FAS Roundup: May 21, 2012

NATO Security Summit in Chicago, NSA declassification blunder, weapons in space and much more.


NATO Security Summit

  • The 2012 NATO Security Summit is underway in Chicago, with heads of state and governments of NATO member states convening to discuss regional and global security challenges. Key items on the summit agenda include a transition plan for NATO forces in Afghanistan after the end of combat in 2014, NATO’s defense and security goals, and tactics to enhance NATO partnership with non-member states. For more information on the NATO Summit, visit our policy page here.

From the Blogs

  • NSA Declassifies Secret Document After Publishing It: The National Security Agency last week invoked a rarely-used authority in order to declassify a classified document that was mistakenly posted on the NSA website with all of its classified passages intact. The article is a historical study entitled Maybe You Had to Be There: The SIGINT on Thirteen Soviet Shootdowns of U.S. Reconnaissance Aircraft.  It was written by Michael L. Peterson and was originally published in the classified journal Cryptologic Quarterly in 1993.

Continue reading

Army Updates Oversight of “Sensitive Activities”

In a directive issued last week, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh established a new Army Special Programs Directorate (ASPD) to administer and oversee special access programs and other “sensitive activities” conducted by the Army.

“I expect all Army commands, organizations and personnel to be proactive in affording the ASPD and the other members of my sensitive activities oversight team… unfettered and continuing access to any and all information and operational data they deem necessary to accomplish their oversight missions and functions,” Secretary McHugh wrote in the May 14 Army directive 2012-10.

The new Directorate is the successor organization to the former Technology Management Office, which performed many of the same functions.

The definition of “sensitive activities” in Army Regulation 380-381 includes:  “programs that restrict personnel access […]; sensitive support to other Federal agencies; clandestine or covert operational or intelligence activities; sensitive research, development, acquisition, or contracting activities; special activities; and other activities excluded from normal staff review and oversight because of restrictions on access to information.”

The Army regulation indicates that special access programs (SAPs), which are a subset of sensitive activities, may be used to restrict access to “a specific technology with potential for weaponization that gives the United States a significant technical lead or tactical advantage over potential adversaries”;  “extremely sensitive activities conducted in support of national foreign policy objectives abroad, which are planned and executed so that the role of the U.S. Government is not apparent or acknowledged publicly”; “methods used to acquire foreign technology or equipment”; among other potential categories.

“SAPs are not programs or activities planned and executed with the intent to influence U.S. political processes, public opinion, policies, or media,” the 2004 Army regulation states.

Secretary McHugh stressed that he retained authority and responsibility for the Army’s special programs.

“I reserve the authority to review and take action on matters relating to our Army’s conduct of, or support of, the most sensitive or unusual activities,” he wrote to Army commanders and senior officials in his directive last week.  “I expect you to exercise your judgment as to those activities that should be forwarded for my approval even when you typically exercise approval authority for sensitive, but otherwise routine activities.”

House Votes to Require Leak Investigation on Israel-Iran Info

The House of Representatives last week adopted an amendment to require the Attorney General to conduct a criminal investigation into “leaks of sensitive information involving the military, intelligence, and operational capabilities of the United States and Israel.”

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), who sponsored the amendment to the FY2013 defense authorization act, cited stories based on leaks concerning a potential Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities that were published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Foreign Policy.

“Our amendment calls for the Attorney General to investigate these leaks and bring those responsible to justice,” Rep. Price said. “Trust and cooperation are vital to securing a strong alliance and a future of peace.”

No one spoke in opposition to the amendment, which was approved May 18 by a vote of 379-38.

Proliferation of Precision Strike, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has instructed CRS not to release to the public include the following.

Proliferation of Precision Strike: Issues for Congress, May 14, 2012

By one official reckoning, there were 35 terrorist incidents in the United States between 2004 and 2011.  See The Domestic Terrorist Threat: Background and Issues for Congress, May 15, 2012

It costs $179,750 per hour to operate Air Force One, the President’s official aircraft, according to the latest cost data from the Air Force.  See Presidential Travel: Policy and Costs, May 17, 2012

How FDA Approves Drugs and Regulates Their Safety and Effectiveness, May 18, 2012

Submission of the President’s Budget in Transition Years, May 17, 2012

Canadian oil sands are 14-20% more greenhouse-gas-intensive than the crude oil they would replace in U.S. refineries.  The effect of the Keystone XL pipeline would be to increase the U.S. greenhouse gas footprint by 3-21 million metric tons, equal to the greenhouse emissions from 588,000 to 4 million passenger vehicles.  See Canadian Oil Sands: Life-Cycle Assessments of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, May 15, 2012

Discretionary Spending in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), May 18, 2012

Economic Recovery: Sustaining U.S. Economic Growth in a Post-Crisis Economy, May 17, 2012

Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP): Implementation and Status, May 18, 2012

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria: Issues for Congress and U.S. Contributions from FY2001 to FY2013, May 15, 2012

Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990, May 17, 2012

NATO’s Nuclear Groundhog Day?

At the Chicago Summit NATO will once again reaffirm nuclear status quo in Europe

By Hans M. Kristensen

Does NATO have a hard time waking up from its nuclear past? It would seem so.

