FAS Roundup: December 10, 2012

New START data, Syria’s chemical weapons, transparency on U.S. nuclear forces and much more.


Why Assad Won’t Use His Chemical Weapons

Syria likely has one of the largest and most sophisticated chemical weapon programs in the world, including hundreds of tons of sarin. There are  reports this week that Syria is preparing to deploy its chemical arsenal against rebels. In a new op-ed in Foreign Policy, Charles Blair writes that the greater threat in Syria is terrorist acquisition of chemical weapons if the military loses control over relevant sites and facilities. The Pentagon estimated earlier this year that it would take more than 75,000 troops to secure Syria’s chemical weapons against theft and that assumes that U.S. intelligence knows precisely where they all are.

Read the op-ed here.

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Senate Puts Brakes on Defense Clandestine Service

The Senate moved last week to restrain the rapid growth of the Defense Clandestine Service, the Pentagon’s human intelligence operation.

Under a provision of the FY2013 defense authorization act that was approved on December 4, the Pentagon would be prohibited from hiring any more spies than it had as of last April, and it would have to provide detailed cost estimates and program plans in forthcoming reports to Congress.

“DoD needs to demonstrate that it can improve the management of clandestine HUMINT before undertaking any further expansion,” the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote in a report on the new legislation.

Longstanding problems with defense human intelligence cited by the Committee include:  “inefficient utilization of personnel trained at significant expense to conduct clandestine HUMINT; poor or non-existent career management for trained HUMINT personnel; cover challenges; and unproductive deployment locations.”

The Committee noted further that “President Bush authorized 50 percent growth in the CIA’s case officer workforce, which followed significant growth under President Clinton. Since 9/11, DOD’s case officer ranks have grown substantially as well. The committee is concerned that, despite this expansion and the winding down of two overseas conflicts that required large HUMINT resources, DOD believes that its needs are not being met.”

Instead of an ambitious expansion, a tailored reduction in defense intelligence spending might be more appropriate, the Committee said.

“If DOD is able to utilize existing resources much more effectively, the case could be made that investment in this area could decline, rather than remain steady or grow, to assist the Department in managing its fiscal and personnel challenges,” the Senate Committee wrote.

The Washington Post published a revealing account of Pentagon plans to expand the size and reach of the defense human intelligence program in “DIA sending hundreds more spies overseas” by Greg Miller, December 1.

Along with overhead surveillance, bolstering human intelligence has been the focus of one of two major defense intelligence initiatives, said Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence) Michael G. Vickers last October.  The Defense Clandestine Service “enable[s] us to be more effective in the collection of national-level clandestine human intelligence across a range of targets of paramount interest to the Department of Defense,” he said.

The latest issues of the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, released under the Freedom of Information Act, are available here (in some very large pdf files).

“A Short History of Army Intelligence” by Michael E. Bigelow of US Army Intelligence and Security Command, dated July 2012, is available here.

Newly updated doctrine from the Joint Chiefs of Staff includes Information Operations, JP 3-13, 27 November 2012, and Joint Forcible Entry Operations, JP 3-18, 27 November 2012.

The defense authorization bill approved by the Senate last week also called upon the Pentagon to expedite the domestic use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and their integration into National Airspace System (NAS).

“While progress has been made in the last 5 years [in integrating UASs into domestic airspace], the pace of development must be accelerated,” the Senate Armed Services Committee said in its report on the bill.  “Greater cross-agency collaboration and resource sharing will contribute to that objective.”

“Without the ability to operate freely and routinely in the NAS, UAS development and training — and ultimately operational capabilities — will be severely impacted,” the Senate Committee said.

Open Source Technologies for Arms Control

Members of the public are invited to develop and submit ideas to an essay contest on the potential uses of open source information and technology to support international arms control initiatives.

The State Department is sponsoring the contest in partnership with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Moscow-based Center for Policy Studies.

“The contest aims to harness the ingenuity of American and Russian citizens to think creatively about innovative ways to use open source information and communication technologies for arms control verification, compliance monitoring, and monitoring of sensitive facilities,” the CNS said in its announcement.

