Q&A Session on Recent Developments in U.S. and NATO Missile Defense with Dr. Yousaf Butt and Dr. George Lewis

Dr. Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, is professor and scientist-in-residence at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The views expressed are his own.

Dr. George N. Lewis is a senior research associate at the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Cornell University.

missiledefense4Researchers from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) asked two physicists who are experts in missile defense issues, Dr. Yousaf Butt and Dr. George Lewis, to weigh in on last week’s announcements on missile defense by the Obama administration.

Before exploring their reactions and insights, it is useful to identify salient elements of U.S. missile defense and place the issue in context. There are two main strategic missile defense systems fielded by the United States: one is based on large high-speed interceptors called Ground-Based Interceptors or “GBI’s” located in Alaska and California and the other is the mostly ship-based NATO/European system. The latter, European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) to missile defense is designed to deal with the threat posed by possible future Iranian intermediate- and long-range ballistic missiles to U.S. assets, personnel, and allies in Europe – and eventually attempt to protect the U.S. homeland.

The EPAA uses ground-based and mobile ship-borne radars; the interceptors themselves are mounted on Ticonderoga class cruisers and Arleigh Burke class destroyers. Two land-based interceptor sites in Poland and Romania are also envisioned – the so-called “Aegis-ashore” sites. The United States and NATO have stated that the EPAA is not directed at Russia and poses no threat to its nuclear deterrent forces, but as outlined in a 2011 study by Dr. Theodore Postol and Dr. Yousaf Butt, this is not completely accurate because the system is ship-based, and thus mobile it could be reconfigured to have a theoretical capability to engage Russian warheads.

Indeed, General James Cartwright has explicitly mentioned this possible reconfiguration – or global surge capability – as an attribute of the planned system: “Part of what’s in the budget is to get us a sufficient number of ships to allow us to have a global deployment of this capability on a constant basis, with a surge capacity to any one theater at a time.”

In the 2011 study, the authors focused on what would be the main concern of cautious Russian military planners —the capability of the missile defense interceptors to simply reach, or “engage,” Russian strategic warheads—rather than whether any particular engagement results in an actual interception, or “kill.” Interceptors with a kinematic capability to simply reach Russian ICBM warheads would be sufficient to raise concerns in Russian national security circles – regardless of the possibility that Russian decoys and other countermeasures might defeat the system in actual engagements. In short, even a missile defense system that could be rendered ineffective could still elicit serious concern from cautious Russian planners. The last two phases of the EPAA – when the higher burnout velocity “Block II” SM-3 interceptors come on-line in 2018 – could raise legitimate concerns for Russian military analysts.

A Russian news report sums up the Russian concerns: “[Russian foreign minister] Lavrov said Russia’s agreement to discuss cooperation on missile defense in the NATO Russia Council does not mean that Moscow agrees to the NATO projects which are being developed without Russia’s participation. The minister said the fulfillment of the third and fourth phases of the U.S. ‘adaptive approach’ will enter a strategic level threatening the efficiency of Russia’s nuclear containment forces.” [emphasis added]

With this background in mind, FAS’ Senior Fellow on State and Non-State Threat, Charles P. Blair (CB), asked Dr. Yousaf Butt (YB) and Dr. George Lewis (GL) for their input on recent developments on missile defense with eight questions.

Q: (CB) Last Friday, Secretary of Defense Hagel announced that the U.S. will cancel the last Phase – Phase 4 – of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) to missile defense which was to happen around 2021. This was the phase with the faster SM-3 “Block IIB” interceptors. Will this cancellation hurt the United State’s ability to protect itself and Europe? Continue reading

Classification Complaint Arising from Thomas Drake Case Dismissed

In July 2011, J. William Leonard, a former director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), took the extraordinary step of filing a formal complaint with the Office he once led charging that a document used to indict former NSA official Thomas Drake under the Espionage Act had been wrongly classified in violation of the executive order on classification. (“Complaint Seeks Punishment for Classification of Documents” by Scott Shane, New York Times, August 2, 2011; “Ex-federal official calls U.S. classification system ‘dysfunctional'” by Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, July 21, 2012)

Last December, in a newly disclosed response, John P. Fitzpatrick, the current ISOO director, concluded that Mr. Leonard’s complaint did not warrant the sanctions that Mr. Leonard had urged.  Neither the original classification of the NSA document, titled “What a Wonderful Success,” nor its continued classification “rise to the level of willful acts in violation of the Order,” Mr. Fitzpatrick wrote in his December 26, 2012 response.

With that, the matter was officially closed.  But the divergent views underlying the complaint remain unresolved and continue to fester.

