from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 57
June 21, 2004


A major report last month by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) on "Small Scale Terrorist Attacks Using Chemical and Biological Agents" included significant errors of fact and interpretation, non-governmental analysts say.

Normally, the congressional policy that prohibits direct public access to CRS products also shields CRS reports from external criticism.

But once the May 2004 CRS report was published on the FAS web site (see Secrecy News, June 7), two subject matter experts independently voiced concerns that the report included numerous errors, big and small.

Thus, observed George Smith of, it is not true that "Aum Shinrikyo developed an array of chemical and biological agents to be used against the Japanese civilian populace." They tried and failed.

Nor is it true that "Diphosgene has no industrial use," Dr. Smith noted.

And although it has become an accepted cliché, it is grossly misleading to assert that recipes for extracting ricin "are available on the Internet," for reasons that he explains.

These and other criticisms were itemized by Dr. Smith in an errata sheet for the CRS report which is available here:

Dr. Milton Leitenberg, an arms control expert at the University of Maryland, independently identified some of the same flaws in the CRS report, and some others. Excerpts from a letter he sent to the CRS authors last week are posted here:

While such errors may be embarrassing, they are to be expected in dealing with a subject of any complexity.

However, these errors were permitted to linger longer than necessary by the congressional restrictions on public access to CRS reports that effectively exclude outside analysts from the review process. As long as CRS reports are insulated from outside readers in this way, their quality is likely to suffer.

A similar problem afflicts U.S. intelligence products on an even larger scale. It is obvious that not all expertise on any given subject resides within government intelligence agencies. But classification restrictions, even when they are justified on national security grounds, inevitably inhibit the application of the best-informed minds outside of government to crucial problems of national policy.


"In the mid 1990s, the United States was the pioneer in petawatt (i.e., quadrillion watt) laser physics," according to a 2003 report from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). "Today, U.S. leadership in the field has eroded, with Japan and Europe taking the lead in the deployment of high-energy petawatt (HEPW) lasers."

"Recognizing the positive impact HEPW lasers could have on the Stockpile Stewardship Program, the NNSA intends to revitalize U.S. involvement in this field," the NNSA said.

The revitalized HEPW laser program is described in "High Energy Petawatt Lasers and the Stockpile Stewardship Program, NNSA, July 1, 2003, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (850 KB PDF file):

The NNSA report builds upon an extensive investigation by the JASON defense advisory group conducted in 2002.

See the JASON report on "High Power Lasers," April 2003 (5.3 MB PDF file):


Republican members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) last week presented their vision of a reformed intelligence community with the introduction of a bill that would enhance the stature of the Director of Central Intelligence and strengthen his authority over the intelligence community.

The DCI would retain his position as head of the CIA, while the CIA itself would assume a role in coordinating and directing the entire intelligence community. The DCI's management of the community would be exercised through several new associate director and assistant director positions.

The DCI would also have increased authority over the entire national intelligence (NFIP) budget.

In one particularly interesting new feature of the new bill, intelligence funding would be appropriated "directly to the Director of Central Intelligence" in a specified account that is separate from defense appropriations (sect. 108).

If adopted, this provision would almost certainly imply disclosure of the national intelligence budget total, contrary to current practice.

See the "Directing Community Integration Act" (HR 4584), introduced as a stand-alone bill on June 16, here:

In a markup of the 2005 intelligence authorization act last week, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee rebuffed a competing Democratic proposal for intelligence reform, and also rejected every other amendment proposed by Democrats.


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

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