maintenance and utilization of nuclear weapons.  (Despite its somewhat misleading name, FRD is still classified information and cannot be shared with uncleared persons.)

Incredibly, each component of this three-part classification system — NSI, RD, and FRD — has different criteria for classifying, handling, and declassifying information within its scope.  So, for example, RD can be declassified by the Secretary of Energy only when it poses no “undue risk.”  But FRD can be declassified only when doing so presents no “unreasonable risk,” and only by joint action of the Secretary of Energy and the Department of Defense. And so on.  When items from different classification categories are intermingled within the same document or records group, the processing of records for declassification all but grinds to a halt.

“The entire FRD classification category should be eliminated,” I told the Board (pdf), “because it adds needless complexity to an already baroque classification system, and it poses an unnecessary obstacle to the efficient functioning of the declassification process.”

In the past, policymakers have considered transferring FRD to the regular classification system, or partitioning FRD partly into RD and partly into NSI, but they decided against it. “The cost and effort to manage such a partition, the judgment that it was unlikely for Congress [to make the needed legislative changes], and the problems discovered at NARA [where some unmarked RD and FRD were found in declassified files] resulted in no changes in the FRD category,” said Andrew Weston-Dawkes, the Director of the Office of Classification at the Department of Energy, in a statement (pdf) to the Board.

But the “no change” approach has significant long-term costs of its own, because the current three-tiered classification system is a massive impediment to the efficient production, handling and ultimate declassification of classified government records.

“A workable classification system of the future will be simple in design, easy to implement and to correct, and modest in scale,” I suggested to the PIDB.  “The Formerly Restricted Data category is not consistent with that goal, and so it needs to go.”

Dr. William Burr of the National Security Archive and Dr. Robert S. Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council described to the PIDB the historical importance of information currently withheld as FRD, the often irrational barriers to its disclosure, and the benefits of careful declassification of historically significant FRD.  Steve Henry of the Department of Defense said that the Pentagon is currently reviewing the possible declassification of historical nuclear weapons storage locations.

Senate Assists DoJ with Leak Investigation

In response to a request from the Department of Justice, the Senate yesterday authorized the Senate Intelligence Committee to cooperate with a pending investigation of an unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

“The Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, acting jointly, are authorized to provide to the United States Department of Justice, under appropriate security procedures, copies of Committee documents sought in connection with a pending investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified national security information, and former and current employees of the Committee are authorized to testify in proceedings arising out of that investigation,” according to Senate Resolution 600 that was passed yesterday.

The target of the leak investigation was not specified, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it involved “someone not connected with the committee.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently released a copy of Intelligence Community Directive (ICD) Number 700 on “Protection of National Intelligence” (pdf), which was issued on September 21, 2007.  Among other things, the Directive mandated the establishment of “fora for the identification and solution of issues affecting the protection of national intelligence and intelligence sources and methods.”

Senator: Secrecy Obscures Cyber Threats

“I believe we are suffering what is probably the biggest transfer of wealth through theft and piracy in the history of mankind,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), referring to the penetration and compromise of U.S. information systems by foreign nations and criminal entities.

In a statement on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Sen. Whitehouse described some of the findings of a classified Task Force that he chaired and that recently reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The defense of U.S. information networks “is the greatest unmet national security need facing the United States,” he said. “The intelligence community is keenly aware of the threat and is doing all it can within existing laws and authorities to counter it.  The bad news is the rest of our country–including the rest of the Federal Government–is not keeping pace with the threat.”

Part of the problem, he said, is that “threat information affecting the and the domains is largely classified–often very highly classified” and so “the public knows very little about the size and scope of the threat their Nation faces…. If they knew how vulnerable America’s critical infrastructure is and the national security risk that has resulted, they would demand action.  It is hard to legislate in a democracy when the public has been denied so much of the relevant information.”

Among several proposed responses that he described, he said “we must more clearly define the rules of engagement for covert action by our country against cyber-threats.  This is an especially sensitive subject and highly classified.  But for here, let me just say that the intelligence community and the Department of Defense must be in a position to provide the President with as many lawful options as possible to counter cyber-threats, and the executive branch must have the appropriate authorities, policies, and procedures for covert cyber-activities, including how to react in real time when the attack comes at the speed of light.  This all, of course, must be subject to very vigilant congressional oversight.”

More than 40 bills on cyber security are currently pending in Congress, Sen. Whitehouse noted.

Nuclear Commanders Endorse New START

The men behind a decade and a half of U.S. strategic nuclear planning say the New START treaty will enhance American national security.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Seven former commanders of U.S. nuclear strategic planning have endorsed the New START treaty and recommended early ratification by the U.S. Senate.

In a letter sent to Senator Carl Levin and John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the retired nuclear commanders conclude that the treaty “will enhance American national security in several important ways.”

The list includes four former commanders of U.S. Strategic Air Command (SAC) and four former commanders of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) – one served both as SAC and STRATCOM commander – who were responsible for U.S. strategic nuclear war planning and for executing the strategic war plan during the last phases of the Cold War and until as recently as 2004.

