Rasmussen: Lay Short-Range Nuclear Weapons Thinking to Rest

By Hans M. Kristensen

The next steps in European security should include additional reductions in the number short-range nuclear weapons in Europe, according to a video statement issued by NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

“We also have to make progress sooner or later in our efforts to reduce the number of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe. NATO has cut the number of short-range nuclear weapons in Europe by over 90 percent. But there are still thousands of short-range nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War and most of them are in Russia. NATO is not threatening Russia and Russia is not threatening NATO. Time has come to lay this Cold War thinking to rest and focus on the common threats we face from outside: terrorism, extremism, narcotics, proliferation of missiles, weapons of mass destruction, side by side, and piracy. We can make progress of all three tracks – missile defense, conventional forces, and nuclear weapons – and create a secure Europe. It is time to stop spending our time and resources watching each other and look outward at how to reinforce our common security hope.”

That vision appears similar to the “new regional deterrence architecture” that several recent Obama administration reviews concluded would permit a reduction of the role of nuclear weapons. With that in mind, and Rasmussen’s conclusion that “Russia is not threatening NATO” and that the “time has come to lay this Cold War thinking to rest,” it should be relatively straightforward for him to recommend a withdrawal of the remaining U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe.

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Anthrax Outbreak in Bangladesh

Cow in Bangladesh (Credit: AFP)

An anthrax outbreak in Bangladesh has infected more than 500 individuals since August 18th.  The infections were acquired from eating or handling contaminated cattle.   In one instance, a man purchased a cow which became ill a few days later.  He brought the cow to a veterinarian where it was vaccinated against anthrax.  This would have been protective against future infections if the cow survived, but it did not treat the current infection.  The man slaughtered the cow when its condition deteriorated, and unknowingly fed the contaminated meat to over 40 families.  Contaminated meat is also being sold in the market, which has caused cattle and livestock sales to be around 1/10 of the expected levels.  Considering that around three quarters of the population rely at least partially on livestock for their livelihood, this outbreak is sure to take a heavy toll on the health of both the population and the economy. Continue reading

Happy 20th Birthday, Captain Planet!

Twenty years ago, Captain Planet—Earth’s greatest champion—burst from the Earth for the first time on television. When it was broadcast during the 1990s, it inspired millions of kids in about 100 countries to protect the earth, to become more energy efficient, and to understand, respect and cherish cultural diversity.  Many of those children who watched this show during the 1990s are now adults. They are proud to call themselves Planeteers and will become the next generation of leaders who understand the importance and urgency of saving Gaia, the spirit of the Earth. Continue reading

Pentagon Delays Publication of New Book

Updated below

The Department of Defense says that a forthcoming book about the war in Afghanistan contains classified information, and that it should not be put on the market in its current form.  Instead, the Pentagon is considering whether to purchase and destroy the entire first printing of the book, “Operation Dark Heart” by Anthony A. Shaffer, while a revised edition is prepared.  The controversy was first reported by the New York Times in “Pentagon Plan: Buying Books to Keep Secrets” by Scott Shane, September 10.

Shaffer, the book’s author, is a former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officer and Army lieutenant colonel.  He submitted the manuscript to the Army for prepublication review and received permission to proceed earlier this year.  The book was printed and prepared for release at the end of August by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press.

But prior to the publication date, a copy of the manuscript was obtained by DIA and other intelligence agencies, all of whom raised new objections to its publication.

“DIA’s preliminary classification review of this manuscript has identified significant classified information, the release of which I have determined could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to national security,” wrote DIA Director Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess, Jr. in an August 6 memo.

“I have also been informed that United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) have determined that the manuscript contains classified information concerning their activities.  In the case of NSA, this includes information classified at the TOP SECRET level,” Gen. Burgess wrote.  He directed that Lt. Col. Shaffer be “ordered to take all necessary action to direct his publisher to withhold publication of the book” pending a new security review.

But the Pentagon now faces a policy conundrum due to the fact that numerous review copies of the book are already circulating in the public domain.  (We picked up a couple of them last week.)  What this means is that any effort to selectively censor the manuscript at this late date would actually tend to highlight and validate those portions of the text that agencies believe are sensitive, not to conceal them.

Therefore, as a practical security policy matter, it seems that the Pentagon’s best move would be to do nothing and to allow the book to be published without further interference.

