SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 119
November 15, 2006

Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/

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CONFRONTING SECRET LAW

The U.S. Supreme Court should reject the idea of a secret law or directive that purports to regulate public behavior yet cannot be disclosed, several public interest groups argued yesterday.

The groups filed amicus curiae briefs in support of a petition by John Gilmore, who challenged a government requirement that he produce official identification in order to board an airplane and was told that he could not see the underlying policy document because it is "sensitive security information."

The government says that Mr. Gilmore had adequate notice of the ID requirement without inspecting the written policy.

But "The laws of the United States do not permit the Executive Branch to govern public conduct through secret laws," wrote Marcia Hofmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Court should therefore agree to review the Gilmore matter. The FAS Project on Government Secrecy signed on to the EFF brief.

Other amicus briefs were filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The latest briefs, and other background on the case, can be found here:

See also "Groups ask high court to review aviation ID policies," by Andrew Noyes, National Journal's Technology Daily, November 14:


THE LIMITS OF TRANSPARENCY

Openness in government is a prerequisite to democratic self-rule and is the best available antidote to official corruption.

Yet greater transparency, particularly on the international level, "is not an unmitigated good," argues Kristin M. Lord in a new, somewhat contrarian book.

"In all likelihood, the trend toward greater transparency will be at once positive and pernicious," she writes, particularly since some disputes are based on real conflicts of interest and are not simple misunderstandings that could be resolved through greater disclosure.

"More information about the military capabilities of other states may show vulnerability and encourage aggression by the strong against the weak. Greater transparency can highlight hostility and fuel vicious cycles of belligerent words and deeds.... Transparency sometimes can make conflicts worse."

The author illustrates her thesis with case studies of the role of information in the unfolding of the Rwanda genocide, and of information policy in Singapore's relatively open yet rather authoritarian society. She seeks to distinguish between the means of openness and the hoped-for ends that are implicitly believed to follow from them, sometimes without justification.

For more information, including the first chapter of the book, see "The Perils and Promise of Global Transparency" by Kristin M. Lord, State University of New York Press, 2006:

The ill effects of too much transparency are still a rather hypothetical problem, since national and international efforts to control disclosure of information persist and in some cases are growing.

In another recent book, author Alasdair Roberts identifies several factors that are inhibiting transparency, including the privatization of certain categories of government information, the increasing influence of international organizations with restrictive information policies, and the growing international collaboration of security agencies.

See "Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age" by Alasdair Roberts, Cambridge University Press, 2006:


ARMY DOCTRINE ON URBAN OPERATIONS

The conduct of military operations in urban areas is the subject of a new Army doctrinal manual.

"Of all the environments in which to conduct operations, the urban environment confronts Army commanders with a combination of difficulties rarely found elsewhere [due to its] intricate topography and high population density."

The hazards and threats posed by the urban environment, and the spectrum of potential responses to mitigate or exploit them, are considered at length in the 315-page unclassified manual.

See "Urban Operations," U.S. Army Field Manual FM 3-06, 26 October 2006 (a large 14 MB PDF file):


IN OTHER NEWS

"For those who believe in transparent government and fact-driven legislation, the power shift in the U.S. Congress represents a unique opportunity to open up one important Congressional institution -- the Congressional Research Service -- and bring back another one -- the Office of Technology Assessment -- twelve years after it was disbanded," suggests Christian Beckner in Homeland Security Watch:

The Army Science Board has drastically reduced public disclosure of its unclassified advisory studies, Inside the Army reported. And by doing so, it may have undermined the impact of its own work. See "Citing Security, Army Tightens Reins On Science Board Research" by Fawzia Sheikh, Inside the Army, November 13:

The unprecedented prosecution of two former pro-Israel lobbyists who are charged with improperly receiving and disseminating classified information has unpleasant implications for reporters who cover national security, among others. The case was reviewed by civil libertarian Nat Hentoff in "Bush Revives Espionage Act," Village Voice, November 10:

"The mainstream news media is too fond of articles in which it is said some flavor of demonical terror menace can be put together from cookbooks found on the Internet," George Smith blasts in his Dick Destiny blog and in the UK's The Register.

Federal Computer Week did a profile this week of, ahem, me. See "A career as a secrecy watchdog" by Aliya Sternstein, FCW, November 13:


ILLUMINATING RUSSIA'S MAIN DIRECTORATE OF SPECIAL PROGRAMS

The Main Directorate of Special Programs (Russian acronym: GUSP) is a somewhat mysterious Russian security organization that was established as one of the various successors to the former KGB.

"The directorate's specialists have a great deal of experience in building fortified structures and tunnels and know how to handle explosives," according to an article in Moskovskiy Komsomolets (16 September 1999).

"Moreover, the GUSP is the president's very own special service and is accountable only to the head of state."

In a neat bit of detective work, the Open Source Center (OSC) of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence noticed that new details of GUSP's internal structure could be gleaned from official badges sold by commercial vendors of military paraphernalia.

"Russian commercial websites specializing in the sale of military insignia provided identifying information for a number of military units belonging to the Special Facilities Service (SSO) of the Main Directorate for Special Programs of the Russian Federation President (GUSP)," the Open Source Center reported this week.

"[This] is in most instances the only available public reference for these units and their affiliation with the Special Facilities Service," the OSC said.

In another neat bit of work, Allen Thomson retrieved images of those telltale military insignia and combined them with other published material to produce "A Sourcebook on the Russian Federation Main Directorate of Special Programs (GUSP)" which may be found here:

Secrecy News will resume publication after Thanksgiving.

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

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