Author: Katie Colten

FAS Roundup: September 10, 2012

Thorium reactors, new CRS reports, DoD security policy and much more. From the Blogs Greater Autonomy for Unmanned Military Systems Urged: The Department of Defense should focus on increasing the autonomy of drones and other unmanned military systems, a new report from the Defense Science Board said. “Autonomy” in this context does not mean “computers making independent decisions and taking uncontrolled action.”  The Board is not calling for the immediate development of Skynet at this time.  Rather, autonomy refers to the automation of a particular function within programmed limits. DoD Security Policy is Incoherent and Unmanageable, IG Says: “DoD security policy is fragmented, redundant, and inconsistent,” according to a new report from the Department of Defense Inspector General.  This is not a new development, the report noted, but one that has persisted despite decades of criticism. The report said that the solution to this fragmentation and incoherence is the development of a comprehensive and integrated security policy. Thorium Reactors and Radioactive Waste: What are the advantages to using thorium-cycle reactors? In a new post on the ScienceWonk Blog, Dr. Y investigates the reactor design, economics and waste produced by these reactors.

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FAS Roundup: September 4, 2012

Crisis in Syria, illicit weapons in war zones, nuclear targeting guidance and much more. Crisis in Syria Syria has one of the most sophisticated chemical weapons programs in the world, and is suspected to have an active biological weapons program. Additionally, there are reports that Syrian rebels have acquired MANPADS, which are surface-to-air missiles fired by an individual or a small team. In a new video edition of the FAS series "A Conversation with an Expert," Mr. Charles Blair, Senior Fellow on State and Non-State Threats, and Mr. Matt Schroeder, Director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project, discuss the crisis in Syria and the implications of rebels acquiring and using chemical weapons and MANPADS. The video can be viewed here. Video transcript is available here (PDF).

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FAS Roundup: August 27, 2012

STRATCOM Commander rejects high estimates of China's nuclear arsenal,  security of dangerous materials, and much more. From the Blogs STRATCOM Commander Rejects High Estimates for Chinese Nuclear Arsenal: The commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), General Kehler, has rejected claims that China’s nuclear arsenal is much larger than commonly believed. His statement comes at an important time because much higher estimates recently have created a lot of news media attention and are threatening to become “facts” on the Internet. Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris estimate that China has approximately 240 weapons in its arsenal. Like the other nuclear weapon states, China is modernizing its nuclear arsenal, but it is the only one of the five original nuclear powers (P-5) that appears to be increasing the size of its warhead inventory. That increase is modest and appears to be slower than the U.S. intelligence community projected a decade ago. Crisis in Mali and More from CRS: Secrecy News has obtained recently released CRS reports on topics such as the armed conflict in Syria, pipeline cybersecurity and the crisis in Mali.

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FAS Roundup: August 20, 2012

Case dismissed based on state secret privilege, Bio agents app, new CRS reports  and much more. From the Blogs Court Dismisses Case Based on State Secrets Privilege: On August 14, a federal court dismissed a lawsuit which alleged that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had engaged in unlawful surveillance of Muslim residents of southern California. The court granted the Obama Administration’s claim that the state secrets privilege precluded litigation of the case. The plaintiffs in the case contended that the FBI had “conducted an indiscriminate ‘dragnet’ investigation and gathered personal information about them and other innocent Muslim Americans in Southern California based on their religion.” The government said various aspects of the subject were too sensitive to be addressed in open court. Liquid Fuel Molten Salt Thorium Reactors: How does a thorium reactor differ from a uranium reactor? In a new post on the ScienceWonk Blog, Dr. Y investigates the differences between these two reactors.

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FAS Roundup: August 13, 2012

Congress resists efforts to reduce secrecy, U.S. strategy in Yemen, new CRS reports and much more. From the Blogs Justice Department Silent on IG Role in State Secrets Cases: The Department of Justice told Congress recently that it would not disclose the number of state secrets cases involving alleged government misconduct, if any, that have been referred to an Inspector General for investigation. Under a revised state secrets policy that was announced by Attorney General Holder in 2009, the Department committed to referring credible claims of government wrongdoing that could not be adjudicated in court because the state secrets privilege had been invoked to the Inspector General of the relevant agency for further investigation. The 52 Percent Solution in Yemen: Debate has picked up on the U.S. strategy in Yemen. John Brennan, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, recently explained the administration’s policy, which had been accused of focusing narrowly on counterterrorism. Mark Jansson, director of Special Projects, writes that ultimately we should not get caught up in the numbers game in evaluating U.S. policy towards Yemen. More balance would be great, but balance is not the sole indicator of efficacy. What Americans and Yemenis alike need to know is whether the plan for Yemen is actually working. Congress Resists Efforts to Reduce Secrecy: Ordinarily, critics of government secrecy focus their ire — and their strategy — on executive branch agencies that refuse to release certain national security-related information to the public. Steven Aftergood writes that  to an extent that is not widely recognized or understood, it is Congress that has erected barriers to greater openness and has blocked efforts to improve transparency.

