Senate Approval of New START Moves Nuclear Arms Control Forward

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Federation of American Scientists today applauded the Senate’s ratification of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) between the United States and Russia.

The Senate voted 71 to 26 in favor of ratification of the treaty.

The approval of the treaty is a victory for common sense and an impressive achievement for the Obama administration in overcoming stubborn opposition from Cold Warriors to modest nuclear arms reductions.

New START does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead, but it reduces the limit for how many of them can be deployed on long-range ballistic missiles and heavy bombers.

The United States and Russia possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons and will continue to do so when the treaty limit is reached seven years from now.

During the past year and in an effort to ensure Congressional support for New START, the administration has committed to significant increases in spending on modernizing nuclear weapons and the production complex over the next decade: well over $100 billion for modernization of missiles and bombers, and more than $85 billion for modernizing warheads and production facilities.

This modernization will have to be balanced against the other important goal of U.S. nuclear policy: securing international support for strengthening non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials. Demonstrating clear intensions to reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons will be essential to winning support for this agenda.

Despite its limitations, the approval of the New START treaty brings U.S-Russian strategic relations back on track, reestablishes a vital on-site inspection regime, and potentially opens the way for negotiations on additional reductions in the future.

Those negotiations must establish limits on and verification of U.S. and Russian non-deployed and non-strategic nuclear weapons, and prepare the ground for broadening nuclear arms control to the other nuclear weapons states.

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.

Shrink the Classification System

Faced with release of hundreds of thousands of classified records by Wikileaks in recent months, what should the government do?  The best answer might be to release hundreds of millions of such records!  By stripping away the accretions of decades of overclassification, a wholesale reduction in classified records would restore some integrity to the classification system, bolster public confidence in its legitimacy, and strengthen the security of residual classified secrets.

In a recent exchange with a National Security Council official who deals with information policy, we suggested that the optimal response to unauthorized disclosures would be an accelerated program of authorized disclosures, leading to a sharp reduction in the size and scope of the classification system.  He wasn’t buying it.

“Unfortunately, for reasons you can imagine, this is not a good time to promote that bit of common sense,” he replied.  To the contrary, however, we think this is the best time to shrink the classification system, before it sputters into incoherence and ultimate irrelevance.

It is true that the past year has seen significant breakthroughs in reducing nuclear stockpile secrecy and intelligence budget secrecy, among other notable achievements.  But it is also true that systemic secrecy reform is lagging.  There are many illustrative problems that tell the tale:

**  Last December President Obama called for recommendations on ways to achieve a “fundamental transformation” of the security classification system.  A year later, no such recommendations have been formulated or submitted to the President for action.  (The Public Interest Declassification Board will hold a public meeting on the subject on January 20, 2011.)  The process of transformation appears to be stillborn.

**  It so happens that President Obama has already ordered the declassification of hundreds of millions of records.  These are not contemporary records, but a backlog of historical records more than 25 years old.  Some 400 million pages of them are  supposed to be declassified and made public by the end of 2013, the President said in December 2009.  But to meet that goal, it will be necessary to declassify an average of 100 million pages per year.  In the first six months of this year, less than 8 million were declassified, according to a report (pdf) from the National Declassification Center.  This modest beginning will make it difficult if not impossible to fulfill the task assigned by the President.

**  In the Administration’s most direct response to the problem of overclassification, President Obama directed each classifying agency to perform a Fundamental Classification Guidance Review “to identify classified information that no longer requires protection and can be declassified.”  Agencies were given two years to complete the Review, from July 2010 to June 2012. Six months of that period have already elapsed.  But this week the Defense Department, the largest classifying agency, told Secrecy News that thus far it had no records concerning implementation of the Review.  In other words, it seems that no discernible progress has been made.

**  Meanwhile, it turns out that the Pentagon Papers that were famously leaked by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 are still technically classified, observed historian John Prados of the National Security Archive this week.  The four volumes of diplomatic materials that Ellsberg withheld from release (because he considered them too sensitive) have been formally declassified.  But the forty-three volumes of leaked materials, though widely republished, have never undergone declassification review, Prados said.  This means that every public and private library that has a copy of the Papers is the unofficial (and unauthorized) custodian of Top Secret government records.  This is our classification system as it exists today.

