88 Days to Kandahar: The CIA in Afghanistan

Following the 9/11 attacks, the Central Intelligence Agency was tasked to lead the campaign against Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan. There were some initial successes, as the Taliban was driven from its strongholds and a new Afghan government rose to power. Yet the process was often chaotic, confused and haphazard. “Operating at full throttle, constantly improvising, we seldom had occasion to stop and consider what we were doing, or how.” That sentence […]

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Govt Backtracks on Classifying Afghanistan Data

Updated (twice) below U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have partially rescinded their effort to classify previously public oversight information concerning the status of coalition operations in that country after the move drew sharp criticism. The sudden reversal was reported in the New York Times (U.S. Declassifies Some Information on Afghan Forces by Matthew Rosenberg, February 2). In a report issued last week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) had called the classification action […]

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DoD Classifies Data on Afghanistan Oversight

Updated below In a startlingly indiscriminate classification action that officials termed “unprecedented,” U.S. General John F. Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, ordered the classification of a broad range of previously public information concerning operations in that country. How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used? What are the definitions of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty”? What is the total amount of funding […]

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Court Views State Secrets Too Narrowly, Govt Says

The scope of the state secrets privilege is again a matter of contention, as government attorneys in an ongoing lawsuit told a judge last week that he had construed the privilege too narrowly. Is the state secrets privilege applicable only to discrete items of evidence whose disclosure can be shown to harm the Nation? Or can the privilege be invoked more broadly based on the “context” in which litigation occurs? The proper parameters of the […]

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Classification May Impede Treatment for Vets

National security secrecy can be an impediment to veterans who are seeking treatment for traumas suffered during military service yet who are technically prohibited from disclosing classified information related to their experience to uncleared physicians or therapists. The problem was epitomized by the case of U.S. Army Sgt. Daniel Somers, who participated in classified Special Operations missions in Iraq. He returned with significant physical, mental and psychological damage. He killed himself in June 2013. Secrecy, […]

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Drones in Fact and Fiction

The emergence of unmanned aerial systems, or drones, as an instrument of war is often referred to as a “revolutionary” development in military technology. Thus, a new history of the subject is entitled “Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution” by Richard Whittle (Henry Holt, 2014). But if it is a revolution, it is more like a turning of a wheel that will continue to revolve rather than the permanent transformation of all that […]

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Instability in Yemen, and More from CRS

The population of Yemen has quadrupled over the last 30 years, the Congressional Research Service noted in a newly updated report, exacerbating that nation’s widespread poverty and contributing to the upheaval that is now unfolding. See Yemen: Background and U.S. Relations, January 21, 2015. The United States currently provides refuge to over 300,000 foreign nationals from 11 countries facing civil rest or natural disasters, according to another CRS report. See Temporary Protected Status: Current Immigration […]

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US to Detainee: The Government “Regrets Any Hardship”

In an unusual gesture, the U.S. Government last week apologized to Abdullah al-Kidd, a U.S. citizen who was arrested in 2003 and detained as a material witness in connection with a terrorism-related case. Mr. Al-Kidd, represented by American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, challenged his detention as unconstitutional and inhumane. Now the case has been settled, with an official apology and a payment of $385,000. “The government acknowledges that your arrest and detention as […]

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SSCI Wants Copies of Full Torture Report Returned

Updated below There is a new sheriff in town. Is that the message that Senator Richard Burr, the new chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is trying to send? Senator Burr reportedly wrote to President Obama last week to ask that all copies of the classified 6,700 page Committee report on CIA interrogation practices be returned immediately to the Committee. While the redacted summary of the report has been publicly released and is […]

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New Literature on Secrecy

National security secrecy, which remains a source of conflict and consternation, inspires a steady flow of books and journal articles. As in other policy-related fields, much of this literature is tendentious, derivative or dull. Some of it is insightful, original or usefully provocative. Most works naturally occupy a middle ground including both virtues and defects. Two highly original works on secrecy in recent years — Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Secrecy: The American Experience and Garry Wills’ […]

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