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FAS Roundup: August 6, 2012

Anniversary of Hiroshima, sanctions on Iran, anti-leak measures in Senate Bill and much more. FAS Perspectives on Hiroshima To commemorate the 67th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima, FAS has invited members and distinguished experts to submit an opinion or reminiscence of Hiroshima and its lasting impacts for nuclear security and safety. FAS also invites your comments at the bottom of the page. To read the essays click here. From the Blogs Defense, Critique of NSA Classification Action Released: A persistent controversy involving allegations of overclassification reached a new level of intensity on Friday when the National Security Agency released its explanation for the disputed classification of an NSA email message that was used to support an Espionage Act prosecution. The dispute concerns the validity of the classification of an internal NSA email message entitled “What a Wonderful Success!” that was found in the home of former NSA official Thomas Drake and that served as the basis for a felony charge against him, which was ultimately dismissed.  The email message, which was formally declassified in 2010, was itself publicly released the week before last.

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FAS Roundup: July 30, 2012

Cost of B-61 life extension program, nuclear Japan, new report on U.S. transitional housing and much more. From the Blogs U.S. “Secretly” Circumvents Somalia Arms Embargo: In apparent violation of an arms embargo on Somalia that it helped to impose 20 years ago, the United States is providing clandestine military support to Somali security services without notifying United Nations monitors as required by the embargo. Justice Department Defends Use of State Secrets Privilege: “The Government has invoked the state secrets privilege sparingly and appropriately,” the Department of Justice said in a 2011 report to Congress that was released this week. The 8 page report describes the features of the internal process for determining whether to assert the state secrets privilege in a particular case, including the standards and procedures for validating the use of the privilege. B61-12: NNSA's Gold-Plated Nuclear Bomb Project: Hans Kristensen writes that the disclosure during the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on July 25 that the cost of the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) is significantly greater that even the most recent cost overruns calls into question the ability of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to manage the program and should call into question the B61 LEP itself. Kristensen writes that if these cost overruns were in the private sector, heads would roll and the program would probably be canceled.

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FAS Roundup: July 23, 2012

New online debate series, history of Soviet biological weapons program, India's nuclear arsenal and much more. FAS Launches New Online Feature: "Up for Debate" FAS launched its new online debate series, "Up for Debate." Every two weeks, the feature will highlight a new science and security issue to be discussed by experts and leaders from academia, government and policy. In the first debate, Dr. Mark Raizen from the University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Francis Slakey from the American Physical Society debate the benefits and risks of laser isotope separation. Is the promise of tapping into the rare isotopes of the elements worth risking the threat of nuclear proliferation? "Up For Debate" welcomes your suggestions for questions and experts. Please email your ideas for debates, as well as individuals whose insights you'd like to read to pir@fas.org. To view the debate and learn more about the Up for Debate series click here.   From the Blogs The History of the Soviet Biological Weapons Program: In 1972, the United States, the Soviet Union and other nations signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention that was supposed to ban biological weapons.  At that very time, however, the Soviet Union was embarking on a massive expansion of its offensive biological weapons program, which began in the 1920s and continued under the Russian Federation at least into the 1990s. Steven Aftergood writes about the new encyclopedic work,  “The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History” by Milton Leitenberg and Raymond A. Zilinskas, which tells the story of the Soviet biological weapons program. New Army Doctrine Seeks to Minimize Civilian Casualties: Both as a matter of humanitarian principle and as sound military strategy, U.S. military forces should strive to minimize civilian casualties in military operations, according to new U.S. Army doctrine published on Wednesday obtained by Secrecy News. “In their efforts to defeat enemies, Army units and their partners must ensure that they are not creating even more adversaries in the process,” the new publication states.

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FAS Roundup: July 16, 2012

Polygraph tests and leaks, DoD report on Iran and much more. From the Blogs Fundamental Classification Review Yields Uncertain Results: The executive branch has just completed a two-year review of its classification guidance that was ordered by President Obama as a way to combat overclassification of government information. The early results of the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review, which formally concluded on June 27, make it clear that something out of the ordinary occurred and that some changes have been made, but the significance of those changes remains uncertain. The single most dramatic outcome of the review is that the Department of Defense, which is the largest classifying agency, eliminated more than 400 of its 2000 classification guides.  Each guide is a compilation of detailed classification instructions for an individual program or topical area.  Those cancelled guides can no longer be used to authorize the classification of information. Polygraphs and Leaks- A Look Back at NSDD 84: Steven Aftergood investigates the history behind National Security Decision Directive 84 from March 11, 1983 which directed that "All departments and agencies with employees having access to classified information are directed to revise existing regulations and policies, as necessary, so that employees may be required to submit to polygraph examinations, when appropriate, in the course of investigations of unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”

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Meet the 2012 FAS Security Scholars

Launched as part of FAS’s new Science and Security intiative, the Security Scholars Program provides students with experience in science and security policy. FAS staff and members from government,…

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