SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2017, Issue No. 9
February 2, 2017

Secrecy News Blog: https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/

SPY SATELLITE AGENCY: WINTER IS HERE

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has modified its classification policies in favor of heightened secrecy, withholding budget records that were previously considered releasable and redesignating certain unclassified budget information as classified.

NRO is the U.S. intelligence agency that builds and operates the nation's intelligence satellites.

Since 2006, and for most of the past decade, the NRO has released unclassified portions of its budget justification documents in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

But in a January 23, 2017 letter, the NRO said it would no longer release that unclassified budget information, which it now deems classified.

"The NRO has determined that a series of unclassified items in the [FY 2016 budget justification] document in the aggregate reveals associations or relationships not otherwise revealed in the unclassified items individually; thus, in the aggregate, this information meets the standard for classification under E.O. 13526 Section 1.7(e)," wrote Patricia B. Cameresi, NRO FOIA Public Liaison, in her FOIA denial letter.

As a purely technical matter, the latter claim is probably a misreading of the Executive Order, which states in Section 1.7(e):

"Compilations of items of information that are individually unclassified may be classified if the compiled information reveals an additional association or relationship that: (1) meets the standards for classification under this order; and (2) is not otherwise revealed in the individual items of information."

Properly understood, the fact that various unclassified items reveal additional information in the aggregate does not mean that those items meet the standard for classification. That requires a separate determination which, in any case, is discretionary. Classifying compilations of unclassified budget information is a threshold which was never crossed in the past and which has not been explicitly justified by NRO here.

The NRO also invoked a statutory exemption in 10 USC 424, which says that NRO (along with DIA and NGA) cannot be compelled to disclose "any function" at all.

The upshot is that the NRO is abandoning the budget disclosure practices of the past decade, and is positioning itself to withhold anything and everything that it prefers not to release.

An administrative appeal of the NRO FOIA denial was filed yesterday.


THE GORSUCH NOMINATION, AND MORE FROM CRS

"Predicting how a nominee to the Supreme Court could affect the Court's jurisprudence is notably difficult," according to the Congressional Research Service. But see Neil Gorsuch's Nomination to the Supreme Court: Initial Observations, CRS Legal Sidebar, February 1, 2017:

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Supreme Court Appointment Process: President's Selection of a Nominee, updated January 27, 2017:

U.S. District Court Vacancies at the Beginning and End of the Obama Presidency: Overview and Comparative Analysis, CRS Insight, January 31, 2017:

Import Tariff or Border Tax: What is the Difference and Why Does It Matter?, CRS Legal Sidebar, January 30, 2017:

U.S. Crude Oil Exports to International Destinations, CRS Insight, January 30, 2017:

Endangered Species Act (ESA): The Exemption Process, January 27, 2017:

Trump Administration Changes to the National Security Council: Frequently Asked Questions, CRS Insight, January 30, 2017:

Russian Compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: Background and Issues for Congress, updated January 27, 2017:

Mexican-U.S. Relations: Increased Tensions, CRS Insight, February 1, 2017:

Barriers Along the U.S. Borders: Key Authorities and Requirements, updated January 27, 2017:


UNDER PRESSURE: LONG DURATION UNDERSEA RESEARCH

"The Office of Naval Research is conducting groundbreaking research into the dangers of working for prolonged periods of time in extreme high and low pressure environments."

Why? In part, it reflects "the increased operational focus being placed on undersea clandestine operations," said Rear Adm. Mathias W. Winter in newly published answers to questions for the record from a February 2016 hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.

"The missions include deep dives to work on the ocean floor, clandestine transits in cold, dark waters, and long durations in the confines of the submarine. The Undersea Medicine Program comprises the science and technology efforts to overcome human shortfalls in operating in this extreme environment," he told the Committee.

See DoD FY2017 Science and Technology Programs: Defense Innovation to Create the Future Military Force, House Armed Services Committee hearing, February 24, 2016.


REFUGEE LAW AND POLICY AROUND THE WORLD

The Law Library of Congress last year prepared a survey of legal frameworks affecting refugees and asylum seekers in twenty-two countries around the world.

The survey covers "laws and regulations governing the admission of refugees and handling refugee claims; processes for handling refugees arriving at the border; procedures for evaluating whether an applicant is entitled to refugee status; the accommodations and assistance provided to refugees in the jurisdiction; requirements for naturalization; and whether asylum policy has been affected by international emergencies, such as the current refugee crisis in Europe."

In practice, states "vary significantly in their receptivity to asylum seekers and the extent to which conflicting national policies affect adherence to norms prescribed in the [Geneva Convention on Refugees]."

See Refugee Law and Policy in Selected Countries, Law Library of Congress, March 2016:

Another Law Library report examines the diverse legal and regulatory regimes concerning the use of drones or unmanned aerial systems in twelve countries and the European Union. See Regulation of Drones, Law Library of Congress, April 2016:

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

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