SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 98
October 4, 2002

INTELLIGENCE REFORM LANGUISHES

"While there has been a plethora of recommendations for [intelligence] reform over the years, many of the most far-reaching proposals have not been acted on to any significant degree," said Eleanor Hill, staff director of the congressional joint inquiry into September 11.

That is an understatement.

Ms. Hill's latest testimony cites over a dozen official commissions that considered intelligence reform in the last several years alone. Her October 3 testimony, with embedded links to the reports of each of those commissions, may be found here:

The remainder of the hearing on intelligence reform was less than inspiring, with a selection of witnesses -- all former officials -- that reflects the intelligence committees' narrow field of vision. With due respect to former FBI and CIA director William Webster, for example, he is an unlikely guide to the future of intelligence. Prepared testimony from the latest joint inquiry hearing may be found here:


ASTEROID IMPACT COULD HAVE LED TO NUCLEAR WAR

An asteroid that entered the earth's atmosphere last June with a burst of energy could have triggered a nuclear war, according to congressional testimony yesterday from Air Force Brig. Gen. Simon P. Worden.

"Two and a half months ago, Pakistan and India were at full alert and poised for a large-scale war, which both sides appeared ready to escalate into nuclear war," Worden recalled. "The situation has defused for now. Most of the world knew about this situation and watched and worried."

"But few know of an event over the Mediterranean on June 6th of this year that could have had a serious bearing on that outcome. U.S. early warning satellites detected a flash that indicated an energy release comparable to the Hiroshima burst. We see about 30 such bursts per year, but this one was one of the largest we have ever seen. The event was caused by the impact of a small asteroid, probably about 5-10 meters in diameter, on the earth's atmosphere."

"The event of this June received little or no notice as far as we can tell. However, if it had occurred at the same latitude just a few hours earlier, the result on human affairs might have been much worse. Imagine that the bright flash accompanied by a damaging shock wave had occurred over India or Pakistan. To our knowledge, neither of those nations have the sophisticated sensors that can determine the difference between a natural NEO [near-Earth object] impact and a nuclear detonation. The resulting panic in the nuclear-armed and hair-triggered opposing forces could have been the spark that ignited a nuclear horror we have avoided for over a half century."

Worden's remarkable testimony was delivered at an October 3 House Science Subcommittee hearing on the threat posed by asteroid and other near-Earth objects. See his prepared statement here:

The iconoclastic Gen. Worden came to public attention earlier this year as director of the Pentagon's aborted Office of Strategic Influence.


CIVILIAN SATELLITE VULNERABILITY

"Because vulnerability issues are often ignored in the design of civilian satellites, those systems may be especially tempting targets," observed former CIA analyst Allen Thomson in a prescient 1995 opinion article:

Years later, this concern is starting to grow.

Besides natural hazards due to the space environment, "satellite systems are vulnerable to many forms of intentional human attacks that are intended to destroy ground stations and satellites or interfere with... data links," according to a General Accounting Office report published this week.

The new report provides a comprehensive introduction to the nature and scope of the problem, along with policy recommendations.

See "Critical Infrastructure Protection: Commercial Satellite Security Should Be More Fully Addressed," GAO report GAO-02-781, August 2002:


PENTAGON DEFENDS POLICY ON ENEMY COMBATANTS

In a lawyerly response to continuing criticism of its policy on designating and incarcerating American citizens (Padilla and Hamdi) as "enemy combatants" with minimal judicial review and without access to legal representation, the Pentagon insisted that its position was fully justified by law.

"There is no due process or any other legal basis, under either domestic or international law, that entitles enemy combatants to legal counsel," wrote Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes II.

See his October 2 letter here:

The letter was written in response to an August 8 task force report issued by the American Bar Association which recommended, among other things, that "citizen detainees should not be denied access to counsel." See the ABA report here:


BRAZIL SEEKS DECLASSIFIED US DOCUMENTS

The human rights committee of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies is requesting that the United States provide declassified U.S. government documents regarding Brazil during the military regime of 1964-1985.

The request was inspired by the recent State Department declassification of documents concerning Argentina's "dirty war."

"As in Argentina, we can clarify cases of political disappearances in our country and also learn more about the participation of the United States in this sad period," Brazilian Deputy Orlando Fantazzini told the newspaper Gazeta Mercantil on October 1.

The declassification request was provided to the US Ambassador in Brazil on September 30 for transmission to Washington.

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Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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