DoD Reports to Congress to be Posted Online

In a slight but welcome incremental reform, reports to Congress from the Department of Defense are to be posted online, according to a provision in the pending FY 2014 defense authorization act.

Up to now, such reports were to be made available to the public “upon request” (10 USC 122a). But under section 181 of the FY 2014 defense authorization bill, as agreed to by House and Senate conferees, the reports would have to be posted on a “publicly accessible Internet website” whether they were requested or not (h/t: FCNL).

The online publication requirement would not apply to DoD reports that contained classified or proprietary information, or that are otherwise exempt from disclosure under FOIA.

In a January 21, 2009 memorandum to agency heads, the newly inaugurated President Obama directed that “agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.” But agencies implemented this directive unevenly and incompletely.

Redacted Budget Book Provides a Peek at the NRO

The National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates U.S. intelligence satellites, has just released the unclassified portions of its FY 2014 Congressional Budget Justification, a detailed account of its budget request for the current year.

Although more than 90% of the 534-page document (dated April 2013) was withheld from public release under the Freedom of Information Act, some substantive material was approved for public disclosure, providing a rare glimpse of agency operations, future plans and self-perceptions.  Some examples:

*    NRO says it recently achieved an “88 percent reduction in collection-to-analyst dissemination timelines,” facilitating the rapid dissemination of time-sensitive data.

*    The 2014 budget request “represents the biggest restructure of the NRO portfolio in a decade.”

*    The NRO research agenda includes “patterns of life.” This refers to the “ability to take advantage of massive data sets, multiple data sources, and high-speed machine processing to identify patterns without a priori knowledge or pattern definition… to detect, characterize, and identify elusive targets.”

*    Other research objectives include development of technologies for “collecting previously unknown or unobservable phenomena and improving collection of known phenomena; providing persistent surveillance; reducing satellite vulnerability; … innovative adaptation of video game and IT technologies…” and more.

*    “A primary responsibility of the NRO is ensuring that the entire NRO [satellite] constellation is replenished efficiently and in time to guarantee mission success.”

*    The NRO’s implementation of the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE), an effort to establish a common IC-wide IT architecture, is discussed at some length. “The DNI’s IC ITE architecture paves the way for a fundamental shift toward operating as an IC Enterprise that uses common, secure, shared capabilities and services.”

*    With respect to security, NRO employs “automated insider threat detection tools, analyzes collected data in conjunction with disparate data sources to produce investigative leads, [and] performs assessments to rule out malicious activity occurring on NRO networks.”  NRO counterintelligence activities “concentrate on insider threat, traditional, and asymmetric methodologies.”

The National Reconnaissance Office has an annual budget of approximately $10 billion ($10.4 billion in FY 2012), according to classified budget documents obtained by the Washington Post. It employs around 975 people.

“I am proud to report that all of our major system acquisition programs are green– meeting or beating all performance, costs and schedule goals,” said Betty Sapp, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, at a March 2013 hearing. “Additionally, for the fourth year in a row, the NRO received a clean audit opinion on our financial statements,” an unprecedented feat in the U.S. intelligence community, which has largely eluded financial accountability.

“Over the coming years, the NRO will incorporate revolutionary new technologies into our architecture that will provide enhanced support to the warfighter while also improving the resiliency of our systems,” Director Sapp testified.


The Defense Warning Network

The structure and functions of the Defense Warning Network were outlined in a new directive issued yesterday by the Department of Defense.

The mission of the Defense Warning Network is to provide notice “of potential threats posed by adversaries, political and economic instability, failed or failing states, and any other emerging challenges that could affect the United States or its interests worldwide.”  See The Defense Warning Network, DoD Directive 3115.16, December 5, 2013.

Intelligence Community Plans for Continuity of Operations

The U.S. intelligence community should continue to provide intelligence support to national leaders even in the event of a catastrophic emergency, according to a new Intelligence Community Directive.

“IC elements shall develop and maintain COOP [continuity of operations] capabilities to ensure the uninterrupted flow of national intelligence and, through the support of COG [continuity of government], the continuation of National Essential Functions,” the Directive states.

The capability to provide continuity of operations depends in part on the geographical dispersion of leadership, staff, communications and facilities.

“The IC provides timely, insightful, objective, and relevant national intelligence to the President… and other national leaders… wherever they are located and under all conditions,” the Directive affirmed. See Intelligence Community Continuity Program, Intelligence Community Directive 118, November 12, 2013.

The new Directive implements the Bush Administration’s 2007 National Security Presidential Directive 51 on “National Continuity Policy.” Presidential directives remain in force unless or until they are superseded or rescinded.

Secrecy News From All Over

The Director of National Intelligence yesterday declassified and released hundreds of pages of records concerning collection under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, illuminating the origins of bulk collection of email metadata, as well as interactions with the FISA Court and Congress.

