FAS Podcast: A Discussion on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 2011

Listen to a new edition of the FAS Podcast: “A Conversation With An Expert,” featuring FAS Member, Dr. Pierce Corden. Topics discussed include the current prospects for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), an assessment of Sen. Jon Kyl’s recent statement about the CTBT, what we can expect to see in the future from the Obama Administration and Congress on the CTBT, and much more!

Download the podcast here.

Continue reading

CIA Declassifies Documents from World War I

The Central Intelligence Agency announced yesterday that it had declassified six World War I-era documents describing the use of “invisible ink” to convey secret messages.  The CIA presented the new disclosure as an indication that the declassification process was functioning properly, not that it was dysfunctional.

“These documents remained classified for nearly a century until recent advancements in technology made it possible to release them,” CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said in a news release. “When historical information is no longer sensitive, we take seriously our responsibility to share it with the American people.”

“The CIA recognizes the importance of opening these historical documents to the public,” added Joseph Lambert, the Agency’s Director of Information Management Services. “In fiscal year 2010 alone, the Agency declassified and released over 1.1 million pages of documents.”

But there are a few things the CIA news release did not say.

These World War I documents remained classified not because they were forgotten or overlooked, but because the CIA had vigorously opposed their release.  In response to a 1998 FOIA lawsuit brought by the James Madison Project, the CIA argued that “some of the methods described in the documents in question are still used by the CIA, and that third parties inimical to the interests of the United States may not know which of the [invisible ink] formulas are still considered reliable by the CIA and approved for use by its agents.”  In 2002, a federal court accepted that argument and ruled (pdf) in favor of the CIA, affirming the secrecy of the documents.

It is unknown what “recent advancements in technology,” if any, might have occurred between 2002 and the present to compel a complete reversal in CIA’s view on declassification of these records.

An alternate explanation for the new release is that the records were subject to a pending mandatory declassification review (MDR) request by attorneys Mark Zaid and Kel McClanahan.  If CIA had continued to deny disclosure of the documents, that request could have been referred to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, which has been known to view extreme secrecy claims with skepticism, and often to overturn them. [Update: In fact, the request was appealed to the Panel in December 2010, but it had not yet been acted upon when CIA decided to disclose the requested documents.]

Also, if the CIA were to faithfully comply with the President’s executive order on classification — which not all executive agencies do — then it would have been obliged to release these documents (and all other records older than 75 years) by mid-2013 unless it requested and received special permission from the Interagency Panel.

There is no glass that is small enough to be made “half full” by the CIA’s new disclosures.  But the latest release may still be viewed charitably, said William J. Bosanko, executive for agency services at the National Archives and former director of the Information Security Oversight Office.

“I see this as a sign the sick system is starting to get well,” Mr. Bosanko said. He added cheerfully that there are “lots of chances to make things better.”

In the early 1990s, the massive backlog of classified historical attention was just beginning to come to broad public attention.  In those days, the scale and persistence of official secrecy often elicited embarrassment from government officials.

“Obviously it seems absurd on the surface,” said then-ISOO director Steven Garfinkel, referring to the fact that a World War I document had just been discovered to still be classified.  That document, dated April 15, 1917, had been “the oldest classified document” until it was finally declassified and released in 1992 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists.  It is a substantive, lively and quite interesting account (pdf) of “the intelligence system necessary in case U.S. troops are ordered to the continent.”

“Within the next decade there’s going to be a need for a complete re-examination of the issue of secrecy,” Mr. Garfinkel told Tim Weiner of Knight-Ridder Newspapers in December 1991. “The secrecy issue is a Cold War issue and the world is changing.”

Secrecy Overwhelms U.S. Historical Record

The Department of State is not fulfilling its obligation to produce a “thorough, reliable, and accurate” account of U.S. foreign policy and there is no foreseeable likelihood that it will do so, an official historical advisory committee told the Secretary of State this month.

The Department’s “Foreign Relations of the United States” (FRUS) series is required to fully document the history of U.S. foreign policy no later than 30 years after the fact, but that’s not happening.