“I have devoted over 34 years to Federal service in the national security arena, to include the last 5 years of my service being responsible for Executive branch-wide oversight of the classification system,” Mr. Leonard wrote in his 2011 complaint. “During that time I have seen many equally egregious examples of the inappropriate assignment of classification controls to information that does not meet the standards for classification; however, I have never seen a more willful example.”

But Mr. Fitzpatrick said that having reviewed the original classification of the document as well as its continued classification, “I find no violation in either case.”  In fact, he noted, “NSA discontinued the classification of the document in question” during the course of the Drake case.

“The content and processing of the document fall within the standards and authority for classification under the Order and NSA regulations,” Mr. Fitzpatrick wrote.  That doesn’t make them immune to criticism, he wrote, but it means that their classification does not “rise to the level of willful acts in violation of the Order.”

Mr. Leonard was not persuaded.  In an email to Mr. Fitzpatrick after the complaint was dismissed, he said he was not overly concerned by the original classification of the document, “which although improper was, by all appearances, a reflexive rather than willful act.”  Nor, of course, was he troubled by the eventual declassification of the document.

But “What I did and continue to take issue with is that in between those events, senior officials of both the NSA and DoJ made a number of deliberate decisions to use the supposed classified nature of that document as the basis for a criminal investigation of Thomas Drake as well as the basis for a subsequent felony indictment and criminal prosecution.”

Not only that, Mr. Leonard said, but DoJ and NSA officials justified the classification after the fact by claiming the document “reveals… a specific level of effort…” concerning a classified activity, and that that assertion was “factually incorrect.”

Mr. Fitzpatrick said he had no basis to comment on the Drake case per se.  “That is not my purview.”

“I do think it important to note that ISOO’s authority to handle the complaint pertains to classification actions authorized under the Order.  It does not extend to investigative or prosecutorial decisions made under other authorities,” Mr. Fitzpatrick told Secrecy News yesterday.

But he added that “To conclude that the single document cited in the complaint was the primary basis for an investigation and prosecution is, in my view, too narrow a reading of the facts of the case. When building such cases, agencies make decisions to reduce the risk of exposing national security information.  This influences their selection of which documents and evidence to place in the public record.  These are matters of investigative and prosecutorial discretion whose results are determined in court.  Neither those results, nor opinions about the relative merits of mounting a case, recast the original classification action as sanction-worthy.”

Mr. Leonard highlighted the striking fact that no one has ever been sanctioned for abuse of classification authority, and he told Mr. Fitzpatrick that the present case was a missed opportunity.

“Accountability is crucial to any system of controls and the fact that your determination in this case preserves an unbroken record in which no government official has ever been held accountable for abusing the classification system does not bode well for the prospect of real reform of the system,” Mr. Leonard wrote.

Why indeed has there never been any accountability for classification abuse?  Mr. Fitzpatrick said “This goes to the cultural aspects of national security information control, where the premium is placed on protection and avoidance of inadvertent disclosure.  The other side of that coin — I would call it simply overclassification — is less generally policed against.  Its ill effects are felt in the cumbersome processes associated with declassification review and the persistent backlogs and slow processes that characterize the system.”

Mr. Leonard went further in a thoughtful but scathing presentation at a panel sponsored by the Brennan Center for Justice on March 14 (beginning at 36:25), in which he first disclosed the ISOO response to his complaint. He said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the executive branch is both incapable and unwilling to achieve real reform in this area.”

Mr. Fitzpatrick said that, for his part, he retained a degree of hope that meaningful changes to secrecy policy could still be achieved.

“There are some essential elements needed to bring about reform, and they hard to come by,” he said via email. “The first and most important is an unambiguous call for change from senior leadership.  That mandate must promise commitment and describe specific outcomes the change is meant to bring about.  Examples would include: reduce classification; expedite declassification; improve access to declassified historical Formerly Restricted Data.  Given that inter-agency cooperation is needed to address these issues, nothing short of a White House-directed effort is likely to succeed in making this kind of reform happen.  This belief underlies the [Public Interest Declassification Board‘s] primary recommendation from their recent report [namely, to establish a White House-led steering group on secrecy reform].”

The last impartial word about the Thomas Drake prosecution (though not specifically on classification policy) may be that of the presiding judge, Judge Richard D. Bennett. At the July 2011 sentencing hearing that ended the case, he called the government’s handling of the matter “unconscionable” and abusive.

Thomas Drake himself reflected on his experience in a speech to the National Press Club on March 15.

Secret Sessions of Congress, and More from CRS

The latest updates from the Congressional Research Service obtained by the Federation of American Scientists include these reports.

