A Social Science Perspective on International Science Engagement
In the previous issue of the Public Interest Report (Spring 2015), Dr. Charles Ferguson’s President’s Message focused on the importance of empathy in science and security engagements. This was a most welcome surprise, as concepts such as empathy do not typically make it to the pages of technical scientific publications. Yet the social and behavioral sciences play an increasingly critical part in issues as far ranging as arms control negotiations, inspection and verification missions, and cooperative security projects.
The Middle East Scientific Institute for Security (MESIS), the organization that I have headed for five years now, has developed a particular niche in looking at the role of culture in these science and security issues. MESIS works to reduce chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats across the region by creating partnerships within the region, and between the region and the international community, with culture as a major component of this work.
As with empathy, culture is often a misunderstood and misappropriated concept for most policymakers. Admittedly, it is not something that is easy to capture, describe, or measure, which may explain why it is not a popular topic. Notwithstanding, there is growing evidence that cultural awareness can make a crucial difference to the prospective success of negotiations, inspections, and cooperative endeavors. The Central Intelligence Agency produced a report in 2006 1 that examined how a lack of cultural awareness among those involved in Iraq’s inspection regime in the mid-1990s resulted in misinterpretation of the behavior of Iraqi officials, leading to an assumption that the exhibited behavior was that of denial and deception. The report relayed a wide range of incidents that were misread by those overseeing the inspection regime. These included: 1) Iraqi scientists’ understanding of the limitations of their weapons programs, combined with their fear to report these limitations to senior leaders, created two accounts about how far advanced these programs were; and 2) Iraqi leaders’ intent on maintaining an illusion of WMD possession to deter Iran regardless of the implications this may have on the inspection regime. The report even cites misinterpretations of customary (read: obligatory) tea served to inspectors at sites under investigation as being a delay tactic. These incidents demonstrate that local cultural factors, on both societal and state levels, were major determinants of nonproliferation performance, but were poorly understood by inspection officials who did not have enough cultural awareness.
It has become equally important to consider intercultural awareness when it comes to cooperative endeavors in non-adversarial circumstances. The sustainability of cooperative programmatic efforts, such as capacity building, cannot be achieved without a solid understanding of cultural awareness. Though terms such as “local ownership” and “partnerships” have become commonplace in the world of scientific cooperative engagements, it is rare to see them translated successfully into policy. As a local organization, MESIS cannot compete with any of the large U.S. scientific organizations on a technical level, yet by virtue of its knowledge of the regional context, it has numerous advantages over any other organization from outside the region. Try getting a U.S. expert to discuss the role that cultural fatalism can play in improving chemical safety and security standards among Middle Eastern laboratory personnel and this becomes all the more apparent. For example, a Jordanian expert looking to promote best practices among laboratory personnel once made an excellent argument by referring to a Hadith by the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that calls for the need to be safe and reasonable ahead of, and in conjunction with, placing one’s faith in God. There have been several studies about the relationship between the cultural fatalism of Arab and Muslim societies, and their perceptions of safety culture, especially on road safety. Although there is no ethnographic evidence to support the claim that this is applicable to lab safety, an anecdotal assessment would strongly suggest so.
Language is another critical area for cultural awareness, as exemplified by the success of a cooperative endeavor between the Chinese Scientists Group on Arms Control (CSGAC) of the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament, and the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. These groups have been meeting for almost 20 years to discuss nuclear arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear energy, and regional security issues, with the goal of reducing the possibility of nuclear weapons use and reducing nuclear proliferation in the world at large. Throughout the exchanges, it was often evident that beyond the never-simple translation of one language into the other, there was also the difficulty of differing interpretations of terms. Accordingly, a glossary of about 1000 terms was jointly developed by the two sides to ensure that future misunderstandings possibly between new members or non-bilingual speakers could be avoided. 2 In a similar vein, the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) has partnered with MESIS in developing Arabic versions of its Best Practices Guidelines. This is certainly not due to any shortage of Arabic-language translators in Vienna, but rather because they rightly distinguish between translation and indigenization. Typically, a translator with limited understanding of nuclear security is unable to indigenize a text in the way that a local expert can. In the case of the Guidelines, the use of local experts went a long way to ensure that the concepts themselves were understood by Arabic-language speakers (a case not very different from the U.S.-Chinese example).