Similar to the movie Groundhog Day where a reporter played by Bill Murray wakes up to relive the same day over and over again, the NATO alliance is about to reaffirm – once again – nuclear status quo in Europe.

The reaffirmation will come on 20-21 May when 28 countries participating in the NATO Summit in Chicago are expected to approve a study that concludes that the alliance’s existing nuclear force posture “currently meets the criteria for an effective deterrence and defense posture.” [Update May 20, 2011: Turns out I was right. Here is the official document.]

In other words, NATO will not order a reduction of its nuclear arsenal but reaffirm a deployment of nearly 200 U.S. non-strategic nuclear bombs in Europe that were left behind by arms reductions two decades ago. Continue reading

DoD Establishes Civil Liberties Program

The Department of Defense today issued an Instruction that established the DoD Civil Liberties Program.

“It is DoD policy to protect the privacy and civil liberties of DoD employees, members of the Military Services, and the public to the greatest extent possible, consistent with its operational requirements,” the Instruction states.

DoD commits itself to considering privacy and civil liberties in the formulation of DoD policies, the non-retention of privacy information without authorization, and the availability of procedures for receiving and responding to complaints regarding violations of civil liberties.

See “DoD Civil Liberties Program,” DoD Instruction 1000.29, May 17, 2012.

NATO Summit Meeting in Chicago, and More from CRS

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will hold its 2012 summit meeting in Chicago on May 20-21.  The meeting, hosted by President Obama, will be closed to the public.  The assembled heads of state are expected to discuss the future of the conflict in Afghanistan; NATO defense issues, including the possible reconsideration of the role of nuclear weapons in NATO; and other matters.

A preview of the NATO summit meeting was presented in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.  See NATO’s Chicago Summit, May 14, 2012.

Other new and updated CRS reports that were obtained by Secrecy News include the following.

Ukraine: Current Issues and U.S. Policy, May 10, 2012

U.S. Assistance Programs in China, May 11, 2012

Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy, May 14, 2012

Medicare Financing, May 11, 2012

Medicare: History of Insolvency Projections, May 11, 2012

Job Growth During the Recovery, May 10, 2012

Foreign Direct Investment in the United States: An Economic Analysis, May 10, 2012

Outsourcing and Insourcing Jobs in the U.S. Economy: Evidence Based on Foreign Investment Data, May 10, 2012

Keystone XL Pipeline Project: Key Issues, May 9, 2012

Immigration of Foreign Nationals with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Degrees, May 11, 2012

Federal Labor Relations Statutes: An Overview, May 11, 2012

FEMA’s Community Disaster Loan Program: History, Analysis, and Issues for Congress, May 10, 2012

How Measures Are Brought to the House Floor: A Brief Introduction, May 14, 2012

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS): A Primer, May 14, 2012

The Presidential Nominating Process and the National Party Conventions, 2012: Frequently Asked Questions, May 14, 2012

Secrecy News will be back next week.

FAS Roundup: May 14, 2012

Cost of B61 bomb escalating, radioactive smuggling, cyber threats and much more.

From the Blogs

  • USAF Drones May Conduct  “Incidental” Domestic Surveillance: U.S. Air Force policy permits the incidental collection of domestic imagery by unmanned aerial systems (drones), but ordinarily would not allow targeted surveillance of a U.S. person.  The Air Force policy was restated in a newly reissued instruction on oversight of Air Force intelligence. Legally valid requirements for domestic imagery include surveillance of natural disasters, environmental studies, system testing and training, and also counterintelligence and security-related vulnerability assessments. Air Force units are authorized to acquire domestic commercial imagery for such validated purposes.
  • B61 Nuclear Bomb Costs Escalating: The expected cost of the B61 Life-Extension Program (LEP) has increased by 50 percent to $6 billion dollars, according to U.S. government sources. The escalating cost of the program – and concern that NNSA does not have an effective plan for managing it – has caused Congress to cap spending on the B61 LEP by 60 percent in 2012 and 100 percent in 2013.
  • What is a Cyber Threat?: In order to establish a common vocabulary for discussing cyber threats, and thereby to enable an appropriate response, authors of a new report released by Sandia National Laboratories propose a variety of attributes that can be used to characterize cyber threats in a standardized and consistent way.

Continue reading

NSA Declassifies Secret Document After Publishing It

The National Security Agency last week invoked a rarely-used authority in order to declassify a classified document that was mistakenly posted on the NSA website with all of its classified passages intact.

The article is a historical study entitled Maybe You Had to Be There: The SIGINT on Thirteen Soviet Shootdowns of U.S. Reconnaissance Aircraft.  It was written by Michael L. Peterson and was originally published in the classified journal Cryptologic Quarterly in 1993.

Late in the afternoon of May 11 (not May 9 as stated on the NSA website), the NSA published a formally declassified version of the article with the annotation “Declassified and approved for release by NSA… pursuant to E.O. 13526 section 3.1(d)….”

