SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 114
December 15, 2005

PENTAGON WILL REVIEW DOMESTIC SURVEILLANCE PROCEDURES

In response to mounting concern over the conduct of domestic military surveillance, the Department of Defense said that it will review its database of domestic threat reports to ensure that information regarding U.S. citizens is not illegally retained.

The announcement followed the disclosure by NBC News and The Washington Post that lawful political activities of American citizens had been archived in a Department of Defense database and cited as a "threat."

"There is nothing more important to the U.S. military than the trust and good will of the American people," according to the December 14 Pentagon statement.

"The Department of Defense values that trust and goodwill and consequently views with the greatest concern any potential violation of the strict DoD policy governing authorized counter-intelligence efforts and support to law enforcement." See:

Significantly, the Pentagon was moved to respond by an unauthorized disclosure in the press, not by congressional oversight, which seems inert or even complicit in expanding domestic surveillance.

See "Is the Pentagon spying on Americans?" from NBC News, December 14:

The threat database document which triggered the Pentagon response was obtained by Washington Post blogger William Arkin.


BUSH ISSUES EXECUTIVE ORDER ON FOIA

President Bush issued an executive order yesterday to improve the processing of Freedom of Information Act requests.

The order would require executive branch agencies to name a Chief FOIA Officer, and to establish FOIA Requester Service Centers to assist members of the public in gaining information about the status of their requests.

The order provides some positive reinforcement to the FOIA process, but fails to come to grips with the underlying defects of Bush Administration information policy.

"The effective functioning of our constitutional democracy depends upon the participation in public life of a citizenry that is well informed," the President said. "For nearly four decades, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided an important means through which the public can obtain information regarding the activities of Federal agencies."

But it is dumbfounding to say, as the President does in the Order's first requirement, that "in responding to a FOIA request, agencies shall respond courteously and appropriately." A lack of courtesy has never been the problem.

FOIA processing has bogged down in the Bush Administration for several more substantive reasons. One is that many agencies now require members of the public to file formal FOIA requests rather than simply providing the information upon request.

Another problem is that there has been a wholesale removal of information from many government web sites, so that it is necessary to file FOIA requests in order to recover that information.

In most cases, records that have been withdrawn from the web (like the U.S. Army Weapons System Handbook, for example) are eventually released when requested under FOIA. But their initial removal from online access typically adds months of delay and hundreds of dollars to the disclosure process in each case.

The Bush order does not address these root issues of disclosure policy.

See Executive Order 13392 (as it will be designated upon publication in the Federal Register) on "Improving Agency Disclosure of Information," December 14, 2005:


FOIA EXEMPTIONS FOR OPERATIONAL FILES CONTESTED

Congress is poised to carve out a new exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for so-called "operational files" of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

That would be a mistake, argued Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), in a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

DIA has demonstrated over the years that valuable intelligence records can be released under the FOIA without compromise of secret intelligence sources, Rep. Waxman observed.

"New [FOIA] exemptions should not be created lightly, especially in the absence of a hearing record that demonstrates the need for an exemption," he wrote.

Meanwhile, the National Security Archive petitioned a federal court for leave to file an amicus brief in the FOIA lawsuit Aftergood v. National Reconnaissance Office, in which the NRO has refused to disclose unclassified budget files, claiming that they are exempted "operational files."

The court's decision in this case "will have implications for a broad swathe of the public," argued Meredith Fuchs, general counsel of the National Security Archive, and "this is a case of first impression." See:

The court granted the Archive's motion, and ordered that an amicus brief be filed by January 9.


HOUSE VOTES TO REJECT CRUEL TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The House of Representatives voted to endorse a provision advanced by Sen. John McCain that would prohibit "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of persons under custody or control of the United States Government."

The measure was approved by a veto-proof majority of 308-122.

Among the 122 Representatives who opposed the anti-torture provision were Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. They did not explain their opposition during the December 14 floor debate. See:


ARMY PSYOP PLANNING GUIDE

The nuts and bolts of conducting tactical psychological operations (PSYOP) are set forth in a new Army guide for military planners and commanders.

"PSYOP Soldiers may require an interpreter to effectively communicate with the local populace. Guidance on how to select an interpreter, what to do and not do when using an interpreter, and how to work with the interpreter is provided on pages 28 through 31."

See "Psychological Operations Leaders Planning Guide," November 2005:


OPEN SOURCE CENTER ANALYSIS: A SAMPLE

The Director of National Intelligence Open Source Center is busily churning out products for government consumers who care to make use of them.

"Many OSC products are purely internal analyses, not simply translations," one registered user told Secrecy News. "Now they even have a bunch of blogs. I have no time to look at any of it anymore, but the system obviously has received an infusion of money lately."

One recent publication, styled an "OSC Analysis," is a profile of Al Manar, the Lebanese Hizballah television station.

"Al-Manar continues its negative treatment of the United States but has dropped the more incendiary anti-US material seen in the past.... Al-Manar's reporting on Iraq adopts a critical tone toward US policies and actions but [also] condemns insurgent bombings targeting Iraqi civilians.... Al-Manar refers to Iraqis killed by both American forces and insurgents as 'martyrs' and highlights popular Iraqi opposition to such acts."

See "OSC Analysis: Al-Manar Promotes 'Resistance,' Tones Down Anti-US Material," Open Source Center, December 8, 2005:

Eliot A. Jardines, the new Assistant Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Open Source, will speak January 17 at the annual conference of Open Source Solutions (www.oss.net/iop).

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

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