The sustainability of the international community’s programmatic efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere is strongly tied to this notion of cultural context. MESIS manages the Radiation Cross Calibration Measurement (RMCC) network, which is a project that seeks to raise radiation measurement standards across the Arab world. It has always been a challenge to find funding for this network from funds dedicated to nonproliferation and nuclear security as the project’s relevance or utility is not readily apparent to decision makers. More creative thinking is needed here. A project like RMCC does in fact build the infrastructure and capacity needed for areas such as nuclear forensics and Additional Protocol compliance 3, but it also addresses more local concerns such as environmental monitoring and improved laboratory management. These sorts of win-win endeavors require a strong degree of cultural awareness. If a network of nuclear forensics laboratories had in fact been established, funding would probably be secured with greater ease, while sustainability would certainly be threatened, because ultimately, nuclear forensics is not currently a priority area for the region.
In a period when there is a tremendous amount of skepticism about international science engagement, increased cultural awareness may lead to more meaningful and, in turn, sustainable outcomes. One would expect this to be more readily apparent to members of a scientific community. There may be some merit in taking a page out of the book of another community, the commercial product development one. They are keenly aware of cultural paradigms when developing products for different markets, often leading to better returns.
Nasser Bin Nasser is the Managing Director of the Middle East Scientific Institute for Security (MESIS) based in Amman, Jordan. He is also the Head of the Amman Regional Secretariat under the European Union’s “Centres of Excellence” initiative on CBRN issues.
Army Updates Counterinsurgency Doctrine
“Without accurate and predictive intelligence, it is often better to not act than to act.”
That note of prudence and restraint recurs throughout the newly revised U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24 on “Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies” that was published this month.
The new manual replaces the celebrated 2006 edition of FM 3-24 (then simply entitled “Counterinsurgency”) associated with Gen. David Petraeus, who coordinated its development. That earlier manual may have been the most popular and widely read U.S. military doctrinal publication ever released.
The new edition builds upon rather than rescinds its predecessor. Some of the changes are subtle, extending even to the definition of “insurgency.”
The 2006 edition defined insurgency as “An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict.” In the new edition, insurgency now means “The organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control of a region.” The reference to a government has been removed in the new definition, and insurgency is conceived as a tactic rather than a movement.
To a lay reader, the new Field Manual presents a becoming modesty about the utility of violent action, along with a sensitivity to the specifics of every conflict, and an alertness to ethical norms and legal requirements. A few excerpts:
“The conclusion of any counterinsurgency effort is primarily dependent on the host nation and the people who reside in that nation. Ultimately, every society has to provide solutions to its own problems. As such, one of the Army and Marine Corps’ primary roles in counterinsurgency is to enable the host nation.”
“The general rule for the use of force for the counterinsurgents is ‘do not create more enemies than you eliminate with your action’.”
“Effective counterinsurgency commanders tell the truth; they refuse to give projections; and they do not promise more than can be provided.”
“Although most well-led and well-trained U.S. military personnel perform their duties honorably and lawfully, some will commit various crimes, including violations of the law of war…. All reportable incidents committed by or against U.S. personnel, enemy persons, or any other individual must be reported promptly, investigated thoroughly, and, where appropriate, remedied by corrective action.”
Remarkably, the Army invited external input in 2011 from the public (or at least from “practitioners, scholars, and agency partners”) in the development of the revised Field Manual.
The new manual, like the previous one, has drawn criticism in some quarters for emphasizing the role of soft power at the expense of lethality and traditional warfighting.
“The 2014 FM hurtles down the wrong track,” wrote former Reagan defense official Bing West. “It offers no advice about resolve, cohesion, morale, ferocity, trust and victory…. If we cannot put our enemies six feet in the ground and infuse that same fierce, implacable, winning spirit into the host nation forces, friendly persuasion and development aid will be seen by our enemies as weakness and fecklessness,” he wrote in Small Wars Journal on May 14.
