NSA Declassifies 200 Year Old Report

The National Security Agency announced yesterday that it has declassified a report that is over two hundred years old.

The newly declassified report, entitled “Cryptology: Instruction Book on the Art of Secret Writing,” dates from 1809.  It is part of a collection of 50,000 pages of historic records that have just been declassified by NSA and transferred to the National Archives.

The NSA said the new release demonstrated its “commitment to meeting the requirements” of President Obama’s January 2009 Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government.

The bulk of the newly released documents are from World War II and the early post-War era. (NSA itself was established in 1952.)  A list of titles released to the National Archives is here (pdf).

Last April, the Central Intelligence Agency declassified several documents on the use of “invisible ink” that dated from the World War I era.  But those were not even a century old.

Meanwhile, in more recent developments, the case of former NSA official Thomas A. Drake, who is charged with unlawful retention of classified information, is said to be “changing hour by hour.”

On Sunday, the government told the court (pdf) it had decided to withdraw several of its proposed exhibits rather than declassify them for trial, Politico reported (“Feds pare back NSA leak case to shield technology” by Josh Gerstein, June 6).

As a consequence, prosecutors are now seeking a plea bargain, the Washington Post reported, but Drake has twice refused to accept their offer (“Ex-NSA manager has reportedly twice rejected plea bargains in Espionage Act case” by Ellen Nakashima, June 9).

The trial of Thomas Drake is currently still scheduled to begin in Baltimore on Monday, June 13.

NSA Declassifies 200 Year Old Report

The National Security Agency announced yesterday that it has declassified a report that is over two hundred years old.

The newly declassified report, entitled “Cryptology: Instruction Book on the Art of Secret Writing,” dates from 1809.  It is part of a collection of 50,000 pages of historic records that have just been declassified by NSA and transferred to the National Archives.

The NSA said the new release demonstrated its “commitment to meeting the requirements” of President Obama’s January 2009 Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government.

The bulk of the newly released documents are from World War II and the early post-War era. (NSA itself was established in 1952.)  A list of titles released to the National Archives is here (pdf).

Last April, the Central Intelligence Agency declassified several documents on the use of “invisible ink” that dated from the World War I era.  But those were not even a century old.

Meanwhile, in more recent developments, the case of former NSA official Thomas A. Drake, who is charged with unlawful retention of classified information, is said to be “changing hour by hour.”

On Sunday, the government told the court (pdf) it had decided to withdraw several of its proposed exhibits rather than declassify them for trial, Politico reported (“Feds pare back NSA leak case to shield technology” by Josh Gerstein, June 6).

As a consequence, prosecutors are now seeking a plea bargain, the Washington Post reported, but Drake has twice refused to accept their offer (“Ex-NSA manager has reportedly twice rejected plea bargains in Espionage Act case” by Ellen Nakashima, June 9).

The trial of Thomas Drake is currently still scheduled to begin in Baltimore on Monday, June 13.

Emerging Issues in Text Messaging, and More from CRS

New reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following (all pdf).

“Text and Multimedia Messaging: Emerging Issues for Congress,” May 18, 2011.

“The Motor Vehicle Supply Chain: Effects of the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami,” May 23, 2011.

“Executive Branch Reorganization Initiatives During the 112th Congress: A Brief Overview,” May 26, 2011.

“Status of Mexican Trucks in the United States: Frequently Asked Questions,” May 16, 2011.

“Promoting Global Internet Freedom: Policy and Technology,” May 26, 2011.

A New Role for the US Government in Yemen


Today Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh sits in a hospital in Saudi Arabia, the victim of an assassination
attempt.  Back in Yemen, the opposition is cautiously optimistic about what this means for the future of Yemen.  And as the U.S. State Department and its allies continue to publicly call on Saleh to resign from office and make way for genuine, democratic elections, it is paramount to remember that the removal of Saleh should not be the end game in Yemen.  A successful, stable, secure Yemen needs more than one man’s fall from power.

In the meantime, what are other areas of the U.S. government doing and saying about Yemen?

Just one week ago the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. Included in this act is updated language that affirms and strengthens the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) with respect to “the ongoing armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces.”   In justifying the new language, which gives legal grounding to broadened executive actions in the war on terror, House Armed Services Committee Chair, Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) explicitly cited Yemen’s terrorist threat and the actions of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen.

The accompanying press release directly states that “the threats posed by al-Qaeda cells in Yemen and Africa underscore the evolving and continuing nature of the terrorist threat to the United States.”  Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey praises the updated language as adding “order and rationality” to the current ad hoc authorization of military actions and detentions in the war on terror.

Nevertheless, the language does explicitly authorize U.S. military incursions into any country–such as Yemen–perceived to be or contain a security threat to America.

