Invest in Nuclear Security


Like you, I value a secure world that is free from use of nuclear weapons. Through your generous support, FAS staff are helping to create that world. At the beginning of May, FAS commenced its campaign to take the lead in educating policymakers, the press, and the public on all aspects of reducing the risks of further nuclear proliferation, the new START agreement, the road toward deeper nuclear arms reductions, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. Nearly one month in, we are seeing fruitful results. To highlight four notable accomplishments:

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“Dr. Death”–Head of South Africa’s Biological & Chemical Weapons Program

Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa Credit: NASA

The South African chemical and biological warfare program, called “Project Coast,” was established in 1981 under the apartheid regime, violating the Biological Toxins and Weapons Convention of 1972.  The project’s researchers studied Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), Vibrio colerae (cholera), salmonella and Botulinum toxin, in addition to a variety of chemical agents, such as MDMA (ecstasy), PCP, muscle relaxants and nerve agents.  Unlike the chemical agents, the biological agents were not produced on a large scale and were neither weaponized nor meant for combat.   Instead, the program focused on using biological agents for assassination of those who challenged the government.  The agents produced were used by the South African Defense Force and police.   The secretive Project Coast had no civilian and extremely limited military oversight.  Only the former head of Project Coast, Dr. Wouter Basson, knew the agents being studied, how they were used and how much they cost.   Dr. Basson was nicknamed “Dr. Death,” and allegedly arranged the killing of many political dissidents.  In one case, he arranged for the South West African People’s Organization’s (SWAPO) water supply to be contaminated with V colerae, killing 200 people.  Court testimonies indicate that Dr. Basson directed work on contraceptives, with the intent to deliver them to unknowing individuals.  Project Coast ended in 1993 due to diplomatic pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom.  Continue reading

House to Consider GAO Audits of Intelligence

Updated below, to reflect passage of the amendment

Defying a previous veto threat from the White House, the House of Representatives will consider an amendment to bolster intelligence oversight by requiring intelligence agencies to cooperate with the Government Accountability Office when it performs audits that are requested by a congressional committee with jurisdiction over intelligence.

In general, the amendment (pdf) states, “the Director of National Intelligence shall ensure that personnel of the Government Accountability Office designated by the Comptroller General are provided with access to all information in the possession of an element of the intelligence community that the Comptroller General determines is necessary for such personnel to conduct an analysis, evaluation, or investigation of a program or activity of an element of the intelligence community that is requested by one of the congressional intelligence committees.”

The amendment to the FY2011 Defense Authorization Act (HR 5136) was sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and several colleagues.

When a similar amendment was included in the FY2010 Intelligence Authorization Act, which is still pending, it prompted a veto threat from the Obama White House.  But the White House opposition was based on an erroneous interpretation of the law, the Acting Comptroller of the GAO told Congress.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the likelihood of a renewed veto threat, the House Democratic leadership ruled that the Eshoo amendment was “in order,” and it will therefore be considered on the House floor, perhaps today or tomorrow.

Back when he was a Congressman in 1987, CIA Director Leon Panetta introduced a bill called the “CIA Accountability Act” (pdf) that would have reinforced GAO oversight over the Central Intelligence Agency.

Update: The amendment passed the House on May 27 by a vote of 218-210. See this news release from Rep. Eshoo: House Passes Legislation to Increase Oversight of Intelligence Community.

People Crossing Borders, and More from CRS

The system of national borders that is intended to exclude unauthorized persons can be conceptualized as a “fortress” with rigid barriers forming a secure perimeter, or as a “complex organism” with flexible layered defenses and interactions with the external environment. The application of these models to the United States, along with an evaluation of their possible effectiveness, is presented in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.  See “People Crossing Borders: An Analysis of U.S. Border Protection Policies,” May 13, 2010.

Other new CRS products that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (both pdf).

“Potential Stafford Act Declarations for the Gulf Coast Oil Spill: Issues for Congress,” May 13, 2010.

“FY2010 Supplemental for Wars, Disaster Assistance, Haiti Relief, and Court Cases,” May 12, 2010.

Britain Discloses Size of Nuclear Stockpile: Who’s Next?

Britain says it has 225 nuclear warheads for its Trident submarine fleet.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The new British government today followed the French and U.S. examples by disclosing its total military stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons that “the total number of warheads” in the “overall stockpile” will not exceed 225. Of those, “up to 160” are “operationally available” for deployment on Trident II missiles on British ballistic missile submarines. Continue reading

Iran Beat Us to It.