*    *    *

“Operation Dark Heart” is a memoir, not a work of scholarship, policy analysis or journalism.  It describes the author’s personal experiences and perspectives in sometimes clunky, occasionally gripping prose.  It often seems formulaic or cliched, though it is quite readable and sometimes moving.  Overall, it seems unlikely to alter the prevailing understanding of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

It is hard to know what to make of the author.  As a clandestine operator he claims to have run one operation “deep into North Korea,” and another that penetrated the Iranian intelligence service.  He also says he once recruited a high ranking Soviet military officer while posing as a freelance journalist.  Maybe so.  His most frequent cultural points of reference are Star Wars and the action movies of Steven Seagal.

Within those parameters, he tells some pretty good stories about intelligence gathering, impromptu clandestine operations and bureaucratic wrangling with stuffy superiors.  Operation Dark Heart was the name of a plan to target and destroy several Taliban operational centers, in what the author believed might have been a decisive blow to the brewing insurgency in 2003.  But because the proposed targets lay across the border in Pakistan, the operation was scuttled, to Shaffer’s dismay and disgust.  He believes his intelligence career was then derailed as the result of his decision to brief the 9/11 Commission about the Able Danger data mining program, which he says had succeeded in identifying some of the 9/11 hijackers in advance.

Even in the present version of the book that is now in the public domain, the author seems alert to security issues.  He says that several names have been changed or concealed.  At several points in the narrative, he stops short of full disclosure, citing classification restrictions on what he can discuss (p. 147, 165, 180).

But at other points, he is quite chatty, in ways that might have alarmed some officials.  He describes the location of the CIA station in Kabul, along with the name and appearance of the CIA station chief (“he reminded me of Peter Cushing, the actor who played Governor Tarkin, commander of the Death Star in Star Wars”).  He briefly discusses the COPPER GREEN “enhanced interrogation” program (that was first reported by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker).  And he names quite a few unfamiliar names, not all of which have been changed.

At the rare intervals where his assertions can be independently confirmed, they check out.  At one point he introduces a certain person as “chief of NSA here in country” (page 150).  A search of that person’s name online turns up his resume that does indeed describe the individual as “Officer in Charge, Cryptologic Services Group (CSG), OEF, Bagram, Afghanistan” and “Senior SIGINT advisor to Commander, JTF-180.”

Last June St. Martin’s Press, the book’s publisher, distributed promotional material (pdf) to reviewers, including a list of “Key Background Points and New Revelations in Operation Dark Heart.”

* * *

While national security classification arguments naturally warrant serious consideration, the mere fact that a government official says certain information could damage national security if it were disclosed doesn’t necessarily make it so.  Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, the DIA director who is Mr. Shaffer’s current antagonist, has previously been known to make dubious claims about classification and about the secrecy needed to protect national security.

Last year, Gen. Burgess formally expressed the view that the size of the National Intelligence Program budget for 2006 was properly classified, even though the DNI had already declassified the intelligence budget figures for 2007 and 2008 and published them openly.  Yet in Burgess’ opinion, as he wrote in a January 14, 2009 letter (pdf), “the release of this [2006 budget] information would reveal sensitive intelligence sources and methods.”

General Burgess was wrong then.  Given the present circumstances, where all of the information in the Shaffer book is effectively in the public domain, it would seem reasonable for him to reconsider his position now.

Update: The Pentagon has insisted on imposing its restrictions on the manuscript, which is therefore being published in partially censored form. See this New York Times account.

Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, More from CRS

Noteworthy new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following (all pdf).

Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2002-2009, September 10, 2010.

Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, August 20, 2010.

China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress, August 26, 2010.

China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues, August 16, 2010.

Southwest Border Violence: Issues in Identifying and Measuring Spillover Violence, August 24, 2010.

Emergency Communications: Broadband and the Future of 911, August 25, 2010.

Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected (MRAP) Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress, August 24, 2010.

Afghanistan: U.S. Foreign Assistance, August 12, 2010.

U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians, August 12, 2010.

The Federal Food Safety System: A Primer, August 18, 2010.

One Click at a Time: Raise Funds for FAS Just By Searching the Web!

I want to share with you a great new way to raise money for the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), and our efforts to create a more secure future.

FAS is excited to release FAS Search, a search engine powered by Google, Bing, and Yahoo. FAS Search provides the same search results you are used to, but now every search raises a few cents for FAS at no cost to you. Net proceeds will go to support the critical work of FAS to educate policy makers, the press, and the public.