But perhaps the severest criticism of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine derives from actual record of counterinsurgency programs. The continuing violence and instability in Iraq and Afghanistan would seem to indicate that existing counterinsurgency doctrine is either misconceived or that, for whatever reason, it cannot be effectively implemented.
Army Views Emerging Intelligence Technologies
“Emerging Intelligence Technologies” is the theme of the latest issue of the U.S. Army’s Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin (MIPB), January-March 2014.
“Rapid technology developments in response to urgent wartime requirements have brought the intelligence community (IC) some tremendous new capabilities. Advancement in the areas of biometrics, battlefield forensics, miniaturization, SIGINT terminal guidance, DCGS-A, and distributed processing have been vital to the success of Military Intelligence (MI) and the Army,” wrote Maj. Gen. Robert P. Ashley.
“This issue of MIPB looks at several of these capabilities and their integration into our formations.”
The new Bulletin was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
JASON Views Challenges of Electronic Health Data
The ongoing transition to electronic storage of individual health information was examined in a newly released study from the JASON scientific advisory panel.
“The two overarching goals of moving to the electronic exchange of health information are improved health care and lower health care costs. Whether either, or both, of these goals can be achieved remains to be seen, and the challenges are immense,” the JASON study says.
See A Robust Health Data Infrastructure, prepared for the Department of Health and Human Services, November 2013 (approved for release April 2014).
The JASON study addresses the tension between personal health information, which is “sensitive and therefore must be carefully safeguarded,” and aggregated population health data, which are “a highly valuable, and largely untapped, resource for basic and clinical research.”
“It is in the public interest to make such [aggregated population] information available for scientific, medical, and economic purposes.” Reconciling these competing imperatives of privacy and information sharing is one of the challenges to be overcome.
The JASONs, who normally deal with defense science and technology, strain to affirm a relationship between health and national security. (“From a national security perspective it is important to have an accurate assessment of the current health and potential health vulnerabilities of the population.”)
Interestingly, they suggest that because the United States is less ethnically homogenous than many other countries, it “has a special advantage” in conducting certain types of medical research.
The U.S. “is a genetic melting pot that can be a crucible for discoveries related to personalized medicine and the genetic basis of disease,” the JASONs said.
“Too Mild a Nuclear Option”? National Security in the 1970s
U.S. nuclear weapons strategy evolved during the Nixon administration from a reflexive policy of massive retaliation against a Soviet attack to a diverse range of options for more limited nuclear strikes. The transition was not without some bumps.
A declassified 1974 memo recorded that National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger at first needed some persuading about the efficacy of limited strikes.
Kissinger “expressed concern that many of the options appeared to him as too timid. He judged that nuclear use must have a decisive military effect in order to achieve the desired political goal– convince enemy to stop.”
“Too mild a nuclear option is likely to convince the enemy to persevere, or respond tit for tat, or both,” Kissinger said, as paraphrased in the 1974 Pentagon memo.
The formerly Top Secret memo (document 36) is one of many that appeared in a richly informative, 1,000-page new volume of the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series on National Security Policy, 1973-1976 that was released this week.
Kissinger was soon convinced of the need for greater flexibility, and presented the argument himself to President Nixon.
“The concept that we could ‘win’ a war through virtually unlimited nuclear exchanges has become increasingly irrational as the Soviets acquired the capability to destroy the United States– even if the U.S. were to strike first,” he wrote in a memorandum to the President (document 30). “This has resulted in concern that such a strategy is no longer credible and that it detracts from our overall deterrent.”
The proposed new nuclear policy would therefore provide “for the development of a broad range of limited options aimed at terminating war on terms acceptable to the U.S. at the lowest level of conflict feasible.” Still, it would preserve “the major SIOP-type options in the event that escalation cannot be controlled.”
Kissinger asked President Nixon to approve the proposed steps and “authorize me to sign” the new nuclear weapons policy. Nixon did approve, but he wrote that “RN will sign.”