While an essay contest is not a momentous undertaking, this one does seem to represent a wholesome awareness that the underlying realities of national security are changing in fundamental ways.  It follows that national security policies — including classification policies and public engagement — need to adapt accordingly.

“Diplomacy today is very different than it was at the dawn of the nuclear age,” the State Department said. “More often diplomacy is happening in the open, and at quicker speeds.”

“The astonishing advancements in information and communication technologies include new tools and capabilities that could help support arms control transparency and compliance.  This essay contest aims to encourage more public participation, discussion and thought on arms control,” the State Department said.

There is already an impressive history of public participation in arms control efforts, notably including the work of Thomas Cochran and the Natural Resources Defense Council in demonstrating seismic monitoring for verification of a low-threshold nuclear test ban.

Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has not made publicly available include the following.

Iran’s Ballistic Missile and Space Launch Programs, December 6, 2012

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress, December 5, 2012

Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations, December 6, 2012

In Brief: Next Steps in the War in Afghanistan? Issues for Congress, December 6, 2012

Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians, December 6, 2012

Detention of U.S. Persons as Enemy Belligerents, December 4, 2012

Right to Work Laws: Legislative Background and Empirical Research, December 6, 2012

Advisory Board Urges White House to Lead Secrecy Reform

In a long-awaited report to the President, the Public Interest Declassification Board urged the White House to take the lead in fixing the national secrecy system.

The Public Interest Declassification Board is an advisory committee that was established by Congress to help promote possible access to the documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities.  In 2009, President Obama asked the Board to develop recommendations for “a more fundamental transformation of the security classification system.”

“The current classification and declassification systems are outdated,” wrote Board chair Amb. Nancy Soderberg in a November 27 transmittal letter to the President.  “We believe it will require a White House-led steering committee to drive reform, led by a chair that is carefully selected and appointed with specific authorities that you grant.”

At the executive branch agency level, “there is little recognition among Government practitioners that there is a fundamental problem,” Amb. Soderberg told the President.  “Clearly, it will require a Presidential mandate to energize and direct agencies to work together to reform the classification system.”

This is a crucial point.  Left to their own devices, agencies will not fundamentally alter the classification practices that are the entrenched legacy of over half a century.  Future progress in secrecy reform will require agencies to surrender some of the discretion in classification and declassification activity that they have long enjoyed.  But this is unlikely to happen without presidential intervention and direction.

“We hope that our recommendations will serve as a catalyst for discussions and deliberations within the government,” Amb. Soderberg said at a public meeting this morning.

The new report on Transforming the Security Classification System is available here.

Some of the Board’s specific recommendations are naturally subject to debate.  A proposal to reduce the current three-level classification system to two levels was previously recommended by the Joint Security Commission in 1994 but was ultimately abandoned as unworkable.  A proposal to base classification decisions on the degree of protection required for information rather than on the damage that might result from its disclosure is a subtle change that may be worth considering — although a judgment about the degree of protection required would seem to involve an implicit judgment about the damage from disclosure.

But these are quibbles in comparison to the principal PIDB recommendation in favor of presidential leadership of secrecy reform, and establishment of a presidentially-led steering committee to execute needed changes throughout the government.

“The classification system must be modernized as a dynamic, easily understood and mission-enabling system and one that deters over-classification and encourages accessibility,” the Board wrote in its report.  “This will require a coordinated effort across Government beginning with an interagency process led by the White House.”

China’s Holdings of U.S. Securities, and More from CRS

Congressional concerns arising from China’s holdings of U.S. government debt, including the potential for economic destabilization or diplomatic coercion, are examined in a report from the Congressional Research Service that was updated today.  See China’s Holdings of U.S. Securities: Implications for the U.S. Economy, December 6, 2012.

Relatedly (though not newly updated), see Foreign Holdings of Federal Debt, July 3, 2012.

And recently updated is The Presidential Records Act: Background and Recent Issues for Congress, November 15, 2012.

Detained Linguist Seeks Release from Jail

James F. Hitselberger, a Navy contract linguist who was charged under the Espionage Act for mishandling classified records, yesterday asked a court to release him from pre-trial detention.  His release would pose no hazard, and he is not a flight risk, his public defenders said.