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State Secrets vs. the Rule of Law

The inherent tension between the state secrets privilege and the rule of law reached the breaking point last week when an appeals court dismissed the claims of several persons who said they were illegally transported and tortured through a CIA “extraordinary rendition” program.  They would not be permitted to litigate their case, the court decided, because to do so would place “state secrets” at risk.

“This case presents a painful conflict between human rights and national security,” the 9th circuit court of appeals noted in its September 8 opinion (pdf) in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, and by a 6-5 majority the judges determined that security considerations would take precedence.

“We have thoroughly and critically reviewed the government’s public and classified declarations and are convinced that at least some of the matters it seeks to protect from disclosure in this litigation are valid state secrets, ‘which, in the interest of national security, should not be divulged’,” according to the majority opinion.

At the same time, the majority acknowledged, “Denial of a judicial forum based on the state secrets doctrine poses concerns at both individual and structural levels. For the individual plaintiffs in this action, our decision forecloses at least one set of judicial remedies, and deprives them of the opportunity to prove their alleged mistreatment and obtain damages. At a structural level, terminating the case eliminates further judicial review in this civil litigation, one important check on alleged abuse by government officials and putative contractors.”

For these reasons, “Dismissal at the pleading stage” as in this case “is a drastic result and should not be readily granted.”  Yet grant it the court did.

But the majority seemed conflicted and apologetic about its own ruling.  It ordered the government to pay the parties’ costs, and it devoted several speculative paragraphs to identifying potential “non-judicial remedies” that might be available to the plaintiffs.  Perhaps Congress could investigate the matter, the court weakly noted, or maybe pass legislation on behalf of the plaintiffs.

And just because the court ruled against the plaintiffs, the majority suggested, that “does not preclude the government from honoring the fundamental principles of justice” and providing reparations to the plaintiffs anyway.

But these suggestions range from “impractical” to “absurd,” five dissenting judges wrote.  “Permitting the executive to police its own errors and determine the remedy dispensed would not only deprive the judiciary of its role, but also deprive Plaintiffs of a fair assessment of their claims by a neutral arbiter.”

Attorney General Eric Holder’s September 23, 2009 policy statement on the state secrets privilege did hold out the possibility of seeking Inspector General review of allegations of misconduct whose adjudication was blocked by the use of the state secrets privilege:

“If the Attorney General concludes that it would be proper to defend invocation of the privilege in a case, and that invocation of the privilege would preclude adjudication of particular claims, but that the case raises credible allegations of government wrongdoing, the Department will refer those allegations to the Inspector General of the appropriate department or agency for further investigation….” (section 4C).

Given the court’s extended discussion of non-judicial remedies, this case would seem to be a fitting subject for an Inspector General investigation under the 2009 Justice Department policy.  But it could not immediately be learned if the Department has made such a referral to an agency Inspector General in this or any other state secrets case.

“The state secrets doctrine is a judicial construct without foundation in the Constitution, yet its application often trumps what we ordinarily consider to be due process of law,” the five dissenting judges wrote.  “This case now presents a classic illustration.”

The New Nobility: Russia’s Security State

“The Soviet police state tried to control every citizen in the country.  The new, more sophisticated Russian [security] system is far more selective than its Soviet-era counterpart;  it targets only those individuals who have political ambitions or strong public views.”  That’s what Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan discover in “The New Nobility,” their impressive new book on the resurgence of Russia’s security services in the post-Cold War era.

Soldatov and Borogan, Russian journalists who have produced some of the boldest reporting on the subject over the past decade, are also the creators and editors of Agentura.ru, a pioneering web site devoted to public interest research on Russian intelligence policy and related matters.

In “The New Nobility,” they present many of the decisive episodes in the recent history of the FSB, the primary Russian security service, from the 2002 Moscow theater siege, to the 2004 Beslan school massacre, the war in Chechnya, and more.  Overall they present a picture of a security service of increasing power and influence, uneven competence — but virtually no accountability to parliament or the public.

“The Soviet KGB was all-powerful,” Soldatov and Borogan write, “but it was also under the control of the political structure: The Communist Party presided over every KGB section, department, and division.  In contrast, the FSB is a remarkably independent entity, free of party control and parliamentary oversight….”

