Pentagon Asks to Keep Future Spending Secret

Updated below

The Department of Defense is quietly asking Congress to rescind the requirement to produce an unclassified version of the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) database.

Preparation of the unclassified FYDP, which provides estimates of defense spending for the next five years, has been required by law since 1989 (10 USC 221) and has become an integral part of the defense budget process.

But the Pentagon said that it should no longer have to offer such information in an unclassified format, according to a DoD legislative proposal for the pending FY 2021 national defense authorization act.

“The Department is concerned that attempting publication of unclassified FYDP data might inadvertently reveal sensitive information,” the Pentagon said in its March 6, 2020 proposal.

“With the ready availability of data mining tools and techniques, and the large volume of data on the Department’s operations and resources already available in the public domain, additional unclassified FYDP data, if it were released, potentially allows adversaries to derive sensitive information by compilation about the Department’s weapons development, force structure, and strategic plans.”

Therefore, DoD said, “This proposal would remove the statutory requirement to submit an Unclassified Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) to the Congress, the Congressional Budget Office, the Comptroller General of the United States, and the Congressional Research Service.” It follows that FYDP data would also not be included in the published DoD budget request, as it typically has been in the past.

The DoD proposal would preserve a classified FYDP for Congress but it would repeal the requirement that DoD officials “certify that the data used to construct the FYDP is accurate.” DoD said that “This requirement is unnecessary as information from these systems is already used to provide the President’s Budget.”

The unclassified FYDP helps inform budget analysis

At a time when it is clear to everyone that US national security spending is poorly aligned with actual threats to the nation, the DoD proposal would make it even harder for Congress and the public to refocus and reconstruct the defense budget.

Without an unclassified FYDP, Congress and the public would be deprived of unclassified analyses like “Long-Term Implications of the 2020 Future Years Defense Program” produced last year by the Congressional Budget Office. Other public reporting by GAOCRS, the news media and independent analysts concerning the FYDP and future defense spending would also be undermined.

Some information in the FYDP — such as projected intelligence spending — has always been deemed sensitive enough that it can be classified.

But most information in the FYDP is unclassified and is properly the subject of public oversight. So, for example, the recent FY2021 defense budget request for military construction includes an “FY21 FYDP Project List” identifying numerous proposed construction projects across the country and around the world that are anticipated through 2025.

DoD no longer publishes its legislative proposals

Until two years ago, DoD published its legislative proposals to Congress on the website of the DoD General Counsel. (The proposals for FY 2019 are still online.) But that is no longer the case. As part of a broader retreat from public oversight and accountability, the Pentagon today does not make its legislative proposals easily accessible to the public.

A copy of the current package of DoD legislative proposals through March 6, 2020 was obtained by Secrecy News. A complete tabulation of the dozens of specific proposals is available here. A section-by-section description of all of the proposals is here.

Among the current batch is a proposed exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for certain unclassified documents concerning military tactics, techniques, or procedures.

That very same proposed FOIA exemption has previously been rejected by Congress on at least four prior occasions. So legislative approval of such requests is not necessarily a foregone conclusion.

Late last week, the House Armed Services Committee filed a preliminary version of the FY21 defense authorization act (HR 6395) based on the DoD legislative proposals. “When the Committee meets to consider the FY21 NDAA, the content of H.R. 6395 will be struck and replaced with subcommittee and full committee proposals,” according to a March 27 news release.

Update 1: On March 31, DoD posted its legislative proposals for the FY 21 defense authorization act.

Update 2: A DoD spokesman said the Pentagon’s proposal was not intended to limit public access to all future year spending data. “There will be no reduction in any currently provided information,” the spokesman said. See Pentagon denies it seeks to hide future budget information by Aaron Mehta, Defense News, April 3, 2020.

Pentagon Must Produce Plan for Declassification

The Department of Defense must explain by early next year how it is going to meet its obligations to declassify a growing backlog of classified records, Congress said this week.

A provision (sect. 1759) in the new House-Senate conference version of the FY2020 national defense authorization act requires the Pentagon to prepare a report including:

*     a plan to achieve legally mandated historical declassification requirements and reduce backlogs;

*     a plan to incorporate new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, that would increase productivity and reduce the cost of implementing such a plan;

*     a detailed assessment of the declassified documents released in the past three years along with an estimate of how many will be released in the next three years;

*     other policy and resource options for reducing backlogs of classified documents awaiting declassification.

While the new legislative language is a welcome acknowledgment of a persistent problem, it does not by itself significantly advance a solution. In particular, the legislation does not authorize any new funds for declassification or for development of new declassification technologies, which are not yet mature. Nor does it define an alternative in the event that DoD proves unable to meet its declassification obligations.

In a prior draft adopted by the House of Representatives, the CIA and the State Department would also have been required to prepare similar reports. But those requirements were dropped in the final bill.