This stance, while bold, does not mark a new era in U.S.-Yemeni relations.  Rather it highlights the narrow lens through which the American government views and interacts with Yemen.  Under the ongoing Yemen strategy, counterterrorism efforts against AQAP take precedence over all other matters.

For the past four months Yemen has been engulfed in anti-government protests that seek to force Saleh to resign from office.  Since January 2011 more than 50 protesters have been killed, hundreds have been wounded, and the economic fragility of this country exposed as oil exports collapse and food and fuel prices soar.

Throughout the protests the U.S. narrative has focused on this crisis as a political matter only, with the primary issues being the implications of Saleh resigning on Yemeni political stability and capacity to combat AQAP.

However, the answer to the question “Is Yemen failing?” does not come down to one man.  As early as the 1960s the U.S. government recognized that the key barriers to development and success in Yemen are the country’s lack of natural resources, shortages of educated and trained manpower, scarcity of water, and divisions in the country’s social structure.  While Yemen has improved in key indicators such as literacy rates and GDP, to date none of these critical development issues have been significantly addressed.

The current conflict  has already exacerbated and will continue to exacerbate these development concerns.

Hydrocarbon development. A net oil and gas exporter, Yemen depends upon oil for more than 70% of its declared GDP.  The country nevertheless possesses only 0.2% of the world’s total oil reserves (2.7 thousand million barrels proven in 2009) as is believed to have already reached peak production.  Attempts to compensate for the expected oil revenue loss through natural gas development, namely a 5-year $4 billion project to build and supply a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal, have been stifled by political instabilities, tribal tensions, and reluctant foreign investment.

Since the start of the anti-government protests this national income crunch has only gotten worse.  Daily oil exports have been cut by more than 100,000 barrels per day, down by more than one-third from 270,000 barrels, and worker strikes and pipeline cuts have completely halted both production and export for days on end.  Internally, over the last three months the combination of pipeline disruptions and limited domestic refining capacity has fueled severe electricity, gasoline, and heating fuel shortages within Yemen.

Water. By 2050 several main cities, including Sana’a and Taiz, are expected to drain their water aquifers—effectively running out of water.  Current withdraw rates show the aquifers under Sana’a withdrawing at up to 5-6 meters annually (data from the German Technical Office).  In a water sector already characterized by water management struggles, corruption, bloody fights over irrigated land and water access, prolonged absence of central authority will likely reduce the already limited compliance with Yemen’s environmental and water laws.  Even if central fighting were to stop tomorrow, the Ministry of Water and the Environment is in disarray in the wake of Minister Abdulrahman al-Eryani’s resignation on March 22nd and the leveling of the Ministry building (located in the Hasaba district, near the Ministry of the Interior) during the last week ‘s violent conflict between government troops and tribesmen supporting Sadiq Al Ahmar.

Population. With or without Saleh, Yemen must confront one of the highest population growth rates in the world (more than 3%), a poor education system, high unemployment, and one of the world’s most significant gender equality gaps.  In a population of 23 million, over 45% of people lived on less than $2/day in 2010, a level defined by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as being poverty level.  With many livelihoods either directly or indirectly dependent upon hydrocarbon extraction and tourism, this poverty level has without question risen over the past six months.

Food. Once considered the breadbasket of Arabia, Yemen is now a net food importer.  The World Food Programme considers 32% of Yemen’s population to be food insecure and 12%  severely food insecure.  While there is significant evidence that social networks and communities in Yemen ensure that even the poorest families are not calorie deficient, there is significant nutrient deficiency and many families depend upon borrowing in order to meet their basic food needs.

To aid Yemen in addressing their extensive social, economic, and resource challenges the U.S. Department of State (DOS) has requested just over $120 million in aid for FY 2012.  Of this, just 57 percent or $68.6 million will go towards all economy building, education, health, and democracy building activities.  To offer perspective, in FY 2012 DOS alone requests $5.6 billion for global foreign military funding.

As the U.S. government develops its policies toward Yemen it must look beyond a narrow perspective of counterterrorism and seek to address key causes of insecurity—environmental, social, and economic, as well as political and military. Neither authorizing military force against actors in Yemen nor providing security funding is enough.  Addressing root causes of terrorism and instability means sustained and significant engagement over critical issues including education, resource management, governance reforms, and economic and financial restructuring and development.

When the Embassy staff return to Sana’a and engage with the Yemeni government, whatever its form, the US must work with Yemen to:

  • rebuild key institutions  and capacity;
  • support those existing development and business projects that have been most successful;
  • initiate new U.S-Yemeni partnerships that strengthen Yemen’s internal scientific, economic, governance, and business capacity; and
  • push the Yemeni government for meaningful governance reforms.