The FRUS volume is full of impressive, candid and chatty source documents on the diverse national security issues of the time, including anti-satellite weapons, the notorious “Team B” competitive analysis project that challenged CIA assessments of Soviet military strength, the Glomar Explorer effort to raise a sunken Soviet submarine, and the growing threat of Soviet surveillance and interception of U.S. communications.
The fear that Soviets were monitoring U.S. telephone communications inspired a concerted effort to improve communications security against espionage and the invasion of privacy.
“The President… recognizes that U.S. citizens and institutions should have a reasonable expectation of privacy from foreign or domestic intercept when using the public telephone system,” according to National Security Decision Memorandum 338 of September 1, 1976 (document 180).
The Foreign Relations of the United States series has been an important driver of the declassification process, identifying high-value historical records for declassification review. While it sometimes represents the state of the art in declassification, other times it lags behind, probably due to the painfully slow pace of the review and production process. (The latest volume was under declassification review from 2007 to 2014.)
In some peculiar cases, FRUS both leads and lags in declassification. So, for example, the new FRUS volume includes a copy of the 1976 National Security Decision Memorandum 333 on “Enhanced Survivability of Critical U.S. Military and Intelligence Space Systems” (document 91). The newly published document includes two declassified paragraphs that had been withheld from public release as recently as 2008. Incongruously, however, the new FRUS version of NSDM 333 also withholds two lines concerning threats against U.S. satellites that it mistakenly says were “not declassified.” In fact, those lines were declassified years ago in the NSDM 333 that is available from the Ford Presidential Library. The two contrasting and complementary versions of NSDM 333 can be viewed here and here.
JASON on Enhanced Geothermal Energy Systems
The potential for new technologies to harvest energy from the Earth’s crust was considered in a new report from the elite JASON science advisory board on “Enhanced Geothermal Systems” (EGS).
“EGS offers important opportunities for increasing the contribution of geothermal energy to U.S. power production: by a few-fold over the next few years, according to our estimation, and much more so if this initial success is appropriately leveraged over subsequent years,” the report concluded.
As described in the report, EGS entails drilling deep into the Earth’s crust — 1 to 5 kilometers or more — and forcing a fluid (water or brine) through hot, permeable rock. Energy from the heated fluid can then be extracted.
Of course, the technology is not without hazards. One is the potential for pollution of potable water acquifers. Another more ominous concern is “induced seismicity” — or artificially-generated earthquakes.
“Induced seismicity is a relatively well-documented phenomenon associated with changing fluid pressures at depth,” the report notes. The JASONs assert that “there is a basis for controlling the induced seismicity and therefore for minimizing this potential hazard attributable to EGS.”
The new JASON report is elegantly written and can be at least partially understood by non-specialist readers who may have forgotten their heat and mass transfer equations. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.
Over the past year, the JASONs completed eight classified studies containing sensitive compartmented information (SCI) that have not been disclosed. Several other unclassified reports were also performed and their release is pending.
In 2012, the Central Intelligence Agency refused to release a JASON report entitled “Metamaterials.”
Update: For more background on enhanced geothermal systems, see this story in Scientific American.
White House Releases a Presidential Policy Directive
The White House yesterday issued Presidential Policy Directive 27 on United States Conventional Arms Transfer Policy. The text of the directive was posted on the White House web site.
“The new policy provides greater clarity and transparency with respect to U.S. goals for arms transfers and on the criteria used to make arms transfer decisions,” according to a White House statement.
This is not the first time that the Obama White House has published one of its Presidential Policy Directives, but it has not done so consistently, even when the directives are unclassified.
Last month, DC District Judge Ellen Huvelle scolded the White House for withholding an unclassified directive (PPD-6) and for what she termed its “cavalier attitude” towards public disclosure. She ordered the document released. (“Court Rebukes White House Over ‘Secret Law’,” Secrecy News, December 18, 2013.)
President Obama has been issuing presidential directives at a discernibly slower pace than did other recent presidents, for reasons that are unclear.
Compared to President Obama’s 27 directives, President George W. Bush had issued some 44 directives at this point in his second term, while President Clinton had issued 60, and President Reagan had produced over 200.
