Another Leak Prosecution

The Obama Administration continued its pursuit of individuals who leak classified information to the press with another indictment of a suspected leaker. The Department of Justice announced last week that Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a State Department contractor, had been indicted (pdf) under the Espionage Act for the unauthorized disclosure of national defense information and for lying to the FBI.  Mr. Kim pleaded not guilty to both charges.

The classified information, which was not specified in the indictment, reportedly consisted of a 2009 intelligence assessment conveyed to Fox News stating that North Korea was likely to respond to United Nations sanctions by conducting another nuclear explosive test.

“The willful disclosure of classified information to those not entitled to it is a serious crime,” said Assistant Attorney General David S. Kris in an August 27 news release. “Today’s indictment should serve as a warning to anyone who is entrusted with sensitive national security information and would consider compromising it.”

Mr. Kim’s attorneys blasted the decision to indict him.

“In its obsession to clamp down on perfectly appropriate conversations between government employees and the press, the Obama Administration has forgotten that wise foreign policy must be founded on a two-way conversation between government and the public,” said Abbe D. Lowell and Ruth Wedgwood in an August 27 statement (pdf) on the case.

“It is so disappointing that the Justice Department has chosen to stretch the espionage laws to cover ordinary and normal conversations between government officials and the press and, in doing so, destroy the career of a loyal civil servant and brilliant foreign policy analyst,” they said.  “There is no allegation that a document was given, that any money changed hands, that any foreign government was involved, or that there was any improper motive in the type of government/media exchanges that happen hundreds of times a day in Washington.”

Mr. Kim was released pending trial on a $100,000 property bond.  A status conference in the case has been set for October 13, 2010.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, former Defense Secretary William J. Perry said that more criminal prosecutions were needed to deter leaks of classified information.

“When I was secretary, we had an example of an egregious leak which I thought compromised national security,” Secretary Perry told Senator McCain on August 3. “We prosecuted a case and sent the leaker to prison. And I think more examples of that would be useful in injecting better discipline in the system.”

However, he may have misspoken.  There does not seem to have been a leak prosecution during the years that he served as Secretary (1993-1997), and Dr. Perry’s office was not able to provide clarification of his remarks.

Geoengineering, and More from CRS

Technologies to modify the Earth’s climate are at least conceivable and, in the absence of a comprehensive national and international climate change policy, may soon emerge as practical alternatives, a new survey of the subject from the Congressional Research Service suggests.

“The term ‘geoengineering’ describes this array of technologies that aim, through large-scale and deliberate modifications of the Earth’s energy balance, to reduce temperatures and counteract anthropogenic climate change,” the CRS report said.  However, “Most of these technologies are at the conceptual and research stages, and their effectiveness at reducing global temperatures has yet to be proven.”

“Moreover, very few studies have been published that document the cost, environmental effects, sociopolitical impacts, and legal implications of geoengineering. If geoengineering technologies were to be deployed, they are expected to have the potential to cause significant transboundary effects.”  See “Geoengineering: Governance and Technology Policy” (pdf), August 16, 2010.

The Congressional Research Service — acting at congressional direction — does not permit direct public access to its publications.  Some other recent CRS reports obtained by Secrecy News include the following (all pdf).

“Federal Civil and Criminal Penalties Possibly Applicable to Parties Responsible for the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill,” August 16, 2010.

“Public Employees’ Right to Privacy in Their Electronic Communications: City of Ontario v. Quon in the Supreme Court,” July 28, 2010.

Samantar v. Yousef: The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and Foreign Officials,” August 24, 2010.

“The European Union’s Response to the 2007-2009 Financial Crisis,” August 13, 2010.

“Turkey: Politics of Identity and Power,” August 13, 2010.

DNI Advisors Favor Non-Coercive “Intelligence Interviewing”

Intelligence personnel who are trying to elicit information from a prisoner or a detainee can effectively do so in a non-coercive manner, according to the Intelligence Science Board (ISB), an official advisory group to the Director of National Intelligence.

“The United States and other democracies can benefit from exploring and learning more in the area of non-coercive intelligence interviewing,” the Board said in a sequel (pdf) to its December 2006 report on “Educing Information” (pdf).  That earlier study found that existing U.S. intelligence interrogation practices were not scientifically well-founded.  “The study team could not discover an objective scientific basis for the techniques commonly used by U.S. interrogators.”

The newly disclosed follow-on report, dated April 2009, “is written primarily for individuals concerned with ‘high-value’ detainees and those who focus mainly on strategic interrogation.”  It provides a survey of behavioral science perspectives on topics relevant to the interrogation process — including persuasion, power, stress, resistance, and memory — as well as two case studies of actual interrogations.

A copy of the ISB report was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Intelligence Interviewing: Teaching Papers and Case Studies,” A Report from the Study on Educing Information, Intelligence Science Board, April 2009 (211 pages).

