Aid to Flooded Pakistan Slow to Materialize

“Pakistan is in the midst of a catastrophic natural disaster that has precipitated a humanitarian crisis of major proportions,” a new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service observes.  The widespread flooding that has displaced millions of Pakistanis also represents a political crisis that “may undermine the already waning legitimacy of the civilian government” and a security crisis that has “already diverted Pakistani resources and focus away from its struggle with Islamic militants.”

Yet “despite the unprecedented scale of the flood disaster in Pakistan and more than 20 million people affected, aid donations from around the world have been much slower to materialize than other natural disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti,” the CRS said.

Possible reasons for the comparatively limited response include the gradual nature of the flooding, the paucity of press coverage, the limited death toll, Pakistan’s image problem among potential donors, the worldwide recession, and the fact that “the floods occurred in summer when many in western nations are on vacation.”

Under the best of circumstances, however, “International assistance after a catastrophe rarely, if ever, meets the need,” the CRS said.  Meanwhile, the United States government already leads international efforts in emergency relief to Pakistan with total FY2010 aid estimated at nearly $350 million.

The CRS report provides a detailed survey of what is known of the humanitarian, economic and political implications of the flood and the international response to date.

“The long-term effects of the flooding are likely to present daunting challenges to the country. The long-term effects are likely to manifest themselves in two ways that have significance to the United States and Congress. One aspect is the humanitarian toll that is likely to emerge from displaced people, disease, food security, and an economic decline. Another aspect is the strategic concerns that could result from a weakened government, and a dissatisfied and disenfranchised population.”

See “Flooding in Pakistan: Overview and Issues for Congress,” September 21, 2010.

Many charities and relief organizations offer opportunities to contribute to flood relief in Pakistan, including the American Jewish World Service, which highlights the Pakistan crisis on its home page.

American Jihadist Terrorism, and More from CRS

An apparent spike in Islamist terrorist plots by American citizens and residents is examined in another new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.

“This report describes homegrown violent jihadists and the plots and attacks that have occurred since 9/11.”  The report uses the term “jihadist” to refer to “radicalized individuals using Islam as an ideological and/or religious justification for their belief in the establishment of a global caliphate.”

The 128-page report describes the radicalization process and the responses of government and law enforcement agencies.  An appendix provides details about each post-9/11 incident of “homegrown jihadist terrorist plots and attacks” while a second appendix describes engagement and partnership activities by federal agencies with Muslim-American communities.  See “American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat,” September 20, 2010.

Other new reports from CRS include the following (both pdf).

“The Mexican Economy After the Global Financial Crisis,”
September 9, 2010.

“Deflation: Economic Significance, Current Risk, and Policy Responses,” August 30, 2010.

Indictment Against Physicist is Highly Enriched

The indictment of former Los Alamos physicist Leo Mascheroni and his wife Marjorie Mascheroni on charges of attempting to sell classified nuclear weapons information to a foreign government includes a garbled account of nuclear weapons technology, potentially casting doubt on the credibility of the allegations against the couple, the New York Times disclosed.

In the indictment (at p. 8), Mascheroni supposedly described “a secret underground nuclear reactor for… enriching plutonium.”  But this makes no sense, since plutonium is not and cannot be enriched in a nuclear reactor.  The misstatement or misunderstanding of this matter enhances the possibility that other parts of the indictment are equally questionable.

The error in the indictment was reported in “Lawyers Look to Exploit a Scientific Error” by William J. Broad, New York Times, September 24.

GAO To Review FBI’s Case Against Bruce Ivins

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) will conduct an examination of the scientific and technical methods used by the FBI during its investigation of 2001 anthrax attacks, in response to a request made by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-D) earlier this year.

After an eight year-long investigation, the FBI closed the Amerithrax case back in February and concluded that Bruce Ivins, a troubled lab worker at Ft. Detrick, was solely responsible for the anthrax mailings that killed five people in 2001. However, skepticism has long lingered the minds of many on the science and validity behind these conclusions, particularly after Ivin’s suicide in 2008. Continue reading

DARPA Seeks Technology to Support Declassification

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has issued a new solicitation to industry and academia in an attempt “to discover new technologies to support declassification.”  Researchers are invited (pdf) to submit ideas for innovative approaches to declassification that will support the National Declassification Center in achieving its goals.