“No progress has been made toward bringing the [FRUS] series into compliance with the statutory requirement that volumes be published 30 years after the events they document,” said the new annual report of the Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation.  “Indeed, the 6 volumes published in 2010 did not even meet the target set by the [State Department Historian’s] Office in 2009.”

Among other obstacles, “the CIA’s resistance to declassifying documents that are already in the public domain presents a severe challenge,” the Committee said.

But CIA is not the only obstacle.  “The Departments of Defense, Energy, and Justice (including the FBI) have often been as [culpable] if not more culpable than the CIA for the delays.”

“The HAC [Historical Advisory Committee] is pessimistic about [the Historian’s Office’s] prospects for meeting its statutory obligations if its current performance continues,” the new annual report concluded.

“The current records management system does not ensure those records of historical significance are identified in such a way as to promote their timely review for declassification and public release,” wrote Adm. William Studeman, former Acting Director of Central Intelligence, in the blog of the Public Interest Declassification Board last week.  “There is a great danger that, unless changes are made, our nation will be unable to document these historical decisions for future generations,” he said.

Last week, the National Security Archive filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency seeking disclosure of an official CIA history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.  “The CIA is holding history hostage,” said the Archive’s Peter Kornbluh.

Privacy Protection Online, and More from CRS

Some new or newly updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following (all pdf).

“Privacy Protections for Personal Information Online,” April 6, 2011.

“Department of Defense Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: Background and Analysis,” March 29, 2011.

“Iran Sanctions,” April 4, 2011.

“Asylum and ‘Credible Fear’ Issues in U.S. Immigration Policy,” April 6, 2011.

“The Changing Demographic Profile of the United States,” March 31, 2011.

Congress does not permit the public to gain direct access to reports of the Congressional Research Service online.

Roundup: FAS Analysis on Fukushima, Nuclear Security, and Much More

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) continues to put the generous support of our members to effective use. In just the last month and a half, FAS experts have educated policy makers, the press, and the public in America and abroad about the urgent need for making the world more secure in the wake of the Japanese disaster.  A few notable accomplishments in March and April include:

Nuclear Security and Coverage of the Fukushima Disaster

  • Since March 11, FAS President Dr. Charles Ferguson has written and spoken about the nuclear events in Japan, and the implications for the future of nuclear power. You can access his articles and presentations here.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson spoke to The Diane Rehm Show about nuclear power safety, and how the disaster could affect the nuclear power industry worldwide. You can listen to the recording here.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists about “The Need for a Resilient Energy Policy in Japan.” You can access the article here.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson spoke to Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball. You can watch the video here.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson wrote in Kyodo News about the “Future of Nuclear Power in Japan – Advice from American Friend.” You can read the article here.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson was interviewed for a segment on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. You can watch the video here.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson spoke to KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny. You can listen to the recording here.
  • Dr. Ferguson spoke to BBC News: PRI’s The World. You can listen to the recording here. You can also watch video of another appearance on BBC News here.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson appeared on NPR’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow, for an update on Japan’s malfunctioning nuclear reactors and the evolving crisis.  As continued attempts were made to cool the reactors and spent fuel rod pools at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, Dr. Ferguson discussed the state of the deteriorating nuclear facility. You can learn more here.
  • Dr.  Charles Ferguson appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer on Sunday, March 11. He discussed the future of energy policy in the U.S., and the fallout from the Japanese accident.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson wrote a column in the online version of Nature magazine on why fission power must remain a crucial part of the energy mix until renewable energy technologies can be scaled up. You can read his column here.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson spoke at the “Impact of the Japanese Disaster on the Nuclear Power Industry” event at Washington and Lee University on March 21st. You can watch video of it here.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson appeared on PBS NewsHour on March 24th to discuss what’s next for U.S. nuclear policy following the Japanese crisis. You can watch video of the segment here.
  • On April 6th, FAS hosted a roundtable discussion with representatives from the U.S. State Department, several embassies, and other important leaders in the international community to discuss the next steps to improve monitoring of Iran’s continued uranium enrichment program and to negotiate acceptable safeguards for its nuclear program. You can read Dr. Charles Ferguson’s article for the March issue of Arms Control Today on the topic here.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson spoke at a Capitol Hill briefing hosted by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) on April 6th. He discussed Iran’s nuclear program and whether an inspections-based solution might work. You can learn more here.
  • Dr. Charles Ferguson and Stephen Herzog wrote a blog for The Hill, on March 30th, on why Sen. Jon Kyl should reconsider his opposition to the nuclear test ban. You can read the blog here.
  • At a meeting on professional ethics and public awareness organized by the University of Georgia’s Center for International Trade & Security, Dr. Charles Ferguson spoke on a panel called “The Human Dimension of Nuclear Security.” The conference was hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C. on March 30th. You can access his presentation here.