Section 3.1(d) of executive order 13526 permits the declassification of properly classified information when there is an overriding public interest in doing so.  It is almost never cited and it is hard to think of another occasion when it has been used by any government agency to justify declassification.  It reads:

“3.1(d) It is presumed that information that continues to meet the classification requirements under this order requires continued protection.  In some exceptional cases, however, the need to protect such information may be outweighed by the public interest in disclosure of the information, and in these cases the information should be declassified.  When such questions arise, they shall be referred to the agency head or the senior agency official.  That official will determine, as an exercise of discretion, whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs the damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure….”

So what was “exceptional” about this particular NSA historical study?  What was the overriding public interest in it that justified its complete declassification despite its presumed eligibility for continued classification?  What unavoidable damage was expected to result from its disclosure?  The NSA Public Affairs Office refused to answer these questions, despite repeated inquiries.

In fact, NSA was being disingenuous by invoking section 3.1(d).  There was nothing exceptional about the contents of the document, and there was no overriding public interest that would have compelled its disclosure if it had been properly classified.  Nor is any national security damage likely to follow its release.

Rather, the hasty NSA declassification action was intended to conceal the fact that NSA had mistakenly published the full classified text of the document on its website two days earlier, after having rebuffed regular requests for declassification.

In response to a May 2009 Mandatory Declassification Review request from aerospace writer Peter Pesavento, NSA had previously released a heavily redacted version of the article.  Mr. Pesavento appealed the case to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, and last month the Panel agreed that some additional portions of the document could be declassified, while the rest should remain classified.  The partially declassified document was still working its way through the appeal system and had still not been provided to Mr. Pesavento.

But then on May 9, the National Security Agency inexplicably published the entire document on its website.  Instead of censoring the text by blacking out the classified portions, those portions were actually highlighted, leaving the document fully available to startled readers.  After we contacted the NSA on May 10 to inquire about the classification status of the document, it was immediately removed from the NSA site.

But we retained a copy of the uncensored classified article as published by the NSA, which is available here.

Secrecy News submitted several questions to NSA Public Affairs last week about the classified document, and we indicated our intention to publish it ourselves since it did not appear to meet current classification standards.  NSA officials asked for a four-day extension of our deadline to give them time to respond to our questions, and we agreed.  But that proved to be a futile gesture on our part, since the NSA Public Affairs Office in the end refused to answer any of the questions we posed.  In retrospect, it appears that NSA never intended to answer any of our questions but simply wanted to preempt the reposting of the classified document by hastily declassifying it.

The newly disclosed article was originally classified SECRET SPOKE.  SPOKE is a now-defunct classification compartment for communications intelligence, explained intelligence historian Jeffrey Richelson, who first spotted the uncensored NSA publication online.  (It so happens that Dr. Richelson’s own work is cited in the article.)

In the classified version of the article that was posted online by NSA, all of the classified paragraphs of the article were marked with the basis for their classification.  In most cases, this was section 1.4(c) of the executive order on classification, which pertains to “intelligence activities, intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology.”  In some cases, the basis for classification was section 1.4(d) on “foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources.’  In a couple of other cases, the justification cited was Public Law 86-36, which is the National Security Agency Act, a statutory non-disclosure provision.  A week ago, this material purportedly posed a threat of “serious damage” to national security if disclosed.  Now all of it has been made public.

While communications intelligence is among the most sensitive categories of national security information, this article is clearly remote from any contemporary security issues.  It reviews the record of signals intelligence coverage of thirteen episodes in which Soviet forces shot down U.S. aircraft.  But those incidents occurred between 1950 and 1964 — or many generations ago in terms of intelligence technology and practice.

On the other hand, the article does present what appears to be some valuable “new” information including some fine details about SIGINT coverage of the U-2 incident in May 1960.

But the author himself acknowledged that all of this is ancient history.

“Looking back over forty years,” he wrote in the conclusion of his 1993 paper, “it may be difficult to give sufficient weight to the level of anxiety over and ignorance about the Soviet Union experienced by Americans.  Moreover, the fear of another Pearl Harbor was very real.  The airborne reconnaissance program helped reduce these fears by erasing the ignorance.”

“Little of this concern prevails today,” he noted.  “Why all the fuss? Maybe you had to be there.”

But even “being there” does not help one to understand the erratic NSA classification practices reflected in this case.  NSA classification policy seems to be completely untethered from contemporary national security threats.

Among other things, the NSA’s abrupt declassification of the the document shows that the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel needs to recalibrate its document review procedures.  It is now clear that the Panel was unduly deferential to NSA, and that it erred last month by giving credence to the NSA’s claims that portions of the document warranted continued classification.  Today, not even the NSA says that.

Understanding China’s Political System, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has instructed CRS not to make publicly available include the following.

Understanding China’s Political System, May 10, 2012

Youth and the Labor Force: Background and Trends, May 10, 2012

Vulnerable Youth: Employment and Job Training Programs, May 11, 2012

Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues, May 10, 2012

Comparison of Rights in Military Commission Trials and Trials in Federal Criminal Court, May 9, 2012

Immigration-Related Worksite Enforcement: Performance Measures, May 10, 2012

Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians, May 10, 2012