“We will make the information public that we can make public, and we will be more transparent about this than has ever been the case in history,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney at an October 28 news briefing.  “That is already true.  We have released more information about what the NSA [does] than has ever been released before.”

By themselves, the latest disclosures (provided in response to FOIA litigation brought by ACLU and EFF) are unlikely to resolve ongoing disputes about NSA intelligence gathering. The legitimacy of bulk collection of email and telephone metadata may ultimately be more of a value judgment rather than a factual or legal one. At a minimum, perhaps the new documents will provide a more substantial basis for informed debate.

But there is disagreement even about that.

“Some would like to believe these disclosures have started a debate about the propriety and efficacy of NSA surveillance programs but, in fact, to a substantial degree, recent unauthorized disclosures have ended the debate because, once disclosed, the programs at issue become substantially less effective,” according to a November 12 report from the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The nation will suffer as a result.”

The Public Interest Declassification Board will hold an open meeting at the National Archives on Thursday, November 21. The Board proposes to focus on prioritizing topics and events for declassification. The intended emphasis is on declassification of historical records, but it need not be limited to that.

Although willful abuse of classification authority is not unheard of, there seems to be no case in which it has ever been penalized. “I am extremely concerned that the integrity of the classification system continues to be severely undermined by the complete absence of accountability in instances such as this clear abuse of classification authority,” wrote J. William Leonard, the former director of the Information Security Oversight Office, in an October 18 letter. He was responding to the controversial classification of evidence concerning the defilement of human remains in Afghanistan.  See Marine Corps fight escalates over handling of case involving troops urinating on corpses, Washington Post, November 15;  and Marine Corps Commandant Accused of Improper Classification, Secrecy News, July 30.

Pentagon Drone Programs Taper Off (and New Military Doctrine)

The Department of Defense budget for research and procurement of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, is on a distinctly downward slope.

The FY 2014 budget request included $2.3 billion for research, development, and procurement of unmanned aerial systems, a decrease of $1.1 billion from the request for the fiscal year 2013.

“Annual procurement of UAS has gone from 1,211 in fiscal 2012 to 288 last year to just 54 in the proposed FY14 budget,” according to a recently published congressional hearing volume.

See “Post Iraq and Afghanistan: Current and Future Roles for UAS and the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Request,” hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, April 23, 2013.

Among the questions for the record published in the new hearing volume, DoD officials were asked: “Who is responsible for developing privacy protections for military UAV operations inside the United States?”

Some other noteworthy new doctrinal and congressional defense-related publications include the following.

Joint Intelligence, Joint Publication 2-0, Joint Chiefs of Staff, October 22, 2013

Civil-Military Engagement, ATP 3-57.80, US Army, October 2013

Espionage Threats at Federal Laboratories: Balancing Scientific Cooperation While Protecting Critical Information, hearing before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, May 16, 2013

Budget Request for National Security Space Activities, House Armed Services Committee, April 25, 2013

Text of the NATO Agreement for the Sharing of Atomic Energy Information (ATOMAL), As Amended, September 19, 2013

In Case You Missed It

New legislation to restore due process protections for federal employees who serve in “sensitive” positions was introduced last week by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton. Her bill was prompted by a widely criticized court ruling last August (in Kaplan v. Conyers and MSPB) that effectively stripped existing protections from such employees.

The latest annual report from examines the most recent indicators of secrecy in the federal government, noting continuing difficulty in curbing national security secrecy.

A new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists on “The Obama Administration and the Press” says that “government officials are increasingly afraid to talk to the press” due to invasive and punitive responses to unauthorized disclosures.

A new book on Lee Harvey Oswald’s sojourn in the Soviet Union was reviewed by Priscilla Johnson McMillan in Max Holland’s Washington Decoded.  Ms. McMillan, author of the genuinely extraordinary 1977 volume Marina and Lee (reissued last summer), must be the only person ever to have known both JFK and Oswald. In her book review, she finds significant virtues and faults in the new book, The Interloper by Peter Savodnik.

CIA Halts Public Access to Open Source Service

For more than half a century, the public has been able to access a wealth of information collected by U.S. intelligence from unclassified, open sources around the world.  At the end of this year, the Central Intelligence Agency will terminate that access.

The U.S. intelligence community’s Open Source Center (OSC), which is managed by the CIA, will cease to provide its information feed to the publicly accessible World News Connection as of December 31, 2013, according to an announcement from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which operates the World News Connection (WNC).