Mr. Hitselberg allegedly removed classified records from a secure facility in Bahrain, and had previously donated classified materials to the Hoover Institution, which maintains a James F. Hitselberger Collection.  (See Document Collector Charged Under Espionage Statute, Secrecy News, November 7, 2012.) He is not suspected of transmitting classified information to a foreign power.

According to prosecutors, Mr. Hitselberger is a shadowy figure who might vanish if released from custody.  They urged that he be detained until trial.

“For almost eight months, the defendant, James Hitselberger, has lived as a fugitive,” according to a November 29 government memorandum in support of detention.  “He speaks multiple foreign languages, has an apparent network of friends and acquaintances overseas, and is adept in adapting to foreign surroundings.”

But in a motion for reconsideration filed yesterday, defense attorneys said that prosecutors had misrepresented the facts.

Mr. Hitselberger “neither fled nor hid from law enforcement officials.”  He “never tried to conceal his identity or location.”  Although government officials had his contact information, “no government agent ever contacted Mr. Hitselberger or asked him to return to the United States.”

“The facts demonstrate that Mr. Hitselberger was not a fugitive, [and he] cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation of his conduct… He was never told that law enforcement agents required him to return to the United States, and he did not ‘flee’ from law enforcement,” defense attorneys wrote.

Even prosecutors admitted that “Hitselberger has no history of violence. Nor has the government’s investigation revealed that he has tried to pass any of the classified information he has acquired to a foreign power.”

Under the circumstances, defense attorneys asked the court to release Mr. Hitselberger from pre-trial detention into the custody of his family, and under electronic monitoring.

“The evidence does not support a finding that Mr. Hitselberger would be a substantial risk of flight or a danger to the community if released,” they wrote. “Mr. Hitselberger will comply with conditions of release and has neither the passport necessary nor the will to flee.”

The offenses allegedly committed by Mr. Hitselberger are undoubtedly violations of classification policy.  But the notion that they rise to the level of multiple felonies is hard to credit, and suggests an excess of zeal among prosecutors.

A status conference in the case will be held on December 13.

See also “Linguist charged with pilfering records seeks release” by Josh Gerstein, Politico, December 5.

How a Bill Becomes a Law, and More from CRS

On January 6, 2013 Congress will convene to count electoral votes and to formally certify the results of the last presidential election.  The process was detailed by the Congressional Research Service in Counting Electoral Votes: An Overview of Procedures at the Joint Session, Including Objections by Members of Congress, November 30, 2012.

The declining economic condition of many state governments is examined by CRS in State Government Fiscal Stress and Federal Assistance, December 3, 2012.

And for members of Congress who never had civics class, CRS explains how a bill becomes a law in Introduction to the Legislative Process in the U.S. Congress, November 30, 2012.   See also the elementary Introduction to the Federal Budget Process, December 3, 2012.

Other new and updated CRS reports that Congress has not made publicly available include the following.

Congressional Salaries and Allowances, December 4, 2012

Alternative Minimum Taxpayers by State: 2009, 2010, and Projections for 2012, December 4, 2012

Offsets, Supplemental Appropriations, and the Disaster Relief Fund: FY1990-FY2012, December 4, 2012

The Bayh-Dole Act: Selected Issues in Patent Policy and the Commercialization of Technology, December 3, 2012

Technology Transfer: Use of Federally Funded Research and Development, December 3, 2012

Industrial Competitiveness and Technological Advancement: Debate Over Government Policy, December 3, 2012

Cooperative R&D: Federal Efforts to Promote Industrial Competitiveness, December 3, 2012

IMF Reforms: Issues for Congress, December 4, 2012

China’s Economic Conditions, December 4, 2012

Federal Emergency Management: A Brief Introduction, November 30, 2012

Issue Brief: Japan’s Role as Leader for Nuclear Nonproliferation

A country with few natural resources, first Japan began to develop nuclear power technologies in 1954. Nuclear energy assisted with Japanese economic development and reconstruction post World War II. However, with the fear of  lethal ash and radioactive fallout and the lingering effects from the 2011 accident at Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, there are many concerns related to Japanese nonproliferation, security and nuclear policy.