Can technology actually make a difference in declassification?  It seems clear that it can, at least within certain limits.

One thing that technology cannot do is to render a decision about exactly what should be classified or declassified.  That is a policy question which is dependent on a complex, rapidly changing factual environment (e.g. what related information is already available in the public domain) as well as a largely subjective threat assessment (e.g. what damage might conceivably result from disclosure and what benefits might ensue).  Such a decision does not easily lend itself to a technological formula.

Besides that, the executive order that governs the national security classification system is permissive, not mandatory;  it allows the classification of eligible information, but does not require it.  So any algorithm that dictates the continued classification of a certain category of information is likely to be wrong at least sometimes.

However, the declassification process is composed of several discrete steps, many or all of which could be facilitated by new technologies.  These steps include the collection and assembly of records for review, the circulation of records to reviewers as needed, the actual review and redaction process, and the distribution of the declassified records, among others — each of which might be streamlined and expedited by new technological measures.

So, for example, if it were possible to routinely incorporate the digitization of records into the declassification process, and to make the digitized records available online so that readers would not have to come to the National Archives or to the Presidential Libraries just to view them, that action alone would multiply the utility of the declassification process many times over.

But perhaps the strongest contribution that technology could make involves the future declassification of records that are being classified today.  Classified records that are being created now could be tagged in such a way as to expedite their ultimate declassification.  In fact, the goal should be to eliminate the need for declassification processing altogether, or as far as possible.  Instead, most classified records should literally be self-declassifying.  Their classification controls should expire and be automatically canceled.  In principle, this ought to be readily achievable.

The Public Interest Declassification Board will hold a public session on the potential role of new technology in declassification on Thursday, September 23 at the National Archives.  The agenda is here (pdf).

The new DARPA solicitation was reported in “Darpa Wants You To Build An Anti-Secrecy App” by Spencer Ackerman in Wired Danger Room, September 14.

A Look Back at “Classification Management”

The theory and practice of national security classification policy in the late cold war years are exemplified and explored in back issues of Classification Management, the journal of the National Classification Management Society (NCMS), which is the professional society of classification officers and other security professionals.  Several back issues of the journal are now available online.

“Security Classification is the black sheep of the Information Science family,” wrote C.C. Carnes in the first issue (pdf) of Classification Management in 1965 (p.15).  “Everyone else is trying to expedite the flow of information.  People working in the field of Security Classification are trying to impede, control, and limit the flow of information.  However, we should not be blamed for this apparent perversity.  It serves a purpose.”

That purpose is discussed in depth and detail and with notable candor.

“LIMDIS controls came into existence largely to replace bogus security markings such as SNTK, MK, and CNTK,” explained Raymond P. Schmidt of the Navy (NCMS Viewpoints 1992 [pdf], at p. 34).

While much of the security policy content of the journals is now obsolete, they retain  historical, sociological and perhaps even anthropological interest.

The first couple of issues of the journal comprised “virtually the entire body of published information on the professional aspects of classification management” at that time, wrote NCMS President (and ACDA official) Richard L. Durham in 1966 (Vol. 2, p. 4).

A wide array of security policy issues were addressed over the years in Classification Management, including the dissemination of scientific and technological information, the conduct of classified research and development on university campuses, patent secrecy, and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

In the 1972 edition, a panel of reporters and government officials discussed the impact and meaning of the Pentagon Papers for classification management and freedom of the press (Vol. 8, pp. 64-75).

In 1990, Steven Garfinkel, the former director of the Information Security Oversight Office, memorably discussed “not the highlights, not the triumphs, but some of the low points” of his career as ISOO director up to that point.  “This is my tenth anniversary speech.  Ushers, please bar the doors.” (Vol. 26, pp.6-9).

The National Classification Management Society kindly granted permission to post several back issues of Classification Management and NCMS Viewpoints on the Federation of American Scientists website here.

