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Secrecy News Blog Posts – Federation Of American Scientists



Science for a safer, more informed world.



Updated: 2018-02-15T15:34:23Z

 



CIA Defends Selective Disclosure to Reporters

2018-02-15T15:34:23Z

The Central Intelligence Agency said yesterday that it has the right to disclose classified information to selected journalists and then to withhold the same information from others under the Freedom of Information Act. FOIA requester Adam Johnson had obtained CIA emails sent to various members of the press including some that were redacted as classified. […]The Central Intelligence Agency said yesterday that it has the right to disclose classified information to selected journalists and then to withhold the same information from others under the Freedom of Information Act. FOIA requester Adam Johnson had obtained CIA emails sent to various members of the press including some that were redacted as classified. How, he wondered, could the CIA give information to uncleared reporters — in this case Siobhan Gorman (then) of the Wall Street Journal, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, and Scott Shane of the New York Times — and yet refuse to give it to him? In an effort to discover the secret messages, he filed a FOIA lawsuit. His question is a good one, said Chief Judge Colleen MacMahon of the Southern District of New York in a court order last month. “The issue is whether the CIA waived its right to rely on otherwise applicable exemptions to FOIA disclosure by admittedly disclosing information selectively to one particular reporter [or three].” “In this case, CIA voluntarily disclosed to outsiders information that it had a perfect right to keep private,” she wrote. “There is absolutely no statutory provision that authorizes limited disclosure of otherwise classified information to anyone, including ‘trusted reporters,’ for any purpose, including the protection of CIA sources and methods that might otherwise be outed. The fact that the reporters might not have printed what was disclosed to them has no logical or legal impact on the waiver analysis, because the only fact relevant to waiver analysis is: Did the CIA do something that worked a waiver of a right it otherwise had?” Judge MacMahon therefore ordered CIA to prepare a more rigorous justification of its legal position. It was filed by the government yesterday. CIA argued that the court is wrong to think that limited, selective disclosures of classified information are prohibited or unauthorized by law. The National Security Act only requires protection of intelligence sources and methods from “unauthorized” disclosure, not from authorized disclosure. And because the disclosures at issue were actually intended to protect intelligence sources and methods, they were fully authorized, CIA said. “The CIA properly exercised its broad discretion to provide certain limited information to the three reporters.” “The Court’s supposition that a limited disclosure of information to three journalists necessarily equates to a disclosure to the public at large is legally and factually mistaken,” the CIA response stated. “The record demonstrates beyond dispute that the classified and statutorily protected information withheld from the emails has not entered the public domain. For these reasons, the limited disclosures here did not effect any waiver of FOIA’s exemptions.” A reply from plaintiff Adam Johnson is due March 1. (Prior coverage: Tech Dirt, Intel Today). Selective disclosure of classified information to uncleared reporters is a more or less established practice that is recognized by Congress, which has required periodic reporting to Congress of such disclosures. See Disclosing Classified Info to the Press — With Permission, Secrecy News, January 4, 2017. The nature of FOIA litigation is such that a lawsuit that was intended to challenge the practice of selective disclosure could, if unsuccessful, end up ratifying and reinforcing it. [...]



Release of Security Clearance Data Delayed

2018-02-15T15:25:51Z

Recent news stories on security clearances (like these from the Christian Science Monitor and NPR) cite data from 2015 regarding the number of persons cleared for access to classified information (4.2 million at that time). Why aren’t more current numbers being cited? More recent information has already been compiled in an annual report to Congress […]

Recent news stories on security clearances (like these from the Christian Science Monitor and NPR) cite data from 2015 regarding the number of persons cleared for access to classified information (4.2 million at that time).

Why aren’t more current numbers being cited?

More recent information has already been compiled in an annual report to Congress that was completed in October 2017. But its release to the public has been delayed indefinitely by an internal intelligence community dispute over the classification status or sensitivity of some of the more detailed reporting on individual agency statistics that are contained in the report.

In fact, the same detailed reporting was provided in the 2015 report and the same dispute over publication arose. But at that time, Obama Administration intelligence officials told security officers in effect to “knock it off” and to just release the report, which they did in June 2016.

The public disclosure of security clearance data was one of dozens of fundamental changes to national security information policy that were made during the Obama Administration to promote greater transparency. Although the annual report on security clearances was required by Congress (in the FY 10 intelligence authorization act), its public disclosure was a choice made by the Obama Administration. Now a different choice is being made.

A FOIA request for release of the latest report on security clearances is pending.




Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons, and More from CRS

2018-02-15T15:13:24Z

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service this week include the following. Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons, updated February 13, 2018 Congressional Gold Medals: Background, Legislative Process, and Issues for Congress, February 9, 2018 D.C. Circuit Upholds as Constitutional the Structure of the CFPB — Part I, CRS Legal Sidebar, February 12, 2018 Israel: Background […]

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service this week include the following.

Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons, updated February 13, 2018

Congressional Gold Medals: Background, Legislative Process, and Issues for Congress, February 9, 2018

D.C. Circuit Upholds as Constitutional the Structure of the CFPB — Part I, CRS Legal Sidebar, February 12, 2018

Israel: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief, updated February 12, 2018

Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2018 Budget and Appropriations, updated February 12, 2018

Ecuador: In Brief, updated February 13, 2018

Diversity Immigrants’ Regions and Countries of Origin: Fact Sheet, February 13, 2018

HPSCI Memorandum Sparks Debate over FISA Application Requirements, CRS Legal Sidebar, February 14, 2018




Army Directed Energy Weapons, and More from CRS

2018-02-12T16:28:10Z

U.S. Army efforts to develop directed energy weapons — such as lasers and microwave weapons — are surveyed in a new report from the Congressional Research Service. Such weapons are probably years away from actual deployment by the Army, if indeed they ever become practical options. “While DE weapons offer a variety of advantages over […]U.S. Army efforts to develop directed energy weapons — such as lasers and microwave weapons — are surveyed in a new report from the Congressional Research Service. Such weapons are probably years away from actual deployment by the Army, if indeed they ever become practical options. “While DE weapons offer a variety of advantages over conventional kinetic weapons including precision, low cost per shot, and scalable effects, there are also some basic constraints such as beam attenuation, limited range, and an inability to be employed against non-line-of-sight targets which will need to be addressed in order to make these weapons effective across the entire spectrum of combat operations,” the CRS report said. The status of some directed energy programs is obscured by secrecy, CRS said. “The classified nature of most of DOD’s HPM [high-power microwave] programs… makes public and academic examination of these programs problematic.” The first DoD laser weapon ever to be approved for operational use was deployed aboard the USS Ponce (now decommissioned), according to the U.S. Navy. See U.S. Army Weapons-Related Directed Energy (DE) Programs: Background and Potential Issues for Congress by Andrew Feickert, February 7, 2018. Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following. Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations, February 8, 2018 Iran: Politics, Human Rights, and U.S. Policy, February 8, 2018 Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention, February 7, 2018 Rwanda: In Brief, February 7, 2018 The 10-20-30 Plan and Persistent Poverty Counties, February 8, 2018 Medicare Trigger, February 8, 2018 Women in Congress, 1917-2018: Service Dates and Committee Assignments by Member, and Lists by State and Congress, February 6, 2018 Federal Spending on Benefits and Services for People with Low Income: In Brief, February 6, 2018 Introduction to U.S. Economy: The Business Cycle and Growth, CRS In Focus, December 13, 2017 [...]



Army Visual Signals

2018-02-09T15:24:49Z

Soldiers need to be able to communicate on a noisy, dangerous battlefield even when conventional means of communication are unavailable. To help meet that need, the US Army has just updated its compilation of hand and flag signals. One configuration of flags signifies “Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear hazard present”:   Or a soldier may […]

Soldiers need to be able to communicate on a noisy, dangerous battlefield even when conventional means of communication are unavailable.

To help meet that need, the US Army has just updated its compilation of hand and flag signals.

One configuration of flags signifies “Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear hazard present”:

(image)
 

Or a soldier may need to signal “I do not understand,” as follows:

(image)
 

See Visual Signals for Armor Fighting Vehicles (Combined Arms), GTA 17-02-019, US Army, February 2018.