Other recent FAS achievements:

Arms Sales Monitoring Project

  • Matt Schroeder, Director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project, was cited on the front page of the New York Times on March 3, 2011, “Experts Fear Looted Libyan Arms May Find Way to Terrorists.” Read the online version here.

Biosecurity Program

Learning Technologies Program

  • Melanie Stegman, Director of the Learning Technologies Program, spoke at the inaugural Technologies in Education Forum, which featured discussions on new policies, technologies, and tools available to those working on the front lines to bolster American student learning and achievement, especially in the critically important STEM curricula.

FAS is a leader in bringing technical, nonpartisan analysis to policy makers, the press, and the public, and in using science to make the world more secure.

Thank you for your continued support of FAS. I look forward to keeping you up to date on all of our efforts and accomplishments in the days ahead.


Secrecy of Cyber Threats Said to Cause Complacency

The American public does not have an accurate sense of the threat posed by attacks in cyberspace because most of the relevant threat information is classified, according to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who introduced legislation last week to raise public awareness of cyber security hazards.

“The damage caused by malicious activity in cyberspace is enormous and  unrelenting,” Sen. Whitehouse said on April 14. “Every year, cyber attacks inflict vast damage on our Nation’s consumers, businesses, and government agencies. This constant cyber assault has resulted in the theft of millions of Americans’ identities; exfiltration of billions of dollars of intellectual property; loss of countless American jobs; vulnerability of critical infrastructure to sabotage; and intrusions into sensitive government networks.”

“These massive attacks have not received the attention they deserve.  Instead, we as a nation remain woefully unaware of the risks that cyber attacks pose to our economy, our national security, and our privacy,” he said.

“This problem is caused in large part by the fact that cyber threat information ordinarily is classified when it is gathered by the government or held as proprietary when collected by a company that has been attacked. As a result, Americans do not have an appropriate sense of the threats that they face as individual Internet users, the damage inflicted on our businesses and the jobs they create, or the scale of the attacks undertaken by foreign agents against American interests.”

With Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Sen. Whitehouse introduced the “Cyber Security Public Awareness Act” to require government agencies to provide increased public reporting of cyber threat information.

“As of 2011, the level of public awareness of cyber security threats is unacceptably low. Only a tiny portion of relevant cyber security information is released to the public. Information about attacks on Federal Government systems is usually classified. Information about attacks on private systems is ordinarily kept confidential. Sufficient mechanisms do not exist to provide meaningful threat reports to the public in unclassified and anonymized form,” the bill stated.

Last year, Sen. Whitehouse chaired a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee task force on cyber security.

“The government keeps the damage we are sustaining from cyber attacks secret because it is classified,” he said last November. The private sector keeps the damage they are sustaining from cyber attacks secret so as not to look bad to customers, to regulators, and to investors. The net result of that is that the American public gets left in the dark.”

Online Security Tips from the National Security Agency

The National Security Agency published a brochure this month on “Best Practices for Keeping Your Home Network Secure” (pdf). Among other online security measures, the NSA suggested providing false answers to password recovery challenge questions.

“The cyber threat is no longer limited to your office network and work persona,” the NSA said. “Adversaries realize that targets are typically more vulnerable when operating from their home network since there is less rigor associated with the protection, monitoring, and maintenance of most home networks. Home users need to maintain a basic level of network defense and hygiene for both themselves and their family members when accessing the Internet.”

