SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 51
May 15, 2007

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

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CRS DIRECTOR DEFENDS ACCESS RESTRICTIONS

Although it "has stirred significant controversy in recent years," the Congressional Research Service policy of restricting direct dissemination of its products to members of Congress is well-founded, argued CRS director Daniel P. Mulhollan in a lengthy internal memorandum last month.

"The reasons for limiting public distribution of our work can be summarized as follows," he wrote.

"First, there is a danger that placing CRS in an intermediate position [between Congress and the public] would threaten the dialog on policy issues between Members and their constituents."

"Second, the current judicial ... perception of CRS as 'adjunct staff' of the Congress might be altered if CRS were seen as speaking directly to the public, putting at risk Speech or Debate Clause constitutional protections afforded the confidential work performed by this agency."

"And third, if CRS products were routinely disseminated broadly to the public, over time these products might come to be written with a large public audience in mind and would no longer be focused solely on congressional needs."

A copy of Director Mulhollan's seven page memorandum on "Access to CRS Reports," dated April 18, 2007, was obtained by Secrecy News and is available here:

The arguments detailed by Mr. Mulhollan seem singularly unpersuasive to an outsider. CRS is not being called upon to mediate between Congress and the public or to engage in a public dialog on policy issues. Rather, proponents of broader dissemination are simply asking for the same public access that commercial vendors of CRS reports already enjoy.


SELECTED CRS REPORTS

For now, the Congressional Research Service still does not make its products directly available to the public. Americans who want online access to CRS reports have to make their own arrangements.

Some noteworthy new CRS reports obtained by Secrecy News include the following.

"Defense: FY2008 Authorization and Appropriations," May 11, 2007:

"Nuclear Weapons: The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program," updated May 11, 2007:

"International Reaction to the Palestinian Unity Government," May 9, 2007:

"Coast Guard Deepwater Program: Background, Oversight Issues, and Options for Congress," updated April 30, 2007:

"Underlying Strains in Taiwan-U.S. Political Relations," updated April 20, 2007:

"The Speech or Debate Clause: Recent Developments," updated April 17, 2007:


NASA TRIES, FAILS TO WITHHOLD PLANETARY DEFENSE REPORT

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration earlier this year attempted to block public access to a comprehensive report on planetary defense against asteroids, but the document found its way into the public domain anyway.

NASA undertook the study in response to a 2005 Congressional mandate "to provide an analysis of alternatives to detect, track, catalogue, and characterize" potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs) and to submit "an analysis of possible alternatives that NASA could employ to divert an object on a likely collision course with Earth."

An abbreviated version (28 pages) of the resulting report, which generally recommended against initiation of a new planetary defense program, was provided to Congress and the public in March 2007.

Strangely, however, NASA sought to prevent public disclosure of the full 272-page report that provided the underlying analysis for NASA's conclusions.

To prevent uncontrolled dissemination, NASA did not distribute a soft copy version of the report. And altogether, no more than around 100 copies of the hard copy document were published.

Public requests for the document were denied, though it is unclassified.

"The document you requested was distributed in hard copy as a 'thank you' to [NASA working group] team members and is not an official, distributable NASA publication," Marcus Shaw, a contractor at the NASA Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation, told Secrecy News.

"Copies beyond those for the study team are not available. An electronic copy will not be distributed or posted by NASA," he wrote in a March 13 email from NASA headquarters.

In fact, however, the report is clearly marked as a NASA product and is presumptively subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

A legal challenge proved unnecessary, however, as the report soon leaked out through unauthorized channels.

It was obtained by the private B612 Foundation, an organization that advocates a more pro-active planetary defense program. ("Our goal is to significantly alter the orbit of an asteroid in a controlled manner by 2015.")

The full document (in a large 23 MB PDF file) was posted this month, along with the organization's technical critique of NASA's analysis, here:

B612 is the asteroid home of Saint-Exupery's Little Prince.


US ARMY ON IDENTIFICATION OF DECEASED PERSONNEL

The identification of deceased military and civilian personnel killed on or around the battlefield is one of the grim functions routinely performed in wartime.

It is so grim, in fact, that the U.S. Army decided it should be shielded from public awareness.

A U.S. Army Field Manual on "Identification of Deceased Personnel" was not supposed to be made publicly available. The manual is not classified, nor does it impinge on personal privacy. It is rather less graphic than a typical medical school anatomy textbook. But to the Army, it is still not suitable for public consumption.

The cover page says it should be destroyed by any method that will "prevent disclosure of contents or reconstruction of the document."

"This [manual] begins with discussions of basic gross human anatomy, antemortem and perimortem trauma, human osteology, and dental anatomy and morphology. These chapters provide the mortuary affairs specialist with the basic knowledge to proficiently assist human identification experts (such as the forensic pathologist, medical examiner, forensic odontologist, and forensic anthropologist) with identifying human remains."

A copy of the proscribed manual was obtained by Secrecy News. Thanks to Entropic Memes.

See "Identification of Deceased Personnel," U.S. Army Field Manual 4-20.65, July 2005 (220 pages in a very large 32 MB PDF file):


NEWSLETTER NEWS

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

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