“The U.S. government’s system for declassifying and processing historical records has reached a state of crisis,” wrote William Burr of the National Security Archive lately. See “Trapped in the Archives,” Foreign Affairs, November 29, 2019.

JASON Science Advisory Panel Preserved

Congress has directed the Department of Defense to reach an “arrangement with the JASON scientific advisory group to conduct national security studies and analyses.”

Last spring DoD officials sought to let the existing contract with the JASONs lapse, leaving the panel without a sponsor and threatening its continued viability. The new legislation rejects that move, although it anticipates that the JASON contract will now be managed instead by the DoD Under Secretary for Acquisition and Sustainment instead of by Defense Research and Engineering.

“The conferees expect the [new] arrangement or contract to be structured . . . similar to previous contracts for JASON research studies,” the NDAA conference report said.

The JASON panel is widely esteemed as a source of independent scientific expertise that is relatively free of institutional bias. Its reports are often able to provide insight into challenging technological problems of various kinds.

The FY2020 defense authorization bill calls for new JASON assessments of electronic warfare programs, and of options for replacement of the W78 warhead.

In 2019 the JASONs performed studies on Pit Aging (NNSA), Bio Threats (DOE), and Fundamental Research Security (NSF), among others.

DoD To Report on Nuclear Programs of US, Russia, China

In a challenge to Pentagon secrecy, Congress has told the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to prepare an unclassified report on the nuclear weapons programs of the United States, Russia and China.

The requirement was included in the new House-Senate conference version of the FY2020 defense authorization act (sect. 1676).

The mandated report must include an assessment of “the current and planned nuclear systems” of the three nations, including “research and development timelines, deployment timelines, and force size.”

The Pentagon has been reluctant to issue its own unclassified estimates of foreign nuclear programs. Earlier this year DoD even refused to declassify the current size of the US nuclear stockpile, though it had previously done so every year since 2010.

The newly required report must be produced in unclassified form, Congress directed, though it may include a classified annex.

“Across the Department of Defense, basic information is becoming harder to find,” wrote Jason Paladino of the Project on Government Oversight in “The Pentagon’s War on Transparency,” December 5, 2019.

Managing the Department of Defense: An Overview

More than 2.8 million U.S. military and civilian defense personnel were deployed in more than 150 countries around the world last year.

No one person can fully comprehend the workings of the Department of Defense. It is a massively complicated bureaucratic construct composed not only of the military services (Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps), but also of numerous defense agencies, “DoD field activities,” and unified combatant commands, among other components.

An internal Pentagon publication entitled “Organization and Management of the Department of Defense,” presented an overview of this mammoth enterprise as of March 2019.

The 168 page document provides detailed information on the Department’s structure and governance, along with various other significant data that can be hard to locate.

So one finds, for example, that there were a total of 1,310,731 active U.S. military personnel at the end of 2018, including no fewer than 229,611 officers.

There were 2,882,061 U.S. military and civilian defense personnel deployed in 158 countries, which are broken down in the document by the number of personnel and their location abroad — except for Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, where deployment figures are currently restricted.

The Pentagon document has already been overtaken by events in some respects. Instead of the 19 defense agencies it lists, there are now 20 — including the new Space Development Agency. And instead of 10 unified combatant commands, there are now 11 — including the new U.S. Space Command.

Additional material about DoD organization and management can be found in the new DoD financial audit for FY 2019, published last week.

Defense Primers for Members of Congress

The Congressional Research Service developed “a series of short primers to provide Members of Congress an overview of key aspects of the Department of Defense and how Congress exercises authority over it.” The defense primers, several of which have been recently updated, can be found here.

Other noteworthy recent CRS publications include the following.

Overseas Contingency Operations Funding: Background and Status, updated September 6, 2019

Congress and the War in Yemen: Oversight and Legislation 2015-2019, updated September 6, 2019

Afghanistan: Issues for Congress and Legislation 2017-2019, updated September 3, 2019

DHS Border Barrier Funding, updated September 6, 2019

Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons, updated September 6, 2019

Extreme Weather Threatens Military Facilities

Extreme weather events and rising sea levels are causing damage to U.S. military facilities and could threaten U.S. military infrastructure around the world.

“Is the military ready for climate change?,” asked Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA). “It is not.”

“In the last 12 months, severe storms have devastated Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, Tyndall Air Force Base, and Offutt Air Force Base,” he said during the House debate on the FY2020 defense authorization bill on July 10.

The defense bill that was passed by the House therefore included several provisions to require the Department of Defense “to plan for and respond to the threat that climate change poses to military installations and military operations.”

Similar requirements to incorporate weather projections in defense facility planning were included in the Senate version of the pending defense authorization bill.

On a political plane, there are still ideologically-driven disparities in perception of the threat of climate change. But those disparate perceptions may soon be overtaken by the reality of climate-induced damage, including damage to defense infrastructure.