Secret Sessions of the House and Senate: Authority, Confidentiality, and Frequency, March 15, 2013

Europe’s Energy Security: Options and Challenges to Natural Gas Supply Diversification, March 15, 2013

The Amending Process in the Senate, March 15, 2013

Commonly Used Motions and Requests in the House of Representatives, March 15, 2013

Navy Nuclear Aircraft Carrier (CVN) Homeporting at Mayport: Background and Issues for Congress, March 15, 2013

Navy Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism Operations: Background and Issues for Congress, March 15, 2013

Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, March 15, 2013

Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress, March 15, 2013

Taxes on Gun Sales to Support Wildlife, and More from CRS

In the wake of recent gun-related violence, and in anticipation of potential new restrictions on gun ownership, there has been a sharp increase in sales of guns and ammunition.  That is bad news for gun control advocates, but it turns out to be good news for wildlife, at least in the short term.

“Through an excise tax on firearms and ammunition, such sales have a marked beneficial effect on funding for state wildlife programs,” according to a new Congressional Research Service report.

Gun tax-derived funding for wildlife restoration increased by about $150 million this year, CRS found, to around $413 million, though some of that is subject to sequestration.  “With reports of surges in gun sales over guns rights and gun-related violence, substantially more funds seem likely to be available in FY2014,” the report said.

Game species — animals that can be shot by hunters — “are the primary or direct beneficiaries of the program,” CRS said drily. However, “non-game species, such as native plants, non-game birds, and other species, may benefit incidentally through conservation of the habitats they share with hunted species.”  The twisting tale is told in Guns, Excise Taxes, and Wildlife Restoration, March 12, 2013.

Other new reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has opted to withhold from online release to the public include the following.

A hypothetical (and unlikely) restructuring of national security spending is discussed in A Unified National Security Budget? Issues for Congress, March 14, 2013

The projected impact of sequestration on foreign aid is detailed in The Budget Control Act, Sequestration, and the Foreign Affairs Budget: Background and Possible Impacts, March 13, 2013

Close defense cooperation between the U.S. and New Zealand, which was suspended in the Reagan era due to differences over nuclear policy, has been reestablished and expanded, the CRS says in New Zealand: U.S. Security Cooperation and the U.S. Rebalancing to Asia Strategy, March 8, 2013

Changes to Senate Procedures in the 113th Congress Affecting the Operation of Cloture (S.Res. 15 and S.Res. 16), March 13, 2013

An Overview of the Housing Finance System in the United States, March 13, 2013

Analysis of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, March 11, 2013

FAS Roundup: March 18, 2013

Bradley Manning takes responsibility, possible changes to security questionnaire, risk and public health and much more.

From the Blogs

Bradley Manning Takes Responsibility: At an open hearing on February 28, Pfc. Bradley Manning said that he was responsible for providing U.S. government documents to the WikiLeaks website, including a large collection of U.S. State Department cables, a video of a brutal U.S. Army helicopter attack in Baghdad, and other records. A redacted copy of the statement was released by Manning’s lawyer on March 11.

Deterring Leaks Through Polygraph Testing: Steven Aftergood writes that last summer, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper directed agencies that perform polygraph tests to include a “pre-test dialogue” about the need to prevent leaks of classified information as part of the polygraph interview process. In a July 2012 memorandum to agencies, he said that the CIA’s polygraph program exemplified what he had in mind. The July 2012 memo was released last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Continue reading

US Navy Instruction Confirms Retirement of Nuclear Tomahawk Cruise Missile

The U.S. Navy has quietly removed the nuclear Tomahawk cruise missile from its inventory, a new Secretary of the Navy Instruction shows.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Although the U.S. Navy has yet to make a formal announcement that the nuclear Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile (TLAM/N) has been retired, a new updated navy instruction shows that the weapon is gone.

The evidence comes not in the form of an explicit statement, but from what has been deleted from the U.S. Navy’s instruction Department of the Navy Nuclear Weapons Responsibilities and Authorities (SECNAVINST 8120.1A).

While the previous version of the instruction from 2010 included a whole sub-section describing TLAM/N responsibilities, the new version published on February 15, 2013, contains no mentioning of the TLAM/N at all and the previous sub-section has been deleted.

The U.S. Navy is finally out of the non-strategic nuclear weapons business. The stockpile has declined and a substantial number of TLAM/N warheads (W80-0) have already been dismantled. [Update 21 Mar: FY12 Pantex Performance Evaluation Report states (p.24): “All W80-0 warheads in the stockpile have been dismantled.” (Thanks Jay!)].  Continue reading

Judge Collyer Named to Intelligence Surveillance Court

Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of the D.C. District Court was appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States to a seven year term on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The Court provides a measure of judicial oversight over surveillance activities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as amended.

Judge Collyer’s term on the FIS Court began on March 8, 2013 and will conclude on March 7, 2020.  She replaces Judge John D. Bates, whose term ended on February 21.  Her appointment was confirmed by Sheldon Snook, spokesman for the Court.

A roster of the current membership of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court can be found here.