In doing so, the nuclear commanders – who certainly can’t be accused of being peaceniks – effectively pull the rug under the feet of the small number of conservative Senators who have held the treaty and U.S. nuclear policy hostage with a barrage of nitpicking and frivolous questions and claims about weakening U.S. national security interests.

The endorsement by the former nuclear commanders adds to the extensive list of current and former military and civilian leaders who have recommended ratification of the New START treaty. In fact, it is hard to find any credible leader who does not support ratification.

It’s time to end the show and do what’s right: ratify the New START treaty! Continue reading

Can the Secrecy System Be Fixed?

The release of some 90,000 classified records on the Afghanistan War by Wikileaks is the largest single unauthorized disclosure of currently classified records that has ever taken place, and it naturally raises many questions about information security, the politics of disclosure, and the possible impact on the future conduct of the war in Afghanistan.

But among those questions is this:  Can the national security classification system be fixed before it breaks down altogether in a frenzy of uncontrolled leaks, renewed barriers against information dissemination, and a growing loss of confidence in the integrity of the system?

That the classification system needs fixing is beyond any doubt.

“I agree with you, sir,” Gen. James R. Clapper, Jr., told Sen. Ron Wyden at his DNI confirmation hearing last week, “we do overclassify.”

That makes it more or less unanimous.  What has always been less clear is just what to do about the problem.

In what may be the last opportunity to systematically correct classification policy and to place it on a sound footing, the Obama Administration has ordered all classifying agencies to perform a Fundamental Classification Guidance Review.  The purpose of the Review is to evaluate current classification policies based on “the broadest possible range of perspectives” and to eliminate obsolete or unnecessary classification requirements.  Executive Order 13526, section 1.9 directed that such reviews must be completed within the next two years.

“There is an executive order that we, the [intelligence] community, are in the process of gearing up on how to respond to this, because this is going to be a more systematized process, and a lot more discipline to it,” Gen. Clapper said.

“Having been involved in this, I will tell you my general philosophy is that we can be a lot more liberal, I think, about declassifying, and we should be,” Gen. Clapper said.

It is unclear at this point whether the Fundamental Review will be faithfully implemented by executive branch agencies, whether it will have the intended effect of sharply reducing the scope of the national security classification system, or whether the system itself is already beyond repair.

Can Whistleblowers Be Protected?

There are probably many reasons why people may become motivated to break ranks, to violate their non-disclosure agreements, and to disclose classified information to unauthorized persons.  One of the most compelling reasons for doing so is to expose perceived wrongdoing, i.e. to “blow the whistle.”

It obviously follows that the government has an interest in providing safe, secure and meaningful channels for government employees (and contractors) to report misconduct without feeling that they need to go outside the system to get a fair hearing for their concerns.  Unfortunately, would-be whistleblowers today cannot have much confidence in those official channels.

To the contrary, “most employees who reported disclosing wrongdoing or filing a grievance believe that they experienced negative repercussions for doing so,” according to a recent report to the President from the Merit Systems Protection Board.  See “Prohibited Personnel Practices—A Study Retrospective,” June 2010 (at page 16).

“Morale, organizational performance, and (ultimately) the public suffer unnecessarily when employees are reluctant to disclose wrongdoing or to seek redress for inequities in the workplace,” said the MSPB report, which did not specifically address whistleblowing involving classified information.

“Work remains to be done in creating a workplace where employees can raise concerns about organizational priorities, work processes, and personnel policies and decisions without fear of retaliation, and where managers can respond to such concerns openly and constructively,” the Board report said.

See, relatedly, “Whistleblowers have nowhere to turn to challenge retaliatory suspensions” by Mike McGraw, the Kansas City Star, July 24.

New START and Missile Defense

I have not written here on the New START treaty, in part because everything that can be said has been said, well, almost everything…see below.  The treaty is in no way revolutionary.  I don’t think Reagan would bat an eyelash at it.  Yet, while there is widespread bipartisan support for the treaty, including almost all the leading defense specialists from former Republican administrations, there is also some opposition to the treaty, with the Heritage Foundation having taken it on as a cause.  Some of the critiques are truly bizarre, such as the treaty does not address Russian tactical nuclear weapons or North Korea.  (On that last point, would one of the critics please sketch out how we would have included North Korea in the negotiation?)  Of course, no past arms control treaty has ever covered every type of weapon and if New START is not ratified then any chance of negotiating limits on tactical nuclear weapons is off the table completely.  (The treaty does not cure world hunger either, another good cause.)

The one issue that opponents consistently latch onto is the supposed limits on missile defense.  There is language in the preamble drawing attention to the connection between offensive and defensive missiles and in the text there is a limit on converting offensive missile launchers to be able to launch defensive missiles.  Administration spokesmen have addressed these criticisms by saying the preamble language is not binding.  I find it very strange that advocates of missile defense would like to argue that there is no connection between offensive and defensive missiles. Of course there is a connection between the two of them.  Isn’t one supposed to shoot down the other?  Isn’t that a connection? It is like arguing there is no connection between ships and torpedoes.  (I think the connection is actually quite weak because defensive missiles probably cannot shoot much down, but that is a different story.)  Simply saying that doesn’t seem to change much. Continue reading