**  And this week it emerged that zealous security officials had blocked Air Force computers from accessing the New York Times and other sites in order to prevent viewing of classified records.  This is the security policy equivalent of the gospel teaching “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.”  But presumably that biblical injunction was never meant to be taken literally.  Someone should tell the Air Force.

In short, national security classification policy is in a state of stagnation, confusion and disarray — and not because of leaks.  Bringing it to good order will require a clear statement of vision, some determined leadership, and concrete action.  An intensive declassification campaign that would slash the size of the classification system to manageable proportions would be the right move, now.

Classified Information Policy, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).

“Classified Information Policy and Executive Order 13526,” December 10, 2010.

“Screening and Securing Air Cargo: Background and Issues for Congress,” December 2, 2010.

“Chemical Facility Security: Reauthorization, Policy Issues, and Options for Congress,” November 15, 2010.

“Reorganization of the Minerals Management Service in the Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,” November 10, 2010.

Goodbye, Mr. Bond

Last year, Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO) told reporters that there is “a far Left-wing fringe group that wants to disclose all our vulnerabilities. I don’t know what their motives are but I think they are very dangerous to our security.”

More hating on Wikileaks?  No, Senator Bond was actually talking about the Federation of American Scientists, after we disclosed the inadvertent publication on the Government Printing Office website of a draft declaration on U.S. nuclear facilities.

Needless to say, we did not recognize ourselves in any part of Senator Bond’s confused comment.  But he reminds us that much of what passes for political discourse is little more than pigeonholing of others into friends and enemies, heroes and villains.  It is hard to learn much that way.

Somehow it comes as no surprise to discover that Senator Bond is the last Senator to have been “slugged” on the Senate floor, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pointed out on Tuesday. It is maybe a little surprising that the person whom he drove to violence was none other than the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

In his farewell remarks to the Senate, Sen. Bond briefly discussed the “little scuffle I had with Pat Moynihan. I never talked about it. We never said anything publicly until now. Later on, as we became fast friends, he used to  tease me about setting up boxing matches so we could raise money for charity. But when I looked at his height and his reach, I didn’t take him up on that.”

Support Secrecy News

Many thanks to those readers who have already made contributions to help support Secrecy News.  If you are able and willing to join them, tax-deductible contributions can be made here (select “Government Secrecy” from the drop-down menu to direct your donation to Secrecy News).

You can also write a check payable to Federation of American Scientists and mail it here:

Secrecy News
Federation of American Scientists
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Washington, DC  20036

Unless inspiration strikes hard, today’s Secrecy News posts will be the last of 2010.  See you next year.

FAS Podcast: The Way Forward: Nuclear Renaissance and International Peace and Security

Listen to a new edition of the FAS Podcast: “A Conversation With An Expert,” featuring FAS President Dr. Charles Ferguson. Topics discussed include an overview of his presentation at the ninth annual South Korea-United Nations Joint Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Issues, the role of civil society in the nuclear disarmament effort, how the recent U.S. political developments affect future international arms control treaties, the likelihood of nuclear energy expansion in the U.S. and public opinion, the way forward for civil society in the debate surrounding nuclear security, and much more!

Click here to download podcast.

Continue reading

The Way Forward: Nuclear Renaissance and International Peace and Security

Photo of Jungmun Beach, Jeju, ROK by Charles D. Ferguson.

Read the Conference Paper.

Listen to the FAS Podcast: A Conversation With An Expert, featuring my trip to South Korea.

From December 2nd to 3rd, I participated in the 9th Republic of Korea-United Nations annual Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Issues. This year’s conference took place at Jeju, South Korea, which is an island off the southern coast of the Republic of Korea’s mainland . While Jeju is famous for its resorts and is thus a favorite vacation destination for Koreans, it is equally as renowned for hosting bilateral and multinational meetings to discuss security issues. Longtime participants in these meetings refer to the “Jeju process.” Continue reading

Biological Weapons Convention: More Communication & Collaboration Needed

Credit:The GSTAAD Project

On 6th of December 2010, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, delivered a message to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Meeting of the State Parties on the need for structured and regular means of monitoring developments in science and technology to reduce risks to international security and achieving global biological disarmament. “While much is being done to promote assistance and cooperation for the peaceful uses of biological science and technology, more could still be done to improve coordination and communication, ” he said.  The five-day meeting in Geneva is part of a four-year programme mandated by the 2006 Sixth Review Conference of the BWC aimed at strengthening the implementation of the Convention and improving its effectiveness as a practical barrier against the development or use of biological weapons. Continue reading

JASON: Science of Cyber Security Needs More Work

“Cyber security is now critical to our survival but as a field of research [it] does not have a firm scientific basis,” according to the Department of Defense.  “Our current security approaches have had limited success and have become an arms race with our adversaries.  In order to achieve security breakthroughs we need a more fundamental understanding of the science of cyber security.”

