from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 5
January 12, 2006


The principles and practice of remote sensing, including the various applications of satellite imagery, are introduced in a newly updated Remote Sensing Tutorial that was originally prepared for NASA.

An unusual educational product that is designed for the interested non-specialist, the Tutorial features an abundance of sample satellite images and self-test exercises.

It was principally authored by Dr. Nicholas M. Short, Sr., a geologist and former NASA employee.

The most recent edition of the Tutorial is dated November 2005. It is published on the website of the Federation of American Scientists with Dr. Short's kind permission. See:

Remote sensing generally refers to instrument-based data collection directed at a target area, and is often used in connection with orbital surveillance of the Earth's surface.

"The term 'remote sensing' was coined by Ms. Evelyn Pruitt in the mid-1950's when she, a geographer/oceanographer, was with the U.S. Office of Naval Research," the Tutorial notes.


In the past, the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates intelligence satellites, has released unclassified portions of its budget justification materials under the Freedom of Information Act.

But lately, the NRO has refused to process FOIA requests for such unclassified budget information, claiming that it is contained in "operational files" that are exempt from the FOIA.

That NRO claim is the subject of a pending lawsuit filed by the Federation of American Scientists. The parties exchanged a volley of legal motions this week.

The NRO "has misconstrued the operational files exemption and invoked it in a manner that is contrary to the statute and the legislative history," FAS contended in its January 9 filing.

For its part, the NRO insisted that FAS's "interpretation of the statute contradicts the plain language of the statute and nothing in the case law ... supports such a strained interpretation."

The National Security Archive contributed a carefully argued amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief recounting the history of the operational files exemption and its treatment in prior cases. The Archive brief, written by Meredith Fuchs, concluded with FAS that "the Court should order the NRO to search for, review and otherwise process the requested record under the terms of the FOIA."

All three briefs, filed in D.C. District Court January 9, may be found here:


Among the mistakes and misrepresentations that led to the U.S. war in Iraq, one of the most shocking is the failure to correctly assess the financial costs of the war.

Never mind the low comedy of AID Administrator Andrew Natsios, who told Americans in 2003 that Iraqi reconstruction would cost taxpayers no more than $1.7 billion (Secrecy News, 12/08/05).

Now it appears that even estimates in the hundreds of billions of dollars may "underestimate the War's true costs to America by a wide margin," according to a new study by economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate.

The authors survey the direct and indirect costs of the Iraq war and its aftermath, acknowledging the methodological difficulties involved.

"Even taking a conservative approach, we have been surprised at how large [the costs] are. We can state, with some degree of confidence, that they exceed a trillion dollars," Bilmes and Stiglitz write.

"Would the American people have had a different attitude towards going to war had they known the total cost? Would they have thought that there might be better ways of advancing the cause of democracy or even protecting themselves against an attack, that would cost but a fraction of these amounts?"

"In the end, we may have decided that a trillion dollars spent on the War in Iraq was better than all of these alternatives. But at least it would have been a more informed decision than the one that was made. And recognizing the risks, we might have conducted the War in a manner different from the way we did," the authors conclude.

Their paper was reported in the Boston Globe on January 8.

See "The Economic Costs of the Iraq War: An Appraisal Three Years After the Beginning of the Conflict" by Linda Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz, January 2006:


The Department of Energy has released a declassified version of a 1999 report by its Inspector General on the case of Wen Ho Lee, the former Los Alamos scientist who was suspected of espionage and who eventually pled guilty to one count of mishandling classified information.

The declassified document is so severely redacted that it is often unintelligible. Even the name "Wen Ho Lee" has been censored, perhaps due to his ongoing pursuit of Privacy Act litigation against the government and various members of the press who reported on his case.

A copy of the document was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from David Armstrong of the National Security News Service.

One apparently new assertion, Mr. Armstrong noted, is that the Unnamed Person who is the subject of the Inspector General report may have improperly assisted private companies by "employ[ing] classified techniques" in order to solve "certain technical problems that various companies were having in the commercial world."

This was problematic because "the companies involved could possibly work backwards on the unclassified solution to determine the classified process used...." (at page 100).

A copy of the redacted DOE Inspector General Report, dated July 27, 1999, and released in November 2005 is available here (161 pages in a very large 6.9 MB PDF file):

The pressure on journalists to disclose their sources in the Wen Ho Lee litigation and other cases was discussed in "Name That Source" by Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, January 16, 2006:


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

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