The book is based on the authors’ original reporting, which itself is a demonstration of unusual courage and commitment.  A reader soon loses track of the number of times their computers are seized by authorities, how often their papers’ web servers are confiscated, and how many times they are summoned for interrogation or even charged with crimes based on their reporting.  Yet they persist.

Their book is full of remarkable observations.  For example:

  •     In 2006, the FSB organized a competition “for the best literary and artistic works about state security operatives.”
  •     The history of Moscow’s Lefortovo prison has never been documented.  “Even the prison’s design [in the shape of the letter K] remains a mystery.”
  •     The Russian security services in Chechnya have made extensive use of the tactic known as “counter-capture,” which involves seizing the relatives of suspected terrorists in order to induce them to surrender.

Fundamentally, the authors contend, Russia’s FSB has gone astray by acting as an agent of state authority instead of representing the rule of law.  “In today’s Russia,… the security services appear to have concluded that their interests, and those of the state they are guarding, remain above the law.”  An American reader may ponder the similarities and differences presented by U.S. security services.

“The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB” by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan is being published this month by Public Affairs Books.

“To those following the increasingly hostile environment for journalists in Russia, Soldatov’s career is a curiosity,” according to an internal profile of him prepared by the DNI Open Source Center in 2008.  “Despite being questioned and charged by the FSB on several occasions, Soldatov has continued to cover hot-button issues such as corruption, security service defectors, and the increasing role of the special services in limiting free speech in Russia.”

The New York Times featured Agentura.ru in “A Web Site That Came in From the Cold to Unveil Russian Secrets” by Sally McGrane, December 14, 2000.

The New York Times has also published Above the Law, a continuing series of stories by Clifford J. Levy on “corruption and abuse of power in Russia two decades after the end of Communism.”

Pentagon Seeks “Coordination” of Media Activities

The Department of Defense last week increased its efforts to require that Department contacts with the media be monitored and approved by DoD public affairs officials.

“I am asking the heads of the Military Services, the Joint Staff and the Combatant Commands to reinforce to all of their employees to work closely and effectively with their public affairs offices to ensure full situational awareness,” wrote Douglas B. Wilson, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs in a September 2 memorandum (pdf).

The latest Pentagon move follows up on a July 2 memo (pdf) from Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, who stated that the DoD Office of Public Affairs “is the sole release authority for official DoD information to news media in Washington, and … all media activities must be coordinated through appropriate public affairs channels.  This policy is all too often ignored,” he complained.

“We have far too many people talking to the media outside of channels, sometimes providing information which is simply incorrect, out of proper context, unauthorized, or uninformed…,” Secretary Gates wrote.

Both memoranda assert prohibitions on unauthorized disclosures of classified information as well as on unclassified but sensitive or predecisional information.

As a practical matter, the degree of control over DoD contacts with the media sought by the Pentagon may be impossible to achieve.  The Department is too large (with millions of employees), too decentralized (with thousands of locations) and, perhaps, too open (with hundreds of reporters holding building permits at the Pentagon alone) to allow rigorous monitoring or “coordination” of more than a fraction of all external contacts and communications.

And though it may not be convenient for Pentagon officials to say so, almost everyone understands that freedom of the press means something more, and something different, than reproducing authorized government releases.  Unauthorized disclosures — even incomplete or partially inaccurate ones — often serve a valuable public policy function, at least when they do not trespass on legitimate secrets, because they enable reporters and others to develop an independent account of events and to generate a more complete public record.  When the short-term institutional interests of the Pentagon or other U.S. government agencies lead them to overclassify or otherwise impede public access to information, unauthorized and “uncoordinated” disclosures help to fill the void.

A Report Card on Secrecy

Last year, the number of “original classification decisions” — or new national security secrets — actually declined by almost ten percent from the year before.

This and other empirical measures of government secrecy were compiled in a new Secrecy Report Card (pdf) that was issued today by Openthegovernment.org, a coalition of public interest advocacy organizations.  The Report Card presented data on classification and declassification activity, classification costs, Freedom of Information Act requests, Presidential signing statements, assertions of the state secrets privilege, and other aspects of official secrecy.

While new classification activity slowed last year, the Report Card noted, so too did declassification, with 8% fewer pages declassified in 2009 than in 2008.  A National Declassification Center that was established in December 2009 is supposed to sharply increase the number of pages declassified in the coming months and years.