“We’ve talked about that,” a National Security Staff official said. But an explanation for the differences was hard to pin down, the official said, except that it evidently reflects a difference in governing style and in the choice of directives as a policy instrument.
Update: On January 17, the White House issued Presidential Policy Directive 28 on Signals Intelligence Activities.
CIA Cuts Off Public Access to Its Translated News Reports
Beginning in 1974, the U.S. intelligence community provided the public with a broad selection of foreign news reports, updated daily. These were collected and translated by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), which was reconstituted in 2004 as the Open Source Center (OSC).
But the CIA has now terminated public access to those news reports, as of December 31. The Open Source Center cut off its feed to the National Technical Information Service’s World News Connection, which was the conduit for public access to these materials (through paid subscriptions).
Translation of foreign news reports had been one of the few direct services that U.S. intelligence agencies offered to the American public. Many journalists, scholars and researchers benefited from it, and citations to old FBIS translations can be found in innumerable journal articles and dissertations. The utility of this public service was diminished somewhat in recent years by copyright constraints on publication. But it remained a valuable if eclectic source of alternative perspectives on regional and international affairs in a searchable global database that extended across decades.
Now it’s over.
Of course, the CIA will continue to collect and to translate foreign news reports at its Open Source Center. It just won’t permit the public to access them.
CIA spokesman Christopher White explained: “The Open Source Center (OSC) remains committed to its mission of acquiring, analyzing, and disseminating open source information within the U.S. government. As technology evolves rapidly, the open source feed of information to the National Technical Information Service, Department of Commerce, has become outdated and it would be cost prohibitive to update this feed. In addition, publicly available open source information and machine translation capabilities are now readily available to individuals on the Internet.”
The original 1974 decision to allow public access to FBIS products was “a particularly significant event,” said FBIS deputy director J. Niles Riddel, speaking at a 1992 conference organized by Robert Steele‘s Open Source Solutions. Public access enabled “expanded participation in informed analysis of issues significant to U.S. policy interests,” he said.
In fact, in the climate that prevailed in the early 1990s, public access to FBIS products was actually promoted by intelligence community officials. Mr. Riddel said then that it was “strongly supported by our customers in both the Intelligence and Policy Communities who value the work of private sector scholars and analysts who avail themselves of our material and contribute significantly to the national debate on contemporary issues such as economic competitiveness.”
But that’s all finished. Instead of adapting and expanding its open source product line in response to the needs and wants of the interested public, this four-decade CIA experiment in public engagement is concluded. Americans are invited to look elsewhere.
“We are sad to be losing this popular file,” said Sherry Grant of ProQuest, which managed public subscriptions to the NTIS World News Connection. “However, as you can see, it’s beyond our control.”
There are some alternatives. “You can access a similar service from BBC Monitoring,” suggested Rosy Wolfe, head of business development at BBC Monitoring. “I’d be happy to provide you with more information.” At least someone is happy.
* * *
A comparative assessment of foreign news coverage by FBIS and the BBC was presented in “The Scope of FBIS and BBC Open-Source Media Coverage, 1979-2008” by Kalev Leetaru, Studies in Intelligence, vol. 54, no. 1, March 2010.
“Unfortunately, many misconceptions about the application of OSINT [open source intelligence] continue to endure throughout the [intelligence] community,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Craig D. Morrow in “OSINT: Truths and Misconceptions,” Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, April-June 2013, pp. 31-34.
“Though the future of FMM [foreign media monitoring] is unclear at this time, current users agree that it fills a capability gap to automatically collect, organize, and translate open source content near real time, making sense of the overwhelming amount of foreign language data available to intelligence analysts today.” See “Foreign Media Monitoring: The Intelligence Analyst Tool for Exploiting Open Source Intelligence,” by Tracy Blocker and Patrick O’Malley, Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, July-September 2013, pp. 36-38.