The Expanding Secrecy of the Afghanistan War

2018-02-07T20:22:26Z

Last year, dozens of categories of previously unclassified information about Afghan military forces were designated as classified, making it more difficult to publicly track the progress of the war in Afghanistan. The categories of now-classified information were tabulated in a memo dated October 31, 2017 that was prepared by the staff of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction […]Last year, dozens of categories of previously unclassified information about Afghan military forces were designated as classified, making it more difficult to publicly track the progress of the war in Afghanistan. The categories of now-classified information were tabulated in a memo dated October 31, 2017 that was prepared by the staff of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko. In the judgment of the memo authors, “None of the material now classified or otherwise restricted discloses information that could threaten the U.S. or Afghan missions (such as detailed strategy, plans, timelines, or tactics).” But “All of the [newly withheld] data include key metrics and assessments that are essential to understanding mission success for the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s security institutions and armed forces.” So what used to be available that is now being withheld? “It is basically casualty, force strength, equipment, operational readiness, attrition figures, as well as performance assessments,” said Mr. Sopko, the SIGAR. “Using the new [classification criteria], I would not be able to tell you in a public setting or the American people how their money is being spent,” Mr. Sopko told Congress at a hearing last November. The SIGAR staff memo tabulating the new classification categories was included as an attachment for the hearing record, which was published last month. See Overview of 16 Years of Involvement in Afghanistan, hearing before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, November 1, 2017. In many cases, the information was classified by NATO or the Pentagon at the request of the Government of Afghanistan. “Do you think that it is an appropriate justification for DOD to classify previously unclassified information based on a request from the Afghan Government?,” asked Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). “Why or why not?” “I do not because I believe in transparency,” replied Mr. Sopko, “and I think the loss of transparency is bad not only for us, but it is also bad for the Afghan people.” “All of this [now classified] material is historical in nature (usually between one and three months old) because of delays incurred by reporting time frames, and thus only provides ‘snapshot’ data points for particular periods of time in the past,” according to the SIGAR staff memo. “All of the data points [that were] classified or restricted are ‘top-line’ (not unit-level) data. SIGAR currently does not publicly report potentially sensitive, unit-specific data.” Yesterday at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) asked Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis about the growing restrictions on information about the war in Afghanistan. “We are now increasing the number of our troops in Afghanistan, and after 16 years, the American people have a right to know of their successes. Some of that, I’m sure it is classified information, which I can understand. But I also know that we’re not getting the kind of information that we need to get to know what successes we’re having. And after 16 years, I do not think we’re having any successes,” Rep. Jones said. Secretary Mattis said that the latest restriction of unclassified information about the extent of Taliban or government control over Afghanistan that was withheld from the January 2[...]



DARPA: An Overview, and More from CRS

2018-02-07T20:14:48Z

The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, established in 1958, is responsible for advancing the state of the art in defense science and technology. The agency’s structure, priorities and budget are discussed in a new report from the Congressional Research Service. See Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency: Overview and Issues for Congress, February 2, 2018. (For a […]The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, established in 1958, is responsible for advancing the state of the art in defense science and technology. The agency’s structure, priorities and budget are discussed in a new report from the Congressional Research Service. See Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency: Overview and Issues for Congress, February 2, 2018. (For a lively and revealing history of DARPA, see Sharon Weinberger’s recent book The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World, Knopf, 2017.) Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following. Resolutions to Censure the President: Procedure and History, February 1, 2018 Evolving Assessments of Human and Natural Contributions to Climate Change, February 1, 2018 Real Wage Trends, 1979 to 2016, January 30, 2018 Gun Control: Concealed Carry Legislation in the 115th Congress, CRS Insight, January 30, 2018 Termination of Temporary Protected Status for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador: Key Takeaways and Analysis, CRS Legal Sidebar, February 2, 2018 U.S. Foreign Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean: FY2018 Appropriations, February 5, 2018 The Balkans and Russia, CRS Insight, January 31, 2018 Iraq: In Brief, February 6, 2018 Al Qaeda and U.S. Policy: Middle East and Africa, February 5, 2018 U.S. Security Assistance and Security Cooperation Programs: Overview of Funding Trends, February 1, 2018 The 2018 National Defense Strategy, CRS Insight, February 5, 2018 The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key Provisions, updated February 5, 2018 New Nuclear Warheads: Legislative Provisions, CRS Insight, February 5, 2018 Criminal Prohibitions on Disclosing the Identities of Covert Intelligence Assets, CRS Legal Sidebar, February 6, 2018 [...]



Selective Declassification and the Nunes Memo

2018-02-01T16:05:49Z

If Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee want to publicly release a classified memo that they prepared on alleged misconduct in the FBI, what could be wrong with that? Quite a lot, actually. Even if the risks of disclosing classified information in this case are small (a point that is disputed), the selective disclosure of […]If Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee want to publicly release a classified memo that they prepared on alleged misconduct in the FBI, what could be wrong with that? Quite a lot, actually. Even if the risks of disclosing classified information in this case are small (a point that is disputed), the selective disclosure of isolated claims is bound to produce a distorted view of events. The suppression of dissenting views held by Democratic members of the Committee only aggravates the distortion. “Deliberately misleading by selectively declassifying is an established technique, and it is one that is both shady and dangerous,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) on the Senate floor on Tuesday. “This business of selectively cherry-picking things out of classified information to spread a false narrative has a very unpleasant echo for me because this is what the Bush administration was up to when it was trying to defend the torture program. They selectively declassified, for instance, that Abu Zubaydah had been the subject of what they called their enhanced interrogation techniques program and that he had produced important, actionable intelligence. What they did not declassify was that all the actionable intelligence he gave them had been provided before they started on the torture techniques.” Sen. Whitehouse said that the practice resembled Soviet and Russian information warfare activities that were used “to poison the factual environment.” “You start with the selective release of classified material that the public can’t get behind because the rest is classified, the false narrative that the ranking member has pointed out that that creates, the partisan and peculiar process for getting there, the ignoring of warnings from their own national security officials about how bad this is, the convenient whipping up of all of this in far-right media at the same time, the amplification of that actually by Russian bots and other sources, and the fact that this is all pointed, not coincidentally, at the agency and officials who are engaged in investigating the Trump White House and the Trump campaign, it is so appallingly obvious what the game is that is being played here.” Meanwhile, Sen. Whitehouse said, Congress has taken no action to protect against foreign interference in U.S. elections. “We are warned that a hostile foreign power is going to attack our 2018 election. Where is the legislation to defend against that? Where is the markup of the legislation? Where is the effort to do what needs to be done to defend our democracy? Here we are just a few months out from the election. We are 9 months out. Do I have the math right? It is 9 months between here and there. Nothing.” Yesterday, the FBI put out a brief statement noting that “we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” But as far as is known, no similar concerns have been expressed by intelligence community leaders. “It is stunning to me,” Sen. Whitehouse said, “that we have heard nothing–at least I have heard nothing– […] from our Director of National Intelligence, DNI Coats, and I have heard nothing from CIA Director Pompeo for–how long it has been?” Yesterday, coincidentally, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced that DNI Coats had directed the declassification of classified intelligence records concerning the Tet Offensive[...]