FAS Report on Proposed U.S.-NATO Missile Defense Shield

The Obama administration is working with NATO to develop a missile defense shield to protect U.S. and European interests from ballistic missile attacks by Iran. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has expressed strong concerns over this shield and has warned of a return to Cold War tensions, as well as possible withdrawal from international disarmament agreements like the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

On June 9, the NATO-Russia Council plans to meet with defense ministers to establish cooperation guidelines for the new European antiballistic missile system. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is releasing a new report that addresses concerns made by officials of the Russia Federation and provides recommendations for moving forward with a missile defense system..

Dr. Yousaf Butt, Scientific Consultant to FAS, and Dr. Theodore Postol, Professor of Science, Technology and National Security Policy in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have published a technical assessment (PDF) of the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) missile defense system proposed by NATO and the United States and analyzed whether the Russian Federation has a legitimate concern over the proposed NATO-U.S. missile defense shield.

In practice the PAA will provide little, if any, protection leaving nuclear deterrence fundamentally intact. While the PAA would not significantly affect deterrence, it may be seen by cautious Russian planners to impose some attrition on Russian warheads. While midcourse missile defense would not alter the fundamental deterrence equation with respect to Iran or Russia, it may, in the Russian view, constitute an infringement upon the parity set down in New START.

Read the report Upsetting the Reset: The Technical Basis of Russian Concern Over NATO Missile Defense (PDF).

Prosecution of Thomas Drake “Smacks of Overkill”

The prosecution of former National Security Agency official Thomas A. Drake under the Espionage Act “smacks of overkill,” said the Washington Post in an editorial today (“A case that could be overkill against a whistleblower,” June 6).

The Post editorial tends to ratify a growing consensus that the prosecution of Drake on charges of unauthorized retention of classified information is a mistake, and that the Obama Administration has mishandled the case.  That view was crystallized by a widely-read New Yorker article written by Jane Mayer (“The Secret Sharer,” May 23), and reinforced by a 60 Minutes profile (May 22), as well as a Ridenhour whistleblower award.

There is no evidence that Mr. Drake intended to cause harm to the United States or that he actually did so, even inadvertently.  The prosecutors themselves do not claim that any classified information that might have been in Mr. Drake’s possession appeared in the press as a result of his actions.  Yet he faces the possibility of multiple decades in prison.

“The question here is whether the indictment and proposed punishment are proportionate to the alleged infraction,” the Post editorial said.  Clearly, they are not.

When former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was found to have unlawfully removed classified records (pdf) from the National Archives — in circumstances that were far more egregious and much less susceptible to an innocent interpretation than anything Mr. Drake did — Mr. Berger was not charged under the Espionage Act.  He pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of “unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material” under 18 USC 1924, and was sentenced to two years of probation.  He also had to pay a fine, to perform 100 hours of community service, and to forego access to classified material for three years.

There is no possibility at this late date that the Obama Administration will acknowledge its error and change course before Mr. Drake’s trial begins on June 13.  But one may still hope that a sensible jury will discern the injustice in the Administration’s pursuit of Mr. Drake and draw the only appropriate conclusion.

NRO Releases Parts of 2011 Budget Justification Book

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the U.S. intelligence agency that builds and operates intelligence satellites, has just released unclassified portions (pdf) of its Congressional Budget Justification Book for Fiscal Year 2011.  The large bulk of the document remains classified and unreleased, but the newly disclosed portions reveal a few scraps of new information.

“The NRO brings unique capabilities to bear in support of national security objectives by… acquiring and operating the most capable set of satellite intelligence collection platforms ever built,” the NRO told Congress.

“In times of heightened tension, crisis, or even humanitarian or natural disasters, the value of NRO systems is even greater,” the budget document said.  “NRO systems are not only the first responders of choice for the DoD, IC [intelligence community], or policy decision makers, but also they are often the only source of information.”

However, the NRO complained that its “financial flexibility has been lost due to a steady proliferation of budget control lines, more restrictive reprogramming limits, and greater external involvement in resource decisions” (p.2).  The NRO has a massive annual budget that is probably on the order of $10 billion.

The 2011 NRO budget document introduced some new unclassified code names and programs such as “Ardent Gunslinger” (a “three tiered replacement next generation CORE backbone replacing existing ATM [asynchronous transfer mode] network”) (p. 451) and “Puppet Master” (a “replacement to the Future Architecture for Command and Telemetry Services”) (p. 455), among other curious bits and pieces.

“The NRO acquires and operates satellites that provide constant global access to critical information otherwise unavailable to the President, his cabinet, other national leaders and numerous customers in the Defense and Intelligence communities.  These satellites provide services in three broad categories:  GEOINT [geospatial intelligence], SIGINT [signals intelligence], and Communications (COMM).”