“The Department of Defense (DOD) manages more than 1,700 military installations in worldwide coastal areas that may be affected by sea-level rise,” the Congressional Research Service observed in a new brief. See Military Installations and Sea-Level Rise, CRS In Focus, July 26, 2019.

“Hurricane Michael damaged every building on Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base (repair estimate $4.7 billion),” CRS noted. “Hurricane Florence dropped 36 inches of rain, flooding three North Carolina Marine Corps installations (repair estimate $3.6 billion).”

Failure to act will incur increased costs, the Government Accountability Office warned in June.

“Not assessing risks or using climate projections in installation planning may expose DOD facilities to greater-than-anticipated damage or degradation as a result of extreme weather or climate-related effects,” GAO said. See Climate Resilience: DOD Needs to Assess Risk and Provide Guidance on Use of Climate Projections in Installation Master Plans and Facilities Designs, GAO-19-453, June 12, 2019.

“The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations,” the Pentagon acknowledged in a January 2019 report to Congress (with a March supplement).

“Damage to communication, energy, and transportation infrastructure could affect low-lying military bases, inflict economic costs, and cause human displacement and loss of life,” warned outgoing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in January.

“Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond,” he told Congress.

Pentagon Pivots to More “Public Engagement”

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who took office last week, has directed senior military and civilian defense officials to “more actively engage with the public,” according to a Pentagon memo issued on Friday.

“Simply put, the Department benefits when we thoughtfully engage with the American public, Congressional leaders, international community, and the media,” wrote Jonathan Rath Hoffman, the Assistant to the Secretary for Public Affairs.

But increased public and media engagement does not necessarily mean increased disclosure or improved access to information.

“Always seek the appropriate balance between transparency and operational security,” the July 26 memo stated. “As senior leaders you are closer to pertinent issues. Therefore, you are often best suited to make determinations on what should or should not be released within classification guidelines and have the responsibility to protect even unclassified non-public information.”

Still, the new memo represents a change in attitude from that expressed by the previous Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis.

In an uncompromising October 2017 memo that was understood by Pentagon officials to discourage discretionary disclosures, SecDef Mattis wrote:

“We must be vigilant in executing our responsibility to prevent disclosure of any information not authorized for release outside of the Department of Defense: All hands must be alert to prevent unauthorized disclosure of non-public information for any reason, whether by implied acknowledgement or intentional release. Misconduct cannot be tolerated and suspected or confirmed disclosure must be reported at once.”

Following that direction from Secretary Mattis, many types of previously available defense-related information were in fact withdrawn from public and media access, such as the number of US troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and the current size of the US nuclear arsenal.

Therefore, if Secretary Esper wanted to increase public disclosure of defense information, it wouldn’t be hard to do.

Earlier this month, DoD produced its updated report on the post-9/11 cost of warthrough March 31, 2019.

“Since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD) has obligated $1,548.5 billion for war-related costs,” the report said, using DoD’s somewhat arbitrary metrics for cost reporting.

The unclassified cost report was provided to Congress, but it was not publicly released by DoD.

PCLOB Releases Its Oversight Agenda

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is conducting oversight in nearly a dozen areas broadly related to intelligence and counterterrorism. The PCLOB oversight agenda was detailed in a statement this week.

“This document describes the Board’s active oversight projects and other engagements. . . .The shorthand descriptions below are intended to provide public transparency, consistent with the protection of classified information and other applicable law,” the July 1 statement said.

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Meanwhile, the Department of Defense issued a new directive outlining how it will obtain and make use of public information. See DoD Access to and Use of Publicly Available Information (PAI), DoD Directive 3115.18, June 11, 2019.

The directive said that DoD will collect public information in an open and transparent way — except when it is authorized to employ deception.

As a general matter, “DoD personnel will not use false assertions of identity or organizational affiliation for official purposes to access, acquire, or use PAI without complying with cover policies . .  and other DoD guidance and issuances on the use of cover,” the directive said.

“Cover” is defined as “The concealment of true identity or organizational affiliation with assertions of false information as part of, or in support of, official duties to carry out authorized activities or lawful operations.”

DoD Doctrine on Nuclear Operations Published, Taken Offline

The Joint Chiefs of Staff briefly published and then removed from public access a new edition of their official doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons. But a public copy was preserved. See Joint Publication 3-72, Nuclear Operations, June 11, 2019.

The document presents an unclassified, mostly familiar overview of nuclear strategy, force structure, planning, targeting, command and control, and operations.

“Using nuclear weapons could create conditions for decisive results and the restoration of strategic stability,” according to one Strangelovian passage in the publication. “Specifically, the use of a nuclear weapon will fundamentally change the scope of a battle and create conditions that affect how commanders will prevail in conflict.”

The document might have gone unremarked, but after publishing it last week the Joint Chiefs deleted it from their public website. A notice there states that it (JP 3-72) is now only “available through JEL+” (the Joint Electronic Library), which is a restricted access site. A local copy remains publicly available on the FAS website.