After Fukushima: Rethinking the Case for Nuclear Power’s Expansion

On April 11, FAS hosted a Capitol Hill briefing by Henry Sokolski,  Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. Mr. Sokolski discussed the implications of the Fukushima accident for the global expansion of nuclear power.


In the presentation, Mr. Sokolski emphasized that nuclear safety must come first. Then governments need to count the costs (environmental, safety, security, construction, etc.) associated with nuclear energy as compared to other energy sources. This will allow a much more fair assessment of energy costs. Moreover, he cautioned that there are nuclear activities that the International Atomic Energy Agency has great difficulty safeguarding and the merely providing more money to this agency will not ensure improvements to safeguards. Thus, he recommended that there is an urgent need to clarify what the IAEA can and cannot safeguard.

Continue reading

Obama Classification Reform Effort Fails to Take Hold

An Obama Administration initiative to curb overclassification of national security information that was announced in December 2009 has produced no known results to date.

The Fundamental Classification Guidance Review, which was mandated by President Obama’s executive order 13526 (section 1.9), requires each classifying agency to review all of its existing classification instructions prior to June 2012 and “to identify classified information that no longer requires protection and can be declassified.” While more than a year remains to complete the process, it is already behind schedule.

The Department of Defense, the most prolific classifying agency, failed to produce implementing regulations for the executive order in advance of the December 31, 2010 deadline for doing so set by the President.  As a result, most DoD components have not even started to review their classification guides, of which there are thousands.

Most recently, U.S. Central Command said that it had no records concerning the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review.  “We conducted a thorough and good faith search for responsive information,” CENTCOM told us in a March 28 letter (pdf). “Despite our extensive and careful search for documents pertaining to your request, we were unable to locate responsive information.”

U.S. European Command, on the other hand, said that it had already completed its Fundamental Review. But it concluded that its existing classification practices were already optimal, so no reductions in classification were required!

“The EUCOM Intelligence Office conducted a review as directed by E.O. 13526 for a Fundamental Classification Guidance Review,” EUCOM said (pdf) on January 18.  “No inefficiencies were found during the EUCOM review. No documents were produced during the review therefore, EUCOM reports a no records found in response to your FOIA request.”

Other agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State seem to be taking a more diligent approach to the Fundamental Review, though even in those cases no specific elimination of any current classification instruction is known to have occurred thus far.

Some significant reductions in Obama Administration classification policy have occurred, including dramatic changes in intelligence budget secrecy and nuclear stockpile secrecy.  But these important developments emerged from issue-specific circumstances, and not from systematic classification reform efforts.

Last January, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office wrote to senior agency officials to emphasize the importance of the Fundamental Review and the need for rigorous implementation.

“The scope of this review needs to be systematic, comprehensive, and conducted with thoughtful scrutiny involving detailed data analysis,” wrote ISOO director William J. Bosanko.  But Mr. Bosanko has recently moved on from ISOO, which awaits appointment of a new director.  Meanwhile the Fundamental Review appears stalled and unproductive in much of the executive branch.

The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases

A statutory limit on total federal debt has been in place since 1917.  In the past decade, Congress has voted to raise the debt limit ten times and it will now have to do so once again.

The history of the debt limit and its current implications were discussed in a recently updated report from the Congressional Research Service. See “The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases” (pdf), March 7, 2011. And see, relatedly, “Reaching the Debt Limit: Background and Potential Effects on Government Operations,” February 11, 2011.

Reports from the Congressional Research Service have become such an integral part of the national policymaking process that two CRS reports were cited this month in an opinion (pdf) issued by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel concerning the President’s constitutional authority to use military force in Libya.

One of the reports addressed “Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2010” and the other was on “Haiti: Developments and U.S. Policy Since 1991 and Current Congressional Concerns.

Remarkably, however, neither of the CRS reports that was cited in the OLC opinion is available on any congressional website, since Congress stubbornly opposes direct public access to CRS products.  To find them online, one must turn to non-congressional websites.