JASON: Artificial Intelligence for Health Care

2018-02-01T16:01:33Z

The field of artificial intelligence is habitually susceptible to exaggerated claims and expectations. But when it comes to new applications in health care, some of those claims may prove to be valid, says a new report from the JASON scientific advisory panel. “Overall, JASON finds that AI is beginning to play a growing role in […]The field of artificial intelligence is habitually susceptible to exaggerated claims and expectations. But when it comes to new applications in health care, some of those claims may prove to be valid, says a new report from the JASON scientific advisory panel. “Overall, JASON finds that AI is beginning to play a growing role in transformative changes now underway in both health and health care, in and out of the clinical setting.” “One can imagine a day where people could, for instance, 1) use their cell phone to check their own cancer or heart disease biomarker levels weekly to understand their own personal baseline and trends, or 2) ask a partner to take a cell-phone-based HIV test before a sexual encounter.” Already, automated skin cancer detection programs have demonstrated performance comparable to human dermatologists. The JASON report was requested and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. See Artificial Intelligence for Health and Health Care, JSR-17-Task-002, December 2017. Benefits aside, there are new opportunities for deception and scams, the report said. “There is potential for the proliferation of misinformation that could cause harm or impede the adoption of AI applications for health. Websites, apps, and companies have already emerged that appear questionable based on information available.” Fundamentally, the JASONs said, the future of AI in health care depends on access to private health data. “The availability of and access to high quality data is critical in the development and ultimate implementation of AI applications. The existence of some such data has already proven its value in providing opportunities for the development of AI applications in medical imaging.” “A major initiative is just beginning in the U.S. to collect a massive amount of individual health data, including social behavioral information. This is a ten year, $1.5B National Institutes of Health (NIH) Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) project called All of Us Research Program. The goal is to develop a 1,000,000 person-plus cohort of individuals across the country willing to share their biology, lifestyle, and environment data for the purpose of research.” But all such efforts raise knotty questions of data security and personal privacy. “PMI has recognized from the start of this initiative that no amount of de-identification (anonymization) of the data will guarantee the privacy protection of the participants.” Lately, the US Government has barred access by non-US researchers to a National Cancer Institute database concerning Medicare recipients, according to a story in The Lancet Oncology. See “International access to major US cancer database halted” by Bryant Furlow, January 18, 2018 (sub. req’d.). [...]



US Policy on Syria, and More from CRS

2018-02-01T15:58:46Z

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following. Administration’s Syria Policy Envisions Continued U.S. Presence, CRS Insight, January 26, 2018 TPP Countries Conclude Agreement Without U.S. Participation, CRS Insight, January 29, 2018 Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations, updated January 29, 2018 2017 Disaster Supplemental Appropriations: Overview, January 25, 2018 Shining a […]New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following. Administration’s Syria Policy Envisions Continued U.S. Presence, CRS Insight, January 26, 2018 TPP Countries Conclude Agreement Without U.S. Participation, CRS Insight, January 29, 2018 Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations, updated January 29, 2018 2017 Disaster Supplemental Appropriations: Overview, January 25, 2018 Shining a Light on the Solar Trade: Investigation Leads to Tariffs on Solar Energy-Related Imports (Part I), CRS Legal Sidebar, January 26, 2018 Addressing Sexual Harassment by Modifying the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995: A Look at Key Provisions in H.R. 4822, CRS Legal Sidebar, January 29, 2018 A Survey of House and Senate Committee Rules on Subpoenas, updated January 29, 2018 [...]