New FRUS Volume Shows Declass Strengths, Weaknesses

A new volume of the State Department’s official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series on the war in Vietnam, published this month, embodies both the strengths and the weaknesses of the government document declassification program.

The new FRUS volume presents an exceptionally vivid and interesting account of the Nixon Administration’s conduct of the war, beginning with the aftermath of the invasion of Cambodia.  It also “documents President Nixon’s penchant for secret operations and covert warfare.”  Several such secret operations “are documented in some detail to demonstrate the role of covert actions in support of overt political and military operations.”  See “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970-January 1972,” published September 8, 2010.

While the 1100 page volume (pdf) provides rich testimony to the value of the declassification process, it also highlights its surprising limitations.

For one thing, the process is painfully slow.  Declassification review of this volume took four years, the Preface states, from 2006 to 2010.  At that glacial rate, the State Department will never fulfill its statutory obligation to publish the record of U.S. foreign policy no later than 30 years after the fact.

What’s worse is that U.S. government agencies continue to use an obsolete template for making declassification decisions.  So while various covert actions are “documented in some detail,” the amount of money spent on those same covert actions is scrupulously redacted at more than a dozen points with the parenthetical notation “dollar amount not declassified” — as if the publication of these budget figures could possibly have any bearing on national security today.

Adding to the evident confusion, the dollar figures for covert action were nevertheless published in one of the documents (document 202 at page 617), which notes that “Funds in the amount of $235,000 for FY 1971 and $228,000 for FY 1972 were approved [for certain covert actions].”

Was this a declassification “error”?  A publishing oversight?  It’s not clear.

Susan Weetman, the General Editor of the FRUS series, said that the publication decisions on covert actions were determined by the so-called “High Level Panel” (HLP) which is comprised of senior representatives of the State Department, CIA and National Security Council.

“While the release of some dollar amounts and the excision of others may appear inconsistent, it has been the policy of the HLP to approve the declassification of the overall budget figure for a covert action (occasionally broken out by fiscal year), but not release the specifics of how the money was spent,” Ms. Weetman told Secrecy News.

In the present case, however, there is an unusual amount of detail about “how the money was spent.”  It’s just the dollar figures that (in most cases) have been withheld.

The release of this FRUS volume, along with another volume on Vietnam published September 16, was timed to coincide with an upcoming State Department Office of the Historian conference on “The American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975”.

One of the recurring themes in the Vietnam covert action volume is the prevalence of leaks of classified information, and the need to take drastic action to combat them.

“You will see leaks all over town in the next few weeks on this issue,” Henry Kissinger told a group of Congressmen at a March 23, 1971 meeting “because the intelligence community is like a hysterical group of Talmudic scholars doing an exegesis of abstruse passages.  If any of you are on an intelligence subcommittee, you might find this a good reason to cut the budget for the intelligence agencies,” Kissinger suggested (at page 466).

Former Los Alamos Physicist Charged with Selling Nuke Info

A former Los Alamos nuclear weapons scientist, Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, and his wife, Marjorie Mascheroni, were charged with conspiracy to communicate classified nuclear weapons information with the intent to injure the United States and conspiracy to develop an illict atomic bomb after they allegedly offered to provide assistance to a supposed Venezuelan nuclear weapons program.

“The conduct alleged in this indictment is serious and should serve as a warning to anyone who would consider compromising our nation’s nuclear secrets for profit,” said Assistant Attorney General Kris in a September 17 news release.

The underlying story is so twisted and psychologically fraught that it may never be completely clarified.  Mascheroni has been a fervent advocate of his own concept of inertial confinement fusion, while relentlessly criticizing the existing ICF program as misconceived and destined to fail.  He has tangled repeatedly with security officials over clearance and disclosure issues, but he has also found some influential supporters, including former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, who provided him with legal representation on a pro bono basis.

According to the indictment (pdf), Mascheroni only thought of selling nuclear secrets (to an FBI agent he thought was a Venezuelan official) because he became increasingly frustrated with the United States government’s unresponsiveness to his claims and concerns.  The alleged turning point, the indictment says, came in 2007, when he attempted unsuccessfully to instigate a congressional hearing on “DOE-UC mismanagement of the nuclear stockpile, weapons programs, and national security.”  A copy of his 50-page proposal to Congress, of characteristic length and turgidity, is here (pdf).

“If those guys, the American government, doesn’t give me this,” he supposedly said, referring to the desired congressional hearing, “you know, I, I, the American government is going to be my enemy really.”

“The public is reminded that an indictment contains allegations only and that every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty,” the Justice Department properly noted in its news release on the case.

A 1995 Los Alamos report “edited by Marjorie Mascheroni” on environmental contamination at Los Alamos involving high-energy explosives is available here (pdf).

Home Foreclosures and Security Clearances

The crisis affecting the U.S. economy has made a discernible mark on security clearance disputes, according to a new study of clearance revocation cases.

“Since the collapse of the housing market in 2008, debt resulting from job losses and home foreclosures has had a devastating effect on people holding national security clearances. That, more than any other factor today, is causing the revocation or denial of security clearances, resulting in the loss of good paying jobs, and putting skilled workers further and further behind in their effort to dig out of debt.”

The new study (pdf), by attorney Sheldon I. Cohen, examined cases before the Department of Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA), which is the only one of the eleven clearance adjudicating bodies to publish its decisions. [Correction: The Department of Energy also publishes its clearance adjudication decisions.] The author found a growing trend, though the actual number of cases involved remains fairly small.

“From 2000 to 2002, there was one reported case at DOHA dealing with foreclosure. Between 2003 and 2006, there averaged three cases per year. In 2007 and 2008, the number of cases dealing with foreclosures jumped to nine each year. In 2009, there were twenty-four such cases, and in the first five months of 2010, which looks like a record year, there have been nine foreclosure cases thus far.  While DOHA is the only adjudicative body for clearances that publishes its decisions [note correction above], there is no reason to believe that any of the other ten federal Adjudication Authorities come to different results.”

See “Debt and Home Foreclosures: Their Effect on National Security Clearances” by Sheldon I. Cohen, September 2010.

Fuel Efficiency Is in Style

How do you make a highly fuel efficient car that looks cool, and appeals to the average consumer?  If you are the X-Prize Foundation, you would have a competition offering a $5,000,000 prize for anyone who makes a really cool car that can also get 100 mpg and meets other requirements intended to push it along the path to mass production.  The Progressive Automotive X-Prize was awarded yesterday to three teams, who shared the $10 million in prize money.

The Mainstream category prize of $5 Million was awarded to The Edison2 team who created the “Very Light Car,” which weighs 800- pounds and gets 100-miles to the gallon…
…and it is pretty blue with doors the open in a really cool way.

What? Who cares if it’s pretty?  Well, it surely does matter whether it’s pretty. Who wants to buy a car that is ugly? And who buys a car they don’t want?  One reason the X-Prize Foundation choose to create this competition to demonstrate that fuel efficiency can be fun to drive, cool to look at and worthy of your neighbor’s envy.

Beautiful blue car with doors that open straight up, the Very Light Car is attractive beyond just its fuel Beautiful blue car with doors that open straight up, the Very Light Car is attractive beyond just its fuel effciency.
Photo from the Edison2 team website

Another motivation of the X-Prize Foundation is to speed up the rate of development of highly fuel efficient cars. And as many of the X-Prize competing team members say, that the competition has actually done that.

How this prize affects car development?

The various team members agree that fuel efficient technology development is accelerated by this X-Prize.  In the above video they give concrete examples about how it has helped them, motivated them and changed their research plans and methods.  We all hope that significantly more fuel efficient cars, whether they be gasoline powered, like The Very Light Car, or whether they be electric powered, as some of the other X-Prize winners.

The Department of Energy, as well as Congress have put their support behind The Automotive X-Prize.  Educational materials for K-12 students can be found on the Department of Energy Fuel Our Future Now website.

We hope the increased awareness and accelerated technology pay off in great increases in fuel efficiency.  What do you think?