To help advance that understanding, the DoD turned to the JASON defense advisory panel, which has just produced a new report (pdf) on the subject.

“There is a science of cyber security,” the JASONs said, but it “seems underdeveloped in reporting experimental results, and consequently in the ability to use them.”

The JASON report began by noting that “A science of cyber security has to deal with a combination of peculiar features that are shared by no other area of study.”

“First, the background on which events occur is almost completely created by humans and is digital.  That is, people built all the pieces.  One might have thought that computers, their software, and networks were therefore completely understandable.  The truth is that the cyber-universe is complex well beyond anyone’s understanding and exhibits behavior that no one predicted, and sometimes can’t even be explained well [after the fact],” the report said.

“Second, cyber security has good guys and bad guys.  It is a field that has developed because people have discovered how to do things that other people disapprove of, and that break what is thought to be an agreed-upon social contract in the material world.  That is, in cyber security there are adversaries, and the adversaries are purposeful and intelligent.”

The JASON report went on to discuss the importance of definitions (including the definition of cyber security itself, which is “imprecise”), the need for a standard vocabulary to discuss the subject, and the necessity (and difficulty) of devising experimental protocols that would permit development of a reproducible experimental science of cyber security.

“There are no surprises in this report, nor any particularly deep insights,” the JASON authors stated modestly.  “Most people familiar with the field will find the main points familiar.”  Also, “There may be errors in the report, and substantive disagreements with it.”

In fact, however, the report is full of stimulating observations and is also, like many JASON reports, quite well written.  While cyber security fundamentally requires an understanding of computer science, the report explained that it “also share aspects of sciences such as epidemiology, economics, and clinical medicine;  all these analogies are helpful in providing research directions.”  An analogy between cyber security and the human immune system, with its “innate” and “adaptive” components, was found to be particularly fruitful.

“At the most abstract level, studying the immune system suggests that cyber security solutions will need to be adaptive, incorporating learning algorithms and flexible memory mechanisms…. [However,] adaptive solutions are expensive in terms of needed resources.  Approximately 1% of human cells are lymphocytes, reflecting a rather large commitment to immune defense.  [By analogy,] one should therefore expect that significant amount of computational power would be needed to run cyber security for a typical network or cluster.”

The report recommended DoD support for a network of cyber security research centers in universities and elsewhere.  With barely a hint of irony, the JASONs also endorsed an April 2010 statement by Wang Chen, China’s chief internet officer, that “Leaking of secrets via the Internet is posing serious threats to national security and interests.”

A copy of the new JASON report was obtained by Secrecy News.  See “Science of Cyber-Security,” November 2010.

How Many People Have Security Clearances?

How many government employees and contractors hold security clearances for access to classified information?  Remarkably, it is not possible to answer that question today with any precision. But it should be possible by next February, officials said at a House Intelligence Subcommittee hearing on December 1.

Currently there is no precise tally of the number of cleared persons, and there is no way to produce one, said John Fitzpatrick, Director of the ODNI Special Security Center.

“We can find definitively if any individual has a clearance at any one point in time,” he told Rep. Anna Eshoo, the subcommittee chair.  But “to take that point in time and define the number of all the people that do takes a manipulation of data in databases that weren’t intended to do that.”

“To give a precise [answer] requires, I think, due diligence in the way we collect that data and the way that data changes.”  And in fact, “we have a special data collection to provide a definitive answer on that in the February 2011 IRTPA report,” referring to an upcoming report required under the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

In the meantime, Mr. Fitzpatrick said, “To give a ballpark number [of total security clearances] is not difficult.”

Well then, Rep. Eshoo asked, “What would a ballpark figure today be?”

“Oh, I’d like to take that one for the record,” Mr. Fitzpatrick replied. “It’s — you know, I’d give you — I’d like to take that one for the record.”

Based on prior reporting by the Government Accountability Office, the ballpark figure that we use is 2.5 million cleared persons.  (“More Than 2.4 Million Hold Security Clearances,” Secrecy News, July 29, 2009).