SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 29
March 25, 2004

DOD RELEASES STUDY ON ANTHRAX LESSONS LEARNED

After nearly two years of refusing to grant public access to an unclassified report on lessons learned from the anthrax letter attacks of 2001, the Pentagon has finally released a redacted version of the document.

"The anthrax attacks revealed weaknesses in almost every aspect of U.S. biopreparedness and response," the report said. "As simple as these attacks were, their impact was far-reaching."

The report, authored by David Heyman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is based on a daylong forum convened by CSIS under contract to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) in December 2001.

It provides a detailed and informative but hardly unsuspected inventory of shortcomings in emergency preparedness and response.

Ironically, the Defense Department's two-year denial of repeated requests for release of the document exemplifies one of the central problems identified in the report.

"The failure to communicate a clear message to the public was one of the greatest problems observed during the anthrax attacks... [including] failure to provide timely and accurate information."

The Department's inability to efficiently process requests for this document suggests that it still has a long way to go to remedy this particular failure.

The redacted version of the report was finally released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) appeal.

A copy of "Lessons from the Anthrax Attacks: Implications for U.S. Bioterrorism Preparedness" is posted here (2 MB PDF file):

The Pentagon did not contend that the withheld portions of the anthrax report are classified (exemption 1), even though they are said to concern "vulnerabilities and capabilities of the US Government to respond to another... attack."

Rather, in an expansive interpretation of the law, it said that release of the redacted portions would make it possible to "circumvent Department of Defense rules and practices...." (exemption 2).

See the March 15 transmittal letter from H.J. McIntyre of the DoD FOIA Policy Office here:


THE PASSION OF THOMAS BUTLER

Dr. Thomas C. Butler is as great a benefactor to humanity as anyone is ever likely to meet.

He dedicated his career to the study of infectious disease and is an internationally renowned expert on plague. His early medical research is credited with saving the lives of *millions* of children around the world each year by advancing oral hydration as a treatment for diarrhea.

But over the past several months, Dr. Butler has been humiliated, fined, and compelled to surrender his medical license, as the result of various procedural violations committed in the course of his research, such as improperly shipping bacteria samples abroad via Federal Express.

On March 10, he was sentenced to two years in prison.

He could well have been condemned to an even longer sentence, observed the Honorable Judge Sam R. Cummings of the Northern District of Texas.

But the court decided to be merciful, in light of the fact that "the defendant's research and discoveries have led to the salvage of millions of lives throughout the world."

"There is not a case on record that could better exemplify a great service to society as a whole that is substantially extraordinary," Judge Cummings said.

Alternatively, one could say that there is not a case on record that could better exemplify the shortsighted application of the law in a manner that is madly inappropriate to the circumstances of the case.

After the first million lives that he saves, a defendant is entitled to some leeway when it comes to the commission of non-malicious crimes, one might have supposed. It is hard to witness the professional destruction of Dr. Butler and to call it justice.

See the transcript of the March 10 sentencing hearing here:

See also "Butler gets 2 years in prison" by John Dudley Miller, The Scientist, March 11 (free registration required):


THE MYTH OF THE PRESIDENT'S DAILY BRIEF

The President's Daily Brief (PDB), the daily intelligence briefing prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency, is one of those categories of classified information that are sometimes termed classification "icons" because their near-absolute secrecy status exceeds any national security justification that can be rationally offered. (The intelligence budget total is another such "icon.")

The myth of the PDB as a sacrosanct document that may never be disclosed was exploded by Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive in an online essay and document collection this week that includes excerpts of several PDBs that have in fact entered the public domain, with or without authorization.

See "The President's Daily Brief" by Tom Blanton, March 22:

See also "Who's Afraid of the PDB? Why Bush should show the 9/11 commission his briefs" by Tom Blanton in Slate.com, March 22:

An August 6, 2001 edition of the PDB has become a particular focus of controversy because it reportedly described the threat to the U.S. from Al Qaida. The White House has refused to release this key document, and has only permitted the 9-11 Commission to gain partial access to it under exceedingly restricted circumstances.

But in remarks during a March 24 roundtable interview that seemed to cast doubt on the legitimacy of such secrecy, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice indicated that this particular PDB was not that sensitive or interesting:

"This document was a kind of analytic step-back piece that says we know that al Qaeda has been interested in striking the American homeland, and then it's historical. Most of it is about, he admired the 1993 events at the World Trade Center -- the bombing in '93. Some things about '97 and '98. There's mention of hijacking for the purpose of getting the release of prisoners. So it's not in the context of flying airplanes into buildings. It mentions that al Qaeda has tried to infiltrate people into the United States."

"But it's all kind of things that you've heard before...," she said. See:


A REJOINDER ON POLYGRAPH

It is not correct to say that no spy has ever been caught as a result of polygraph testing.

John F. Sullivan, who served as a CIA polygrapher for 31 years, wrote to set the record straight, noting that the polygraph played a role in the identification of spies such as Sharon Scranage and James Nicholson.

See his "Rejoinder on Polygraph" here:

Mr. Sullivan is not an uncritical proponent of polygraph testing. Nor does he insist, against the findings of the National Academy of Sciences and others, that the polygraph is scientifically valid in the way that other diagnostic tools are.

"I have always believed that trying to sell polygraph as a science was a mistake, and as I stated in my book, polygraph is 92% art and 8% science," he told Secrecy News.

"There are Rembrandts and finger painters among polygraph examiners, and when done by a 'Rembrandt,' polygraph is very effective," he wrote in an email. "When done by a finger painter, polygraph is ineffective, often abusive, and can be dangerous."

This is a striking analogy since it places the emphasis on the intuitive gifts of the examiner rather than on the technique or technology of the test. One can study and teach painting, but no training program can reliably produce "Rembrandts" at will.


A LEGAL REVIEW OF THE MOAB BOMB

According to Defense Department regulations, all weapons are to be reviewed for compliance with international law prior to their use in conflict.

An Air Force review of the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), a huge 21,000 pound air-dropped explosive that is also informally known as the "Mother of All Bombs," was conducted last year.

In a three page analysis, the Air Force Judge Advocate General concluded that "the MOAB weapon... is consistent with the international legal obligations of the United States, including the LOAC [law of armed conflict]." See (thanks to RT):

For more on MOAB, see:


INSCOM: ARMY INTEL AGENTS EXCEEDED THEIR AUTHORITY

Army intelligence officers who asked the University of Texas Law School to provide them with a roster of attendees at a recent conference, in order to identify a "suspicious" participant in the conference, exceeded their authority, according to an internal investigation conducted by the Army's Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM).

The investigation followed news reports about the incident, including a March 9 Wall Street Journal story.

"INSCOM's review concluded that the special agents and their detachment commander exceeded their authority by requesting information about individuals who were not within the Army's counterintelligence investigative jurisdiction," according to a March 12 news release. See:


A NEW ANTI-SECRECY COALITION

In response to the continuing escalation in official secrecy, a new coalition of organizations and individuals under the aegis OpenTheGovernment.org is emerging to advance the interests of openness and accountability.

"The public's right to know promotes equal and equitable access to government, encourages integrity in official conduct, and prevents undisclosed and undue influence from special interests," according to the coalition's statement of values. "OpenTheGovernment.org seeks to advance the public's right to know and to reduce secrecy in government."

Among its first activities is an effort to identify the "ten most wanted" documents that should be publicly accessible but are not.

See the coalition web site here:

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

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