from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 104
December 2, 2003


The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has achieved a long list of milestones in defense technology over the past eighty years, having developed the first U.S. radar, the world's first intelligence satellite, prototypes of the Global Positioning System, and a lot more.

But now the viability of NRL is threatened, scientists say, by a quiet Navy move to transfer authority over the Lab from civilian to military control, which they say is likely to stifle innovation and scientific freedom.

"NRL belongs to the Navy Secretariat, and as such, it is the only installation not controlled by the service's uniformed officers," according to a review of the situation by an anonymous analyst who opposes the military takeover.

Such civilian control "was [inventor] Thomas Edison's intention from the day he urged the Navy [in 1920] to create NRL."

But now the Lab faces imminent consolidation under the newly established Commander, Navy Installations (CNI), prompting fears that its days as a world class research facility are numbered.

"More than facility management is being centralized at CNI. Power is being amassed there, at the expense of Navy civilian control," the analyst warned in a recent paper that is circulating among concerned scientists.

"Thomas Edison would be spinning in his grave if he knew the present course of Navy RDT&E," the analyst wrote.

The fate of NRL is of interest to scientists and technologists far outside the U.S. Navy.

"NRL is important to all of us -- to defense industry and to science," said Charles Townes, Nobel laureate and inventor of the laser (and an FAS sponsor) in 1998.

The issue is explored by the anonymous critic, in detail and at length, in "Labs Miserables: The Impending Assimilation of the Naval Research Laboratory and the Threat to Navy Transformation," November 17, 2003 (1.2 MB PDF file):

Coincidentally, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently observed that research and development is one of the things "you don't want to centralize excessively."

"The worst thing you could do is if you're in the research and development business is to get everyone in the same town in the same building going to lunch together and they all begin to think alike. That's the last thing you want," Rumsfeld said, speaking at Osan Air Base in Korea on November 18.


The FBI's use of murderers as informants in Boston beginning in the 1960s was explored in a blistering report from the House Committee on Government Reform last month, which also criticized the Bush Administration for impeding its investigation.

Because of the FBI's indiscriminate reliance on known killers, "men died in prison -- and spent their lives in prison -- for crimes they did not commit," the House Committee report found.

"A number of men were murdered because they came to the government with information incriminating informants. Government officials also became corrupted."

Yet "throughout the Committee's investigation, it encountered an institutional reluctance to accept oversight."

"The Committee's investigation was delayed for months by President Bush's assertion of executive privilege over a number of key documents. While the Committee was ultimately able to obtain access to the documents it needed, the President's privilege claim was regrettable and unnecessary," the report said.

See "Everything Secret Degenerates: The FBI's Use of Murderers as Informants," published by the House Committee on Government Reform, November 21:


The responsibilities and functions of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, a new position established this year and currently filled by Stephen Cambone, are outlined in a May 8, 2003 memorandum from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, which is now available here:


It might seem reasonable to presume that a person who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than a year in jail would be ineligible to be granted a security clearance.

Yet when such a presumption is turned into a statutory prohibition, unintended consequences follow.

The so-called Smith Amendment, which was enacted in the FY2001 defense authorization act, bars certain convicted criminals from ever holding a security clearance, even decades after incarceration.

And it is now wreaking havoc in the national security workforce, according to attorney Sheldon I. Cohen, a specialist in security clearance practice and procedures.

"The Smith Amendment has caused individuals who have served their country faithfully and meritoriously to lose their clearances and their jobs twenty to thirty years after having paid their debt to society for committing minor crimes," he wrote.

"The effect on the national defense has been far more serious," he added. "People in critical positions whose skills and knowledge are virtually irreplaceable are being forced out even though they have had a clearance for many years. It is jeopardizing our submarine and aircraft industries where every craftsman, welder and electrician must have a clearance."

"Instead of strengthening our national defense, the Smith Amendment has put it at risk."

In a recent publication, Mr. Cohen urged concerned parties to press for repeal of the Smith Amendment. See his "Smith Amendment Alert!":


The Senate approved the conference report on the FY 2004 intelligence authorization act on November 21. Senator Richard Shelby inserted into the record an exchange of letters outlining the functions of the new Office of Intelligence and Analysis within the Department of the Treasury. See:

Several members of the House of Representatives expressed their disapproval of the 2004 intelligence authorization (which passed the House on November 20) in statements for the record on November 22-23.

"What most concerns me about this conference report [is] the stealth addition of language drastically expanding FBI powers to secretly and without court order snoop into the business and financial transactions of American citizens," said Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). See:

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) likewise addressed "this Administration's secret efforts to further expand secret powers of the FBI" in a November 20 floor speech:

A bill to establish an independent, bipartisan commission on intelligence and the Iraq war was reintroduced by Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ).

He said such a commission "is necessary because Administration officials misused intelligence--that is, they made public statements and submitted reports to Congress that the Administration knew at the time to be unsupported by the available intelligence. And it is necessary because inaccurate and misused intelligence played a role in leading us to war."


Several members of Congress, led by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), introduced a bill to enhance public access to reports of the Congressional Research Service. See the "Congressional Research Accessibility Act" (HR 3630), introduced November 21, here:

See also "Lawmakers revive fight to get research reports online" by Ted Leventhal, National Journal's Technology Daily, November 24:

A new selection of CRS reports on "continuity of government" -- which refers to the assured functioning of constitutional government following catastrophe or natural disaster -- is now available here:

Additional CRS resources are being gathered and posted by here:


Rapidly approaching my sixteenth minute, I was profiled last week in the Washington Post. See "One Man Against Secrecy" by Dana Priest, November 26:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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