SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 3
January 7, 2008

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

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NSA RELEASES HISTORY OF AMERICAN SIGINT AND THE VIETNAM WAR

During the Vietnam War, North Vietnamese intelligence units sometimes succeeded in penetrating Allied communications systems, and they could monitor Allied message traffic from within. But sometimes they did more than that.

On several occasions "the communists were able, by communicating on Allied radio nets, to call in Allied artillery or air strikes on American units."

That is just one passing observation (at p. 392) in an exhaustive history of American signals intelligence (SIGINT) in the Vietnam War that has just been declassified and released by the National Security Agency.

From the first intercepted cable -- a 1945 message from Ho Chi Minh to Joseph Stalin -- to the final evacuation of SIGINT personnel from Saigon, the 500-page NSA volume, called "Spartans in Darkness," retells the history of the Vietnam War from the perspective of signals intelligence.

The most sensational part of the history (which was excerpted and disclosed by the NSA two years ago) is the recounting of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Incident, in which a second reported North Vietnamese attack on U.S. forces, following another attack two days before, triggered a major escalation of the war. The author demonstrates that not only is it not true, as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told Congress, that the evidence of a second attack was "unimpeachable," but that to the contrary, a review of the classified signals intelligence proves that "no attack happened that night."

Several other important Vietnam War-era episodes are elucidated by the contribution of SIGINT, including the Tet Offensive, the attempted rescue of U.S. prisoners of war from Son Tay prison, and more.

The author, Robert J. Hanyok, writes in a lively, occasionally florid style that is accessible even to those who are not well-versed in the history of SIGINT or Vietnam.

The 2002 study was released in response to a Mandatory Declassification Review request filed by Michael Ravnitzky. About 95% of the document was declassified. (Unfortunately, several of the pages were poorly reproduced by NSA and are difficult to read. A cleaner, clearer copy will need to be obtained.)

See "Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War, 1945-1975" by Robert J. Hanyok, Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency, 2002:

Some background on the Tonkin Gulf Incident from the National Security Archive with links to related documents may be found here:


SOURCEBOOK ON THE ALTAY OPTICAL LASER RESEARCH CENTER

A Russian satellite tracking facility in Siberia called the Altay Optical Laser Research Center is profiled in a newly updated document collection.

A proposed expansion of the facility calls for a high-resolution satellite imaging telescope with an aperture of 3.12 meters and angular resolution of 0.044 arc seconds.

"This is diffraction-limited performance, indicating serious adaptive optics," observed Allan Thomson, the former CIA analyst who prepared the new sourcebook, which is in Russian and English.


DOD OPERATIONS AT U.S. EMBASSIES

The lines of authority governing Department of Defense employees at U.S. embassies abroad, including policy and intelligence personnel, are set forth in a new DoD directive. See "Department of Defense Operations at U.S. Embassies," DoD Directive 5105.75, December 21, 2007:


THE LAW OF THE SEA CONVENTION AND INTELLIGENCE

The Director of National Intelligence last year affirmed the Administration's support for ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention. But a minority in Congress expressed concern that the Convention would impede U.S. intelligence collection.

"The overwhelming opinion of Law of the Sea experts and legal advisors is that the Law of the Sea Convention simply does not regulate intelligence activities nor was it intended to...," wrote Charles Allen, then-Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Collection, as quoted in an August 8, 2007 letter from DNI Mike McConnell.

But "the Treaty fails to protect the significant role submarines have played, especially during the Cold War, in gathering intelligence very close to foreign shorelines," claimed Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and David Vitter (R-LA), in a dissenting view not supported by the DNI or the leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Both perspectives were aired in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee volume last month that recommended ratification of the Convention. See "Convention on the Law of the Sea," December 19, 2007:


OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, AND MORE FROM CRS

Noteworthy new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public online include these.

"Obstruction of Justice: an Overview of Some of the Federal Statutes that Prohibit Interference with Judicial, Executive, or Legislative Activities," December 27, 2007:

"Obstruction of Congress: a Brief Overview of Federal Law Relating to Interference with Congressional Activities," December 27, 2007:

"Suits Against Terrorist States By Victims of Terrorism," updated December 17, 2007:

"Proposals to Reform 'Holds' in the Senate," updated December 20, 2007:

"Federal Tort Claims Act," updated December 11, 2007:

"Intelligence Issues for Congress," updated December 18, 2007:

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

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