Ivan Oelrich and Ivanka Barzashka

Back in October, when Iran put in a request to the IAEA for a new load of fuel for its medical isotope reactor in Tehran, the United States proposed that Iran ship out an equivalent amount of its low enriched uranium (LEU) in exchange. It turns out, purely coincidentally, that the amount of LEU equivalent to about 20-years worth of fuel for the reactor was almost exactly the amount that Iran would need as feedstock to produce  a bomb’s worth of material.  No one seems to question Iran’s right to purchase fuel, but the purpose of the swap was two-fold:  to get the bomb’s worth of LEU out of Iran, which would have left Iran with less than a bomb’s worth of LEU feedstock, and to provide a seed for improved cooperation and trust. Continue reading

Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genome: A Future Biosecurity Concern?

Colonies of the transformed Mycoplasma mycoides bacterium. Credit: J. Craig Venter Institute

J. Craig Venter of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Rockville, MD announced last week that his team was able to successfully create a bacterial cell controlled by a chemically assembled, man-made genome. This breakthrough discovery in the emerging field of synthetic genomics raises some concern in the biosecurity community and prompted President Obama to call for “… a study of the implications of this scientific milestone, as well as other advances that may lie ahead in this field of research” at the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues held on Thursday, May 20, 2010.

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Jail Sentence Imposed in Leak Case

Shamai Leibowitz, a former FBI contract linguist, was sentenced yesterday to twenty months in jail for having unlawfully disclosed classified documents to an unidentified blogger.  It is only the third case in which a government employee has been convicted of “leaking” classified information to the press.

Mr. Leibowitz said that his intention was to expose official misconduct, not to damage national security.  “During the course of my work I came across wrongdoings that led me to conclude this is an abuse of power and a violation of the law.  I reported these violations to my superiors at the FBI who did nothing about them.  Thereafter, to my great regret, I disclosed the violations to a member of the media,” he said.

Mr. Leibowitz, an Israeli-American lawyer, told the court he now understood that he should have gone to the Inspector General of the Justice Department instead.

“I used bad judgment and made a terrible decision.  I would like to emphasize,” he told the judge in a written statement, “that I was not motivated by greed, fame, personal ambition, or foreign interests.  I made a mistake but only because I believed it was in the best interests of the American people.  I truly regret that my misguided patriotism led me to make a mistake that is wholly uncharacteristic of me.”

Prosecutors said that Mr. Leibowitz had “betrayed the FBI” by revealing information he had pledged to protect, and that his conviction should help to deter others against disclosing classified information.

“The willful disclosure of classified information to those not entitled to receive it is a serious crime,” said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “Today’s sentence should serve as a warning to anyone in government who would consider compromising our nation’s secrets.”

In many respects, Mr. Leibowitz seems to be an admirable character.  He has devoted much of his legal career in Israel and the United States to helping minorities, undocumented workers, refugees and other disadvantaged persons, he informed the court.  In his blog Pursuing Justice, he has helped to raise money for children needing heart transplants, organized opposition to the death penalty, and highlighted the underreported fact that the street vendor who alerted police to the attempted bombing of Times Square was himself a Muslim.

So it may have been a sign of personal integrity that he did what no one else has ever done before:  he pled guilty to the charge of disclosing classified information to the press. [Correction: Larry Franklin pled guilty (pdf) to unauthorized disclosure of national defense information as part of the settlement of his case in 2005. But Mr. Leibowitz pled guilty without having been indicted in the first place.]

(The closest precedent may have occurred in 1778 when a publication revealed the sensitive fact that France was secretly supporting the American Revolutionary cause.  In the course of a leak investigation, John Jay demanded to know if Thomas Paine was responsible.  “Yes, sir,” Paine answered without apology, “I am the author of that piece.”  That remarkable anecdote was unearthed by Gabriel Schoenfeld in his new book “Necessary Secrets,” following Daniel Hoffman’s pioneering Governmental Secrecy and the Founding Fathers.)

By admitting his guilt, Mr. Leibowitz effectively removed one of the most formidable barriers that prosecutors in leak cases must contend with.

Ordinarily, a resourceful defense can seriously complicate a leak prosecution, explained former assistant attorney general Kenneth L. Wainstein at a May 12 Senate hearing, which helps explain why there are so few of them.  “Even if the Justice Department succeeds in identifying and indicting the suspected leaker, it can expect to face a vigorous defense. These cases typically feature legal challenges from defense counsel invoking everything from first amendment principles to allegations of improper classification to arguments that their client’s alleged leak was actually an authorized disclosure within the scope of his or her official duties,” he said (pdf).

In a plea agreement that took note of his cooperation, Mr. Leibowitz’s sentence was reduced from the nominal 46 month prison sentence recommended in sentencing guidelines to 20 months.

Judge Alexander Williams Jr. said at the sentencing hearing yesterday that he was having some difficulty addressing the obligatory question of “sentencing disparity,” i.e. whether the proposed sentence was significantly more or less severe than in other cases — because there were so few other comparable cases to go by.

