SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 124
December 6, 2006

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

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PATENT SECRECY ORDERS LIFTED ON ROCKET PROPELLANTS

A Florida company called Space Propulsion Systems, Inc. announced this week that it had successfully petitioned the U.S. Government to lift secrecy orders that had been imposed on two of its rocket propellant concepts.

Under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, the government may restrict the publication and dissemination of information about new inventions if their disclosure could be "detrimental to the national security."

At the end of fiscal year 2006, there were 4942 invention secrecy orders in effect, according to statistics obtained by Secrecy News from the Patent and Trademark Office. There were 108 new orders imposed in FY 2006, while 81 existing orders were rescinded.

It is usually difficult if not impossible to identify patents and patent applications that were subject to invention secrecy orders which have been rescinded, though doing so would make an interesting construct for a historical research project.

But in this case, the applicant identified itself.

"Space Propulsion Systems, Inc. is pleased to announce that the Patent and Trademark Office of the Department of Commerce has rescinded the Secrecy Orders that had been imposed with respect to both its WREEM homogeneous propellant and the Supercritical Fluids fabricated Micro Fuel Cell composite rocket propellant in the light of guidance provided by U.S. defense agencies," according to a company news release.

"Although SPS intends to work with the US Government in any way required to protect this technology, SPS believed that the Company needed to develop this technology for the sake of the US, the stockholders of SPS, and the Company. SPS therefore requested our patent attorneys to petition the US Government to rescind the Secrecy Orders on these products. It took over a year, but SPS was finally successful in this effort."

Copies of Secrecy Order forms of various types issued by the Patent Office are available here (courtesy of Michael Ravnitzky):

Some other background on invention secrecy may be found here:


GAO WARNS OF POSSIBLE UNIVERSITY EXPORT CONTROL VIOLATIONS

A new Government Accountability Office study warns darkly that the Departments of State and Commerce are not doing enough to police university research to ensure that export control violations are not occurring on campus.

State and Commerce "have not fully assessed the potential for transfers of export-controlled information to foreign nationals in the course of U.S. university research," the GAO study said. The study urged closer attention to available data on foreign students at U.S. universities.

The negative tone of the report is somewhat surprising since the GAO investigation did not identify a single export control violation, nor did it discover any misinterpretation or misapplication of existing law committed by university researchers.

But the study may reopen a fierce debate that seemed to be nearly settled regarding "deemed exports," referring to the transfer of export-controlled information to foreign persons residing in the United States. A strict interpretation of "deemed export" controls could cause massive disruption of university research, many academic scientists argued in the last two years. In May 2006, the Department of Commerce withdrew a proposed rule on the subject in response to widespread academic criticism. (SN, 05/31/06).

Buried deep in the new report, the GAO did note the significant fact that "government and industry contracting officials are increasingly inserting restrictive language in contracts for research that universities consider to be fundamental [including] language that prohibits the contractor from releasing information, even unclassified information, outside of the contractor's organization." (Page 10).

Such pre-publication restrictions are obviously inconsistent with the university environment. Regrettably, the GAO report did not pursue this issue or recommend the more discriminating use of disclosure restrictions by contracting agencies.

See "Export Controls: Agencies Should Assess Vulnerabilities and Improve Guidance for Protecting Export-Controlled Information at Universities," Government Accountability Office report GAO-07-70, December 2006:

See also a companion report on "Export Controls: Agencies Should Assess Vulnerabilities and Improve Guidance for Protecting Export-Controlled Information at Companies," Government Accountability Office report GAO-07-69, December 2006:


SPECTER, LEAHY INTRODUCE BILL TO "RESTORE" HABEAS CORPUS

In another sign of shifting ground in the post-election Congress, Senators Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy yesterday introduced the "Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2006," which would reinstate federal court jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees and other suspected enemy combatants.

The bill would repeal two provisions of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 enacted in September that limit habeas corpus. "Habeas corpus" refers to the ability of a detainee to seek judicial review of his case.

"The Constitution of the United States is explicit that habeas corpus may be suspended only in time of rebellion or invasion," observed Sen. Specter. "We are suffering neither of those alternatives at the present time. We have not been invaded, and there has not been a rebellion."

"This bill would restore the great writ of habeas corpus, a cornerstone of American liberty for hundreds of years that Congress and the President rolled back in an unprecedented and unnecessary way with September's Military Commissions Act," said Senator Leahy.

See the introduction of the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act here:


AIR FORCE SPACE OPERATIONS, AND ORBITAL DEBRIS

U.S. Air Force doctrine on space operations is elaborated in a new publication. See "Space Operations," Air Force Doctrine Document AFDD 2-2, November 27, 2006:

The threat posed by debris in Earth orbit is the subject of a recent Master's Thesis, which provides a convenient introduction to the subject and a review of recent literature. See "Orbital Debris: Technical and Legal Issues and Solutions" by Michael W. Taylor, Institute of Air and Space Law, McGill University, Montreal, August 2006:


SOME RANDOM CRS REPORTS

Recent publications of the Congressional Research Service include the following.

"Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990," updated November 9, 2006:

"Panama: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations," updated November 16, 2006:

"Thailand: Background and U.S. Relations," updated October 2, 2006:

"Iraqi Police and Security Forces Casualty Estimates," November 16, 2006:

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

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