The ISB report adopted the new term “intelligence interviewing” instead of “interrogation” in part because it said “interrogation” is freighted with stereotypes often involving coercion.  The report emphasized the utility of non-coercive interrogation but acknowledged the difficulty of empirically establishing its superiority to coercive questioning.

“During Phases I and II, contributors could find no studies that compare the results of ‘coercive’ interrogations with those of non-coercive intelligence interviews. It is also difficult to imagine how such studies might be conducted in a scientifically valid, let alone morally acceptable, manner.”

The ISB study notably dissected the “ticking time bomb” scenario that is often portrayed in television thrillers (and which has “captured the public imagination”).  The authors patiently explained why that hypothetical scenario is not a sensible guide to interrogation policy or a justification for torture.  Moral considerations aside, the ISB report said, coercive interrogation may produce unreliable results, foster increased resistance, and preclude the discovery of unsuspected intelligence information of value (pp. 40-42).

“There also are no guarantees that non-coercive intelligence interviewing will obtain the necessary information,” the report said. “However, the United States has important recent examples of effective, non-coercive intelligence interviewing with high value detainees.”

The ISB said its report could “provide experienced and successful interviewers a more formal understanding of the approaches they may have used instinctively. It may also help them to communicate their expertise to their colleagues… This [report] is intended to foster thinking and discussion and to encourage knowledge-based teaching, research, and practice. It does not, and cannot, offer doctrine or prescriptions. It is a start, not an end.”

The mission of the Intelligence Science Board is “to provide the Intelligence Community with outside expert advice and unconventional thinking, early notice of advances in science and technology, insight into new applications of existing technology, and special studies that require skills or organizational approaches not resident within the Intelligence Community.”

Rare Earth Elements: The Global Supply Chain (CRS)

Rare earth elements — of which there are 17, including the 15 lanthanides plus yttrium and scandium — are needed in many industrial and national security applications, from flat panel displays to jet fighter engines.  Yet there are foreseeable stresses on the national and global supply of these materials.

“The United States was once self-reliant in domestically produced [rare earth elements], but over the past 15 years has become 100% reliant on imports, primarily from China,” a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service observes.  “The dominance of China as a single or dominant supplier […] is a cause for concern because of China’s growing internal demand for its [own rare earth elements],” the report said.

The CRS report provides background and analysis on the uses of rare earth elements, existing reserves, national security applications, the global supply chain and relevant legislation.  See “Rare Earth Elements: the Global Supply Chain,” July 28, 2010.

The Twilight of the Bombs

In “The Twilight of the Bombs,” the fourth and final volume of his epic history of the nuclear era, author Richard Rhodes examines “how the dangerous post-Cold War transition was managed, who its heroes were, what we learned from it, and where it carried us.”

Covering the years 1990-2010, from the collapse of the Soviet Union onward, much of the latest history is familiar.  But by focusing on nuclear weapons development, proliferation and testing, Rhodes fashions his own narrative arc, enriched by new interviews and insights.

In the end, he sees a hopeful trajectory of “nuclear limitation and foreclosure:  from Mikhail Gorbachev’s and Ronald Reagan’s initiatives to end the Cold War, to the voluntary disarming of the former Soviet republics and the security of nuclear materials, to the U.S. and Russia’s deepening mutual arms reduction, to the up-and-down negotiations with North Korea that have nevertheless prevented another Korean war, to international diplomatic pressure brought to bear effectively on India and Pakistan, to the persistent march forward of negotiations toward treaties to limit nuclear testing and proliferation.”  (However, Rhodes does not specifically address the case of Iran’s nuclear program, as noted by Tim Rutten in an August 18 review in the Los Angeles Times.)

In the concluding pages of the book, Rhodes posits an analogy between previous campaigns to eradicate or limit disease and current efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, which he deems both necessary and feasible.  “In 1999, for the first time in human history, infectious diseases no longer ranked first among causes of death worldwide” thanks to the discipline of public health.  In a similarly efficacious way, he says, the ingredients of the analogous discipline of public safety against nuclear weapons “have already begun to assemble themselves: materials control and accounting, cooperative threat reduction, security guarantees, agreements and treaties, surveillance and inspection, sanctions, forceful disarming if all else fails.”

“The Twilight of the Bombs” cannot match Rhodes’ first volume on “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” for sheer mythological power, but it is fluidly and eloquently written.  The author’s prose ranges widely, sometimes vertiginously:  In the book’s Index, Scott Ritter comes right after Rainer Maria Rilke, the Ayatollah Khomeini is just above Nicole Kidman, and Sig Hecker of Los Alamos is separated from Jesse Helms by G.W.F. Hegel.

Mr. Rhodes (who I should say has been a consistent supporter of Secrecy News) ends the book with Acknowledgments, including a valentine to his wife:  “She, not thermonuclear fusion, makes the sun shine.”