But as it turns out, Mr. Leibowitz is now poised to serve a longer sentence than any other convicted leaker, observed Josh Gerstein of Politico.  Samuel L. Morison, convicted in 1985 of disclosing spy satellite photos to Jane’s Defence Weekly (and later pardoned by President Clinton), served eight months of a two year sentence.  Larry Franklin, who disclosed classified information to AIPAC employees Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, served 10 months in community confinement out of an original 12 year jail sentence.  See “Justice Dept. Cracks Down on Leaks” by Josh Gerstein, Politico, May 25.

Judge Williams ordered Mr. Leibowitz (pdf) to surrender himself on August 2 for the start of his prison term.

New Appointments to Declassification Center, Board

Last week, Sheryl Jasielum Shenberger was named by the Archivist of the United States as the first director of the National Declassification Center.

As director, Ms. Shenberger will be responsible for ensuring that the new Center achieves its initial operating capability when it starts operations in earnest next month.  The Center has been tasked by President Obama with eliminating the backlog of over 400 million pages of classified historical records, which must be declassified and made available to the public not later than the end of December 2013.  To meet this ambitious goal, the Center will have to process an average of 100 million pages each year, a tenfold increase over recent practice.

Ms. Shenberger has been a Central Intelligence Agency analyst and desk officer, and currently serves as a Branch Chief at the CIA Declassification Center.  To an outside observer, this is not necessarily a credential that inspires confidence, since CIA classification and declassification policies are among the most arbitrary and questionable anywhere in the government.  But a colleague of Ms. Shenberger praised her performance, and told Secrecy News that she was committed to the goals of the National Declassification Center.  “She’s there to make it work, not to sabotage it.  She wants to succeed, and ‘succeed’ means ‘release’.”

Also last week, attorney William A. Burck was appointed to the Public Interest Declassification Board, which advises the White House on declassification policy.  Its membership is appointed by the White House, and by Congressional majority and minority leaders.

Mr. Burck was named to the Board by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).  According to his bio, he previously served as a Special Counsel to President George W. Bush, in which capacity he advised the President and other officials “on major legal issues confronting the Administration.”

The Public Interest Declassification Board has assumed an increasingly important role in the development of secrecy policy.  Last year, the Board was asked by the National Security Advisor (pdf) to help devise “a more fundamental transformation of the security classification system.”  Board Director Martin C. Faga has recently begun some initial outreach to solicit recommendations on how to effect such a transformation.

The Jurisprudence of Justice John Paul Stevens

“Justice John Paul Stevens played a pivotal role in determining the scope of executive-branch power in a post-9/11 world,” observed the Congressional Research Service in one of a series of new reports reviewing the legacy and impact of Justice Stevens, who is set to retire from the Supreme Court next month.

“Justice Stevens authored majority opinions in two leading cases, Rasul v. Bush and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in which the Court allowed detainees’ habeas petitions to proceed and invalidated the early incarnation of military commissions, thereby rejecting the broader views of executive power articulated shortly after the 9/11 attacks.  In the cases, his view prevailed over strongly articulated dissenting opinions authored by Justice Scalia and other justices,” the CRS noted.

“Justice Stevens has been instrumental in developing post-9/11 jurisprudence regarding the limits of executive power during — and following — armed conflicts.  Prior to 9/11, the Supreme Court had rarely considered questions regarding potential limits on the President’s Commander in Chief power.  The wartime detention cases provide key insights into the Court’s views on the reach of executive authority, as well as on other separation-of-power concerns, including Congress’s role.”

However, a portion of this legacy on detainees’ rights may already be subject to limitation or erosion.  Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that detainees held abroad by the U.S. military in Afghanistan — unlike those in Guantanamo — could not invoke habeas corpus to appear before a judge.

See “The Jurisprudence of Justice John Paul Stevens: Leading Opinions on Wartime Detentions” (pdf), May 13, 2010.

The companion reports from CRS are these (all pdf):

“The Jurisprudence of Justice John Paul Stevens: Selected Federalism Issues,” May 19, 2010.

“The Jurisprudence of Justice John Paul Stevens:  Selected Opinions on Intellectual Property Law,” May 14, 2010.

“The Jurisprudence of Justice John Paul Stevens: The Constitutionality of Congressional Term Limits and the Presidential Line Item Veto,” May 18, 2010.

Congress has forbidden CRS to make these and other publications directly available to the public online.  Copies were obtained by Secrecy News.

Update: One more:

The Jurisprudence of Justice John Paul Stevens: The Chevron Doctrine, May 26, 2010.

Update: And another:

The Jurisprudence of Justice John Paul Stevens: Selected Opinions on the Jury’s Role in Criminal Sentencing, June 7, 2010.