A History of History: The Story of the FRUS Series
The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series is the official documentary record of U.S. foreign policy published by the U.S. Department of State. The origins, development and continuing evolution of the FRUS series are explored in a massive new history prepared by the State Department Office of the Historian. See “Toward ‘Thorough, Accurate and Reliable’: A History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series” by William B. McAllister, Joshua Botts, Peter Cozzens, and Aaron W. Marrs, Department of State, December 19, 2013.
Dating back to the Civil War — the Abraham Lincoln Administration — FRUS long predates the existing national security classification and declassification regimes. But from the start it has manifested and reinforced the impulse towards open government to a remarkable if imperfect degree. It appears to surpass any comparable effort to systematically and publicly document foreign policy by any other government in the world.
But more than a mere expression of open government, the FRUS series has been a battleground on which fundamental issues of secrecy and disclosure have been fought. Generations of officials, historians, journalists and others have disputed the timeliness of FRUS publications and their completeness, and weighed the demands of national security against the imperatives of historical integrity, with outcomes that shifted and diverged through the series.
“One might imagine individual FRUS volumes as akin to tree rings: each iteration records the environmental conditions from which it emerged; a broader story unfolds by examining change over time,” wrote historians William B. McAllister and Joshua Botts.
The advances, compromises and setbacks that characterized the evolution of the FRUS series are recounted in impressive and illuminating detail in the new historical study.
One of the themes that emerges is that the series progressed “dialectically,” in a continuing clash between conflicting interests in secrecy and disclosure.
So, for example, one of the main factors in the the post-World War II development of FRUS was the unauthorized disclosure of a classified compilation known as the Yalta Papers, which was a study of FDR’s wartime diplomacy. The leak of the Yalta Papers by a FRUS historian in 1954 (which in some respects prefigured the Vietnam-era leak of the Pentagon Papers) catalyzed methodological changes in the production, timeliness and oversight of the FRUS series (see Chapter 7).
Meanwhile, excesses of secrecy generated their own corrective reactions. The suppression of information about US covert action in a FRUS volume on Iran, for example, helped instigate a statutory requirement that the FRUS series must be “thorough, accurate and reliable,” thereby strengthening the hand of openness advocates inside and outside the Department (Chapter 11).
The new history of FRUS is not a polemic or a piece of advocacy. It is a scrupulous account of the multiple and diverse perspectives that generated the FRUS series throughout its history. (And those who care about the series or participated in its development will find much of it gripping reading.)
But after hundreds of pages, the State Department authors allow the conclusion that in the conflict between secrecy and disclosure, it is secrecy that been the greater problem for FRUS, for the Department and for the US Government:
“The most significant negative repercussions attributable to the FRUS series have not involved damaging releases of potentially-sensitive national security or intelligence information. Rather, the reputation of the U.S. Government has suffered primarily from failures of the series to document significant historical events or acknowledge past actions.”
“FRUS realizes its promise when it fulfills global expectations for openness that promote democracy and encourage human freedom.”
The new FRUS history will be the subject of a panel discussion at the upcoming Meeting of the American Historical Association on January 4 in Washington, DC.
Orgs Ask DNI to Preserve Access to World News Connection
More than a dozen professional societies and public interest groups wrote to the Director of National Intelligence last week to ask him to preserve public access to foreign news reports gathered, translated and published by the Open Source Center and marketed to subscribers through the NTIS World News Connection.
The CIA, which manages the Open Source Center for the intelligence community, intends to terminate public access to the World News Connection at the end of this month. (CIA Halts Public Access to Open Source Service, Secrecy News, October 8.)
Among other things, the groups said that this move is inconsistent with the President’s Open Government National Action Plan.
Rather than reducing the existing level of public access, “the U.S. government should expand public access to open source intelligence by publishing all unclassified, uncopyrighted Open Source Center products.”
The December 18 letter was coordinated by the National Coalition for History and is posted here.
Mary Webster, the Open Source Center Deputy Director for Information Access at CIA, did not respond to a request for comment.
BBC Monitoring in the United Kingdom provides a global news aggregation service that is comparable to the NTIS World News Connection and even includes many of the same translations. A spokeswoman for BBC Monitoring told Secrecy News that her organization would gladly welcome new American customers if the US Government is unable or unwilling to meet their needs.
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.