The FY 2011 NRO budget book was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists.  As recently as 2006, the NRO had argued that its budget documents constituted “operational files” that are exempt from search and review under the FOIA.  We challenged that claim in a FOIA lawsuit and, remarkably enough, the court ruled (pdf) in our favor and against the agency.  Since that 2006 ruling by Judge Reggie B. Walton, the NRO has agreed to provide redacted versions of its budget book.  So have all other U.S. intelligence agencies except the National Security Agency, which uses a broad statutory exemption to withhold even unclassified agency information from public disclosure.

Obama Declassifies Portion of 1968 President’s Daily Brief

In a small but momentous shift in national security secrecy policy, President Obama personally ordered the declassification last month of a short paragraph regarding the Soviet space program that appeared in the President’s Daily Brief dated November 26, 1968.  The move came in response to a researcher’s request that had been blocked by the Central Intelligence Agency for more than a decade.

The President’s Daily Brief (PDB) is a compilation of intelligence that is presented to the President each day. It has long been considered sacrosanct by intelligence officials and has been effectively beyond the reach of Freedom of Information Act requesters and other researchers.

“The PDB is a unique intelligence product prepared specifically for the President of the United States to provide him with the most important current intelligence on critical issues relating to the national security of the United States,” a CIA official wrote (pdf) in 2006.

“In the PDB, the intelligence community assembles the most sensitive intelligence information and the best analytic judgments in a complete, accurate, and timely package intended to inform the President and his most senior advisors as they make and implement the nation’s defense and foreign policies…. The PDB is the most sensitive intelligence report produced by [the U.S. intelligence community].”

Based on that assessment, intelligence officials have successfully resisted and rebuffed FOIA requests, lawsuits and other public attempts to gain access to PDBs.

In the late 1990s, researcher Peter Pesavento identified several PDBs located at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library concerning the Soviet space program that were of interest to him and he filed a mandatory declassification review (MDR) request for their release.  When his requests were denied by the CIA, he appealed the matter to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), an executive branch body that considers appeals of MDR requests that have been denied.  Remarkably, in 2003 the ISCAP granted Mr. Pesavento’s appeal with respect to the one paragraph of the five-page PDB that discussed Soviet space (and even so one of the three sentences in the paragraph was partially redacted).

But then-Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet vetoed the ISCAP disclosure decision, making use of the new veto authority that had been granted to the DCI in President Bush’s 2003 executive order on classification to block release of the PDB.  Two members of the ISCAP appealed to the President to overturn the Tenet veto in 2003, but no action was taken on the appeal, until now.

“Please be advised that the President has directed the declassification and release of portions of the President’s Daily Brief of November 26, 1968, that had been declassified by the Panel in its decision of September 2, 2003,” wrote William A. Cira, executive secretary of the ISCAP in a May 26, 2011 letter (pdf) to Mr. Pesavento.

The declassified PDB paragraph, which will be released by Mr. Pesavento in a forthcoming article, is not very interesting to a non-specialist.  It predicts that “the Soviets will not attempt a flight around the moon in December [1968]” but will probably wait until early 1969.

What makes the new disclosure significant is that it represents a decisive break from the intense and unyielding secrecy that with few exceptions has surrounded this class of documents.

In 2004, under pressure from the 9/11 Commission, President Bush released the famous PDB passage entitled “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US” (pdf).  But even in that case, DCI Tenet declared in his written declassification decision that the 2004 release to the 9/11 Commission “shall not be deemed to constitute any precedent concerning any future declassification or release of any other PDB.”

By contrast, President Obama’s declassification decision in this case does create a precedent that is all but certain to initiate a cascade of further releases of historical PDBs, beginning with several others on Soviet space that were also requested by Mr. Pesavento.

“In the coming months the Panel [ISCAP] will be adjudicating several similar President’s Daily Brief appeals from you that the Panel has held in abeyance pending a decision on this issue,” wrote Mr. Cira of ISCAP last month.

The declassification decision also gives new substance to two provisions in the Obama executive order on national security classification that were in danger of becoming mere rhetorical flourishes.

“[N]o information may be excluded from declassification… based solely on the type of document or record in which it is found,” the President directed in executive order 13526, section 3.1g.  That provision was presumed to apply to PDBs, and now we finally know that it does.

Also, the order stated in section 1.5d, “No information may remain classified indefinitely.”  Though this principle may seem like common sense, it has all too rarely been applied in practice.

A handful of other PDB texts have become public informally or inadvertently and have been published by the National Security Archive.

Selected Acquisition Report on Littoral Combat Ship

A status report on the Navy’s development of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) as of late last year is given in a Selected Acquisition Report (pdf) that was sent to Congress in April.

The word “littoral” means near the shore.  The LCS is intended to counter small boat threats, mine laying vessels and coastal submarine threats.

Additional background on the LCS is available in a Congressional Research Service report entitled “Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background, Issues and Options for Congress” (pdf).