Position Filled: Project Manager for Biosecurity, Education

The Biosecurity Program at the Federation of American Scientists is expanding.

Job Title: Project Manager for Biosecurity

Location: Washington, D.C.

Description: FAS is looking for a smart, energetic individual to help manage the Biosecurity Program and further develop existing research programs on biological and chemical weapons. Job duties include developing high-quality educational material, including expanding our already top notch dual use education modules to include plant pathogens and other agricultural topics, creating an educational training video for the FBI based on past FAS research, engaging the biosecurity community to utilize the Global Forum on Biorisks online community portal and assisting with major conferences for the Virtual Biosecurity Center (VBC). Continue reading

Update: RNAi Based Treatments for Ebola

PMI Backbone Structure (Credit: AVI BioPharma)
PMO Backbone Structure (Credit: AVI BioPharma)
Another RNAi based treatment for Ebola has been developed. Researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) found that >60% of monkeys given a lethal dose of Zaire Ebola virus survived after treatment with AVI-6002, a targeted, positively charged, anti-sense phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers (PMO) developed by AVI BioPharma . Another targeted PMO, AVI-6003, was able to protect 100% of monkeys from a lethal dose of Lake Victoria Marburg virus. Both drugs were given daily for either 10 or 14 days. Both the Zaire Ebola virus and Lake Victoria Marburg virus are filoviruses that can cause deadly hemorrhagic fevers and are potential biological weapons agents.

As explained before, viral RNAi treatments consist of small pieces of RNA, siRNA, that bind and block specific viral RNA sequences.   Continue reading

DHS Plans to “Improve” National Emergency Exercises

The Obama Administration plans to increase the frequency, rigor and realism of emergency planning exercises involving senior government officials and emergency responders in an effort to improve the nation’s emergency preparedness.

“This administration understands and believes in the importance of exercising [for national emergencies] and requires that the most senior levels of government are involved in all aspects,” wrote Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in an internal memorandum (pdf) last week.

“Much has been accomplished through the implementation of the first generation of a national exercise program, however it is also critical that we continue to improve these programs,” she wrote.

The Secretary directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “develop a two-year progressive exercise program that increases the total number of exercises and culminates in a full-scale biennial intergovernmental National Level Exercise.”

“Drills should be primarily no notice, or limited notice, and be conducted periodically during the two-year cycle by partners across DHS and the interagency, focusing on testing a single specific operation or function.”

Functional level exercises are to be conducted “in settings such as they would experience during an actual event.”  The culminating National Level Exercise is to involve “actual ‘boots on the ground’ responders, with exercise elements driven by field actions rather than purely by scripted injects.”

The National Exercise Program currently includes a planned 2011 exercise on terrorism, and a 2012 exercise on cyber terrorism.  These previously planned exercises should adhere to the new standards “to the maximum degree practicable,” Secretary Napolitano indicated.

“[A]n effective exercise program is the cornerstone of our nation’s collective preparedness and resilience.  Only by testing… can we be sure of the effectiveness of our plans for preventing, responding to an recovering from disasters and acts of terrorism and the preparedness of those charged with supporting and protecting the American people,” she wrote.

A November 2008 report from the Congressional Research Service examined “Homeland Emergency Preparedness and the National Exercise Program: Background, Policy Implications, and Issues for Congress” (pdf).

New Order on State, Local Access to Classified Info

The White House issued an executive order last week to formalize procedures for sharing classified information with state, local and private sector entities.  The new order does not alter or amend previous orders on national security classification or access to classified information, but it should facilitate increased sharing of classified information with non-federal officials.

The closest thing to a policy innovation in the new order seems to be a provision that “a duly elected or appointed Governor of a State or territory… may be granted access to classified information without a background investigation” once he or she has signed a non-disclosure agreement and “absent disqualifying conduct as determined by the clearance granting official” (Section 1.3b).

“Information sharing” in this context is a paradoxical term that also implies “information non-sharing” with those who are not cleared for access to the information.  For that reason it is a mixed blessing that some otherwise qualified persons may choose to forgo. See Executive Order 13549 on “Classified National Security Information Program for State, Local, Tribal, and Private Sector Entities,” August 18, 2010.

Some Recent Congressional Hearing Volumes

Newly published Congressional hearing volumes on national security-related topics include the following (all pdf).

“Nomination of Stephen W. Preston to be General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency and Robert S. Litt to be General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” Senate Intelligence Committee, May 21, 2009 (published August 2010).

“The Legal, Moral, and National Security Consequences of ‘Prolonged Detention’,” Senate Judiciary Committee, June 9, 2009 (published June 2010).

“National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats: Diplomacy and International Programs,” House Foreign Affairs Committee, March 18, 2010 (published June 2010).