In a FAS issue brief, Ms. Kazuko Goto, Research Fellow of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology of the Government of Japan, writes of Japan’s advancement of nuclear technologies which simultaneously benefits international nonproliferation policies. Read the brief here.

Challenges to Creating a WMD Free Zone

With the current tensions in the Middle East, regional instability, ongoing debate about the nature and intent of Iran’s nuclear program, and the recent postponement of the Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Free Zone conference, a Middle East WMD-free zone seems little more than a pipe dream. The conference was postponed in 2012 as a result of the “poor geopolitical climate.”[i] It is unclear whether it will be rescheduled or cancelled altogether with the U.S. State Department suggesting they will “continue to work seriously…to create conditions for a meaningful conference.”[ii]

In a timely briefing on the Challenges to Creating a Middle East WMD-Free Zone co-hosted by the Nonproliferation Review and the George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs experts stressed the importance of creating open dialogue in the region in order to lay the foundation towards a Middle East WMD-free zone.

The discussion at the event was led by Douglas B. Shaw, Associate Dean for Planning, Research, and External Relations, George Washington Elliott School of International Affairs, and Emily B. Landau, Senior Research Associate, Institute for National Security Studies, Tel Aviv University.

Shaw and Landau were part of a group of experts that contributed to the Nonproliferation Special Report on Creating a Middle East WMD-Free Zone, which began with a joint conference organized between the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, in 2011. The group was formed to discuss the challenges faced by the upcoming conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone which was proposed by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2010.

Both Shaw and Landau emphasized that the current instability in the region suggests that a Middle East WMD-free zone is unlikely in the near future. However they also stressed the importance of encouraging regional cooperation and reflected on past efforts in order to pave the way for a peaceful Middle East.

While Shaw noted that there are challenges when creating a nuclear weapon free zone he also emphasized their “imaginative” approach as a form of defense, suggesting that these zones could have the ability to reassure the security of non-nuclear weapon states. Currently there are 5 nuclear weapon free zones in Latin America, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central Asia that prohibit the use, development, or deployment of nuclear weapons within defined geographical spaces.

In response to arguments that “zones only take place where dogs aren’t barking,” Shaw noted that some countries that currently participate in nuclear free zones gave up clandestine nuclear weapon programs prior to the entry-into-force of these zones. For example South Africa was required to dismantle its nuclear weapon capability prior to joining the Pelindaba Treaty which was opened for signature on April 12, 1996. Landau reiterated the importance of encouraging engagement and dialogue in the Middle East as she reflected on the successes and limitations of the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) group between 1992 and 1994. As the only regional arms control talks that have taken place in the Middle East to date, they are a significant reference point for the recently postponed Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone Conference that was to take place in Helsinki in late 2012.

The ACRS process concentrated on confidence building in the short term with long terms goals of addressing problems regarding WMD faced by the Middle East. It helped to improve the nature of regional tensions and reassured states of the intentions of others in a step by step manner. While the ACRS process made some positive steps towards regional cooperation the ACRS multilateral talks were put on hold indefinably in 1995, “due to complications in the peace process and the ongoing disagreement between Israel and Egypt over the question of when to place a discussion of WMD-free zone on the agenda.”[iii]

Landau suggested that this reflected the gap between the goals of the global non-proliferation regime and that of the regional effort towards non-proliferation. While she suggested regional efforts were collaborative and incremental, focused on creating good will between countries, the global efforts are more focused on immediate non-proliferation and neglect cooperation between countries.

While the ACRS was hindered by differing perspectives on arms control, lessons can be taken from them. Landau suggested that the main lesson is that the key to success of such discussions is to find a common interest for regional bodies. Unfortunately when posed with the question what are potential current points of common interest in the Middle East, she could not enumerate any. However, one could argue that there is potential for Middle East collaboration on interests both directly and indirectly related to national security among countries in the region including issues such as water, energy and environment. With current talks at a standstill, it is evident that more steps need to be taken to approach the idea of a Middle East WMD free zone, as many issues still need to be resolved.

[i] http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/mideast-wmd-summit-canceled-diplomats/

[ii] http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/11/200987.htm

[iii] http://cns.miis.edu/inventory/pdfs/acrs.pdf