The Court has acknowledged receipt of a letter from several members of the Senate requesting that the Court prepare summaries of its legal interpretations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in order to facilitate their declassification and public release.  But no further action has yet been taken by the Court, as far as could be determined.

Judge Collyer was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush. In September 2011, she authored an opinion accepting the CIA’s view that for the CIA merely to acknowledge the fact that it had an interest in the use of drones for targeted killing would pose unacceptable damage to national security.

Today, the DC District of Appeals unanimously reversed Judge Collyer’s decision.  The appeals court said the CIA was adhering to “a fiction of deniability that no reasonable person would regard as plausible.”  The case — American Civil Liberties Union v. Central Intelligence Agency — was remanded to Judge Collyer for further processing.

CRS Reports on Navy Programs

Newly updated reports from the Congressional Research Service on various U.S. Navy programs include the following.

Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, March 14, 2013

Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background, Issues and Options for Congress, March 14, 2013

Navy Ohio Replacement (SSBN[X]) Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress, March 14, 2013

Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress, March 14, 2013

Navy Shipboard Lasers for Surface, Air, and Missile Defense: Background and Issues for Congress, March 14, 2013

Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, March 13, 2013

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress, March 13, 2013

Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, March 1, 2013

OPM Mulls Changes to Security Clearance Questionnaire

The Office of Personnel Management has invited the public to comment on proposed changes to Standard Form (SF) 86, the questionnaire that must be filled out by all persons who are seeking a security clearance for access to classified information.

Although critics have argued that the SF-86 is hopelessly out of date and should be abandoned in favor of a more streamlined process, the changes that OPM is currently considering are mostly technicalities, not a wholesale revision.  Proposed changes include a recognition of civil unions as a legal alternative to marriage, a clarification that use of drugs that are illegal under federal law must be reported even if they are legal under state law, and changes in wording and instructions for completion of the Form.

Public comments on the changes were solicited by OPM in a March 12 Federal Register notice.

SF-86 is notoriously burdensome to fill out, requiring individuals to supply detailed personal information about all places they have lived for the past seven years, their employment history and where they went to school, along with the name and contact information of someone who can verify each item, as well as any criminal history record, use of illegal drugs, and so forth.

“The SF 86 takes approximately 150 minutes to complete,” the OPM notice says.  But for many people, this seems to be an underestimate.

“I spent four hours one Saturday completing [an] SF-86,” wrote John Hamre, who was deputy secretary of defense under President Clinton, in a Washington Post op-ed recently. His pointed criticism of the Form and the clearance process may have inspired some of the proposed changes. (“The wrong way to weed out spies,” Washington Post, February 20.)

The OPM notice promises that “once entered, a respondent’s complete and certified investigative data remains secured in the e-QIP system until the next time” the form must be completed (e.g. for clearance renewal).

But in Secretary Hamre’s case this didn’t happen for some reason — his previous Form was not saved. “The OPM apparently had no record of this document, which was filed with that agency,” he wrote, so he had to start over from scratch.

When the SF-86 asked for a list of “all foreign travel you have undertaken in the past 7 years,” Hamre balked.  He said he had repeatedly traveled on official business and always reported any contacts with foreign government officials.  So “I refused to enter the information, rather than give it to our government a second time.”

As if in response to Hamre’s objection, the new OPM notice says the Form’s instructions will be “amended so that the respondent need [not] report contact related to official U.S. Government travel.”

Much like the national security classification system that it supports, the security clearance process is still predicated on cold war-era presumptions that became obsolete decades ago. This fundamental critique has yet to be addressed by OPM.

“Why does our government rely on forms designed in the 1950s?” Hamre complained.  “Our country needs a system built for the 21st century.  The current system is pathetic.”

Deterring Leaks Through Polygraph Testing

Last summer, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper directed agencies that perform polygraph tests to include a “pre-test dialogue” about the need to prevent leaks of classified information as part of the polygraph interview process.

In a July 2012 memorandum to agencies, he said that the CIA’s polygraph program exemplified what he had in mind.

“During the pre-test discussion, CIA specifically asks whether an individual has provided classified information or facilitated access to classified information to any unauthorized persons, to include the media, unauthorized U.S. persons, or foreign nationals.  The polygraph process is also used to identify deliberate disclosures,” DNI Clapper wrote.  Other agencies that perform polygraph testing should follow procedures similar to CIA’s, he said.

“Aggressive action is required to better equip United States Government elements to prevent unauthorized disclosures,” DNI Clapper wrote.

The new policy was announced last June, but the implementing July 2012 memorandum was only released this week in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.  See Deterring and Detecting Unauthorized Disclosures, Including Leaks to the Media, Through Strengthened Polygraph Programs, July 13, 2012.

A copy of the memorandum was also obtained by Jason Leopold of Truthout.org, who reported on it yesterday.