The WNC “is an online news service, only accessible via the World Wide Web, that offers an extensive array of translated and English-language news and information,” an NTIS brochure explains. “Particularly effective in its coverage of local media sources, WNC provides you with the power to identify what really is happening in a specific country or region. Compiled from thousands of non-U.S. media sources, the information in WNC covers significant socioeconomic, political, scientific, technical, and environmental issues and events.”

“The information is obtained from full text and summaries of newspaper articles, conference proceedings, television and radio broadcasts, periodicals, and non-classified technical reports. New information is entered into WNC every government business day. Generally, new information is available within 48-72 hours from the time of original publication or broadcast.”

“For over 60 years, analysts from OSC’s domestic and overseas bureaus have monitored timely and pertinent open-source materials, including grey literature. Uniquely, WNC allows you to take advantage of the intelligence gathering experience of OSC,” the NTIS brochure says. Soon, that will no longer be true.

The WNC public feed from the Open Source Center is a highly attenuated version of what is available to official government users.  Within government, copyright considerations are ignored, but for public distribution they must be respected, and so (with some exceptions) only information products whose creators have signed a royalty agreement with NTIS are publicly released.

Even with that significant limitation and the attendant public subscription fees, the NTIS World News Connection has remained a highly prized resource for news reporters, foreign policy analysts, students and interested members of the public.

I check it almost every day.  Recently, for example, I have been following official statements from Russian officials who allege that the U.S. is covertly developing biological weapons for use against Russia in a military laboratory in the Republic of Georgia. The claim seems bizarre, but may nevertheless be politically significant.  Detailed English-language coverage of the matter, or of many other stories of regional interest and importance, is not readily available elsewhere.  (Moreso than in the past, however, portions of the material that is publicly accessible through WNC can be obtained elsewhere, through other news services or foreign websites.)

The reasons for the decision to terminate the World News Connection are a bit obscure.  Producing it is not a drain on U.S. intelligence– the marginal costs of providing the additional feed to NTIS are close to zero.  (The total budget for open source intelligence was about $384 million in FY2012, according to classified budget records obtained by the Washington Post from Edward Snowden.)  However, the program is a headache for NTIS to manage, particularly since NTIS officials had to negotiate numerous contracts with media source providers to offer their products to the public.  But the large majority of that work has already been accomplished, and now it will be rendered useless.

Mary Webster of the Open Source Center had initially proposed to cancel the public information feed as of September 30, according to an NTIS official.  Then she was persuaded to grant a six month reprieve.  But in the end, a cut-off date of December 31, 2013 was set.

If that comes to pass, it will be a blow to researchers and proponents of public intelligence. The Federation of American Scientists had previously argued that the U.S. government should actually expand public access to open source intelligence by publishing all unclassified, uncopyrighted Open Source Center products.  (“Open Up Open Source Intelligence,” Secrecy News, August 24, 2011.)  Instead, even the current range of publications will no longer be systematically released.  (Only a small fraction of publicly unreleased OSC records ever seem to leak.)

Although the Open Source Center is managed by the Central Intelligence Agency, it is formally a component of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  Yet the move the terminate public access to OSC products seemed to catch the ODNI unawares.

“Obviously our attention is on a possible lapse in appropriations, but we are looking into this,” said an ODNI spokesman on September 30, just before the government shutdown.

“The information provided through NTIS makes an irreplaceable contribution to U.S. national security,” wrote Prof. Gary G. Sick of Columbia University in an October 1999 letter, in response to a previous proposal to curtail coverage in the World News Connection.

The World News Connection “informs us about other countries in ways that otherwise would be nearly impossible,” Dr. Sick wrote. “It costs virtually nothing in comparison with almost any other national security system. It is not as sexy as a bomber or a missile, but its contributions to national security can be attested to by generations of policy-makers. I was in the White House during the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis, and my respect for the power of this information was born at that time. I often found it more helpful than the reams of classified material that came across my desk at the NSC.”

Resources on Manhattan Project, FOIA, FISA Reform

The Department of Energy has undertaken a new effort to publish information and documents concerning the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb. The effort will notably include “the entire thirty-six volume Manhattan District History. Many of the volumes have been declassified” and are now online. “The remaining classified volumes are being declassified with redactions, i.e., still classified terms, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs are removed and the remaining unclassified parts made available to the public. The volumes will be posted incrementally as review and processing is completed.”

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, has issued a report on legislation to amend the Freedom of Information Act.  As detailed in the report, the pending House bill “amends FOIA to provide for more proactive disclosure of records, encourages enhanced agency compliance, and improves the FOIA process for both agencies and requesters.”

Critics of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, including some former Court members, have lately suggested that Court procedures could be improved if they allowed for an advocate to argue against the government’s applications for surveillance and to contest proposed changes in the Court’s interpretations of the law. This proposal was originally presented nearly twenty years ago by the late Kenneth C. Bass at a 1994 hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on “Amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”