from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 70
July 28, 2004


To be a bureaucracy is to follow a prescribed set of procedures, a rulebook for every contingency.

The bureaucratic procedures that govern the operation of the National Reconnaissance Office are set forth in a series of NRO Directives.

Several unclassified and declassified NRO Directives were publicly released earlier this month in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. See (thanks to MJR):

The NRO is the U.S. intelligence agency that designs, builds and operates the nation's reconnaissance satellites, or that administers the contractors in private industry who do so.


"Because of the continuing threat of terrorism, concerns have been raised about the potential for terrorist events to occur close to or during the voting process for the November 2004 elections," a recent report of the Congressional Research Service observes.

"For instance, the question has been raised as to whether a sufficiently calamitous event could result in the postponement of the election, and what mechanisms are in place to deal with such an event."

"This report focuses on who has the constitutional authority to postpone elections, to whom such power could be delegated, and what legal limitations exist to such a postponement.

See "Executive Branch Power to Postpone Elections," Congressional Research Service, July 14, 2004:

Direct public access to CRS reports like this one is not authorized by the U.S. Congress.


In its recent report, the 9/11 Commission adverts to the possibility of establishing a new "Open Source Agency" within the U.S. intelligence community (see the chart on page 413). But the Commission does not otherwise discuss the role or function of the proposed agency.

The barest mention of such a new agency has already prompted some debate and conflict, beginning with a dispute over where the hypothetical agency should be housed, inside or outside of the CIA.

Robert Steele of the private Open Source Solutions, who has been advocating increased appreciation of open source intelligence for over a decade, takes the position that the new agency should be completely independent of the existing U.S. intelligence community. See his assessment here:


Critical Inquiry, a journal published by the University of Chicago, is perhaps the preeminent academic venue for the pursuit of "theory," which means something like the conceptualization and analysis of cultural, literary and other problems. Theory is by definition abstract and is generally one or more steps removed from everyday life and practical politics.

So it is noteworthy that government secrecy is the subject of a paper in the forthcoming issue of the journal.

Author Peter Galison, a distinguished historian of science at Harvard, reviews recent classification practices and then asks what epistemological assumptions are implicit in the act of censoring, or classifying, particular items of information. The classifier, he suggests, relies on a discredited "atomic" theory of knowledge.

"Contra the logical positivists and their allies, it is precisely not possible to reduce meaningful language to discrete enunciations. Communication -- at least meaningful, verifiable communication -- cannot be rendered into a sequence of protocol statements. But such a conception of knowledge is exactly what lies behind the classifiers' imaginary," he writes.

"At the root of this theory of punctiform knowledge excision stands a fundamental instability."

Dig it.

See "Removing Knowledge" by Peter Galison, Critical Inquiry 31, Autumn 2004.


Given their principled skepticism of big government, political conservatives ought to be in the forefront of critics of unchecked government secrecy. Instead, "openness" has often been tagged as a "liberal" cause, and conservatives have mostly been missing in action. But that may be changing.

In a new op-ed article, Mark Tapscott of the Heritage Foundation warns of "a bureaucratic culture of secrecy that has grown over the decades to encompass the entire government."

The Heritage Foundation is the leading conservative think tank and a particularly influential voice in the Republican-controlled Congress.

"Experts across the political spectrum agree that government keeps too much information classified for much too long," writes Tapscott. "And too much is unnecessarily exempted from disclosure under the FOIA."

The Heritage Foundation is right.

See "Spawning a Culture of Secrecy" by Mark Tapscott, July 28:


"The Department of Defense has a history of using lighter-than-air platforms such as airships (blimps) and aerostats (tethered balloons)," according to a new Congressional Research Service report.

"Aerostats have recently been fielded to protect U.S. troops in the field. Contemporary interest is growing in using airships for numerous missions. This report examines the various concepts being considered and describes the issues for Congress."

See "Potential Military Use of Airships and Aerostats," Congressional Research Service, July 15, 2004:

At congressional direction, CRS does not make reports like this directly available to the general public.


"Increasingly, Congress and the Administration are looking to utilize nonproliferation assistance programs, including cooperative threat reduction (CTR), to help reduce the risk of terrorist access to weapons of mass destruction," according to another newly updated CRS report.

"This report analyzes the range of possible applications of CTR funds and the kinds of assistance might be supplied, and describes legal, financial, technical, and political constraints on possible assistance."

See "Globalizing Cooperative Threat Reduction: A Survey of Options," Congressional Research Service, July 2, 2004:

Direct public access to CRS reports like this one is not permitted by the current congressional leadership.


"In what the Army describes as the 'most significant Army restructuring in the past 50 years,' the Army intends to redesign its current 10 active duty division force to a 43 or 48 brigade-level unit of action or UA force by FY2007," another CRS report notes.

"While the Army cites the need for a more responsive, deployable, joint, and expeditionary force, others suggest that the primary reason for redesign is the ever increasing long term troop requirements to support the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)."

The implications of the plan are explored in "U.S. Army's Modular Redesign: Issues for Congress," Congressional Research Service, July 19, 2004:

As a practical matter, Congress would prefer that the public did not have access to CRS reports like this.


Pumbedita was the site of one of the main rabbinical academies in ancient Babylon where the Talmud, the repository of Jewish law and lore, was elaborated a millennium and a half ago.

Fallujah is the city in modern Iraq where some of the most violent acts of anti-American insurgency have occurred.

Remarkably, Pumbedita was located in what is now Fallujah, writes Hershel Shanks in the latest issue of the Jewish magazine Moment (August 2004,

In fact, "According to Jacob Obermeyer, a 19th century scholar, [the word] Fallujah is the linguistic equivalent of Pumbedita."

"Aramaic Pum-Bedita is Pallughtha in Syriac and Falluga in Arabic, or Fallujah as current newspapers spell it."

"It is interesting to think about the fact that the Talmud was created in one of the most violent towns of modern Iraq," writes Shanks, who also edits the Biblical Archeology Review.


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

To SUBSCRIBE to Secrecy News, send an email message to [email protected] with "subscribe" (without quotes) in the body of the message.

To UNSUBSCRIBE, send a blank email message to [email protected].

OR email your request to [email protected]

Secrecy News is archived at:

Secrecy News has an RSS feed at: