SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 129
December 19, 2006

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

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FAS ASKS COURT TO COMPEL NRO COMPLIANCE WITH FOIA

The Federation of American Scientists yesterday asked a federal court to enforce a court order directing the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to process a Freedom of Information Act request for unclassified budget information after the NRO said it had "decided" not to do so.

In a July 24, 2006 order (pdf), D.C. District Judge Reggie B. Walton rejected an NRO claim that the requested budget information was an "operational" file that is exempt from the FOIA. He ordered the agency to process the request.

On September 20, the NRO filed notice that it would appeal that ruling.

Last month, the agency said that in light of the pending appeal it had "decided not to produce the document(s) in question."

By law, however, the NRO is not entitled to make such a decision. Rather, it must request and receive a stay of the court order, which it failed to do.

In a December 18 motion in the case, Aftergood v. National Reconnaissance Office, we asked Judge Walton to enforce his July 24 order. See:


GOVT WITHDRAWS SUBPOENA AGAINST ACLU

Last week it emerged that the Department of Justice had adopted the unprecedented tactic of employing a subpoena in order to recover copies of a classified document that had been provided without authorization to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Yesterday, in a swift and somewhat farcical conclusion to the controversy, the government withdrew the subpoena and announced that the document had been declassified.

The use of a subpoena was not intended as a threat, a government attorney wrote to the court, but was issued in response to a "request" from the ACLU, so that the organization would not have to voluntarily surrender the document without "due process."

"The Government issued the subpoena based on [...] what it believed to be the ACLU's request for a subpoena in lieu of voluntarily returning the then-classified document."

See a copy of the withdrawal letter here:

Further background is available in "Government Backs Down in its Attempt to Seize 'Secret' Document," ACLU, December 18:

and "Prosecutors Drop A.C.L.U. Subpoena in Document Fight" by Adam Liptak, New York Times, December 19:


COUNTERINSURGENCY MANUAL FLIES OFF THE SHELF

The new Army Field Manual on Counterinsurgency (pdf) doctrine has been downloaded from the Federation of American Scientists web site at an extraordinary rate -- more than 250,000 times since it was posted on Friday morning.

But unlike previous drafts of the document obtained by Secrecy News, the new manual is no secret. It has been published and actively disseminated by the Army.

"Why don't you also put up our press release announcing the manual which can also be found on our web site?" inquired Col. Steven A. Boylan of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. That December 15 news release (pdf) and the accompanying manual can be found on the Fort Leavenworth web site here:

Col. Boylan also objected to Secrecy News' statement that the new counterinsurgency doctrine was at odds with current U.S. policy in Iraq.

"This manual was in production for about two years and is not and was not intended to counter any current or future policy as you indicate in your article. This document is also not specific to Iraq or Afghanistan. If you understand the basis of doctrine, then you know that our doctrine is geared to be used anywhere our Army might deploy."


STRAY BITS FROM THE CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE

"Bosnia and the European Union Military Force (EUFOR): Post-NATO Peacekeeping," updated December 5, 2006:

"Mad Cow Disease and U.S. Beef Trade," updated December 6, 2006:


THE GRANDEUR OF ERROR CORRECTION

On December 17 the New York Times published a correction of a December 3 Times story which said that polonium-210 had been used to power U.S. spacecraft after a December 14 Secrecy News story showed that the claim was almost certainly incorrect:

The error was trivial but the correction was grand.

Some institutions and some government officials have an aversion to admitting error, viewing it as a sign of weakness. But admitting and correcting errors paradoxically enhances credibility, not diminishes it. It makes it possible to approximate the truth ever more closely.

An openness to admitting error is also essential to a vital functioning democracy.

The president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Gilbert S. Omenn, touched on this point recently in a wide-ranging address published in Science Magazine:

"Science works best in a culture that welcomes challenges to prevailing ideas and nurtures the potential of all of its people. Scientific ways of thinking and of re-evaluating one's views in light of new evidence help strengthen a democracy."

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

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