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).

From the Blogs

  • U.S. Arms Transfer Agreements Reach Record High: Secrecy News has obtained a new report by the congressional Research Service which finds that arms transfers from the United States to other nations increased significantly over the past year, and exceeded previous levels.
  • Guidance on Nuclear Targeting is “Tightly Controlled”: U.S. government guidance on the targeting of nuclear weapons is perhaps the most tightly held of all national security secrets, and “fewer than twenty” copies of the President’s instructions on the subject are extant within the entire Department of Defense.
  • Back to Thorium-the Thorium Cycle and Non-Proliferation: A thorium-cycle nuclear reactor produces material that can be made into nuclear weapons. What makes the thorium cycle more proliferation-resistant is that there are someother factors, which Dr. Y discusses in a new post on the ScienceWonk Blog.
  • SCI Nondisclosure Agreement Requires Prepublication Review: Steven Aftergood writes that if the former Navy SEAL who co-authored a new book about killing of Osama bin Laden signed a non-disclosure agreement for access to “sensitive compartmented information” (i.e., classified intelligence information), then he was obliged to submit his manuscript to the government for prepublication review even if he believed that it contained no classified information. If the book did contain classified information, then the author could conceivably be subject to criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act.  But even if it did not contain classified information, its publication without prior review could be deemed a breach of contract, with the proceeds subject to seizure by the government.
  • New Air Force Instruction on Geospatial Intelligence: This month, the U.S. Air Force issued new guidance on geospatial intelligence. The Instruction mandates that “All GEOINT activities will be conducted in compliance with applicable laws, policies, and directives.  They will be conducted in a manner that ensures legality and propriety and that preserves and respects privacy and civil liberties.”
  • NRO Budget Request Reflects Internal, External Challenges: In its efforts to improve responsiveness to the needs of its customers, the National Reconnaissance Office this year planned to “provide intelligence data to warfighters in the field using mobile devices.”  Evidently this capability had not been widely available up to now. That’s one of the slivers of information to be found in the NRO budget justification for FY 2012 that was released this week — in heavily redacted form — in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The NRO is the U.S. intelligence agency that builds, launches and operates intelligence satellites.
  • Fundamental Review Leads to Some Reductions in Secrecy: The classification guides that function as the framework for national security secrecy underwent a substantial overhaul during the past two years. As a result of the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review, a large fraction of existing classification guidance has been eliminated, and at least some existing categories of classified information have been declassified. Out of 3,103 classification guides, or compilations of classification instructions, that were reviewed by national security agencies, 869 were either cancelled or consolidated.


  • A new report by the Small Arms Survey and FAS casts new light on illicit small arms and light weapons in war zones. The Small Arms Survey 2012 reveals that many illicit small arms and light weapons in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia are early designs of Eastern Bloc or Chinese weapons that have proliferated widely and are often significantly less capable than newer weapons. The new study draws on data on 80,000 illicit small arms and light weapons, making it the largest study of its kind.


  • On August 29, FAS President Dr. Charles Ferguson spoke at a workshop hosted by the Global America Business Institute and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Washington, D.C. regarding the  prospects for nuclear power use in the United States. Dr. Ferguson’s presentation slides can be viewed here.
  • Senior analyst Mr. Matt Schroeder gave a presentation on illicit small arms and light weapons in war zones at a meeting hosted by the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations in New York City on August 30. The presentation highlighted key findings from a rigorous study of data on 80,000 small arms, light weapons and rounds of light weapons ammunition seized from 1500 arms caches in Iraq and Afghanistan, and dozens of illicit transfers to and within Somalia. The presentation slides can be viewed here.

FAS in the News

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