Archive for January, 2012

Secrecy News

January 31, 2012


More than two years ago, President Obama set a December 31, 2013 deadline for completing the declassification processing of a backlog of more than 400 million pages of classified historical records that were over 25 years old.  But judging from the limited progress to date, it now seems highly unlikely that the President’s directive will be fulfilled.

As of December 2011, following two years of operation, the National Declassification Center had completed the processing of only 26.6 million pages of the 400 million page backlog, according to the latest NDC semi-annual report.  If the Center increased productivity by a factor of ten, that would still be insufficient to achieve its goal.

The looming failure to comply with an explicit presidential order is a sign of the growing autonomy of the secrecy system, which to a surprising extent is literally out of control.

One of the obstacles to a more efficient declassification process is a 1999 statute known as the “Kyl-Lott” Amendment, which requires record collections to be certified as “highly unlikely” to contain classified nuclear weapons information known as Restricted Data or Formerly Restricted Data.  In many cases, today’s backlogged records were not certified as required by the originating agencies and therefore they must now undergo an additional review.

“This unexpected review step will certainly impact our ability to complete all declassification processing by the deadline,” according to the new semi-annual report from the National Declassification Center.

The need for interagency cooperation to deal with the backlog of historical records awaiting declassification was anticipated by President Obama.  “The Secretaries of State, Defense, and Energy, and the Director of National Intelligence shall provide the Archivist of the United States with sufficient guidance to complete this task,” he wrote in a December 29, 2009 memo.

And in fact, agencies have devoted increased efforts to declassification.  “Once the enormity of the Kyl-Lott challenge was realized, many participating agencies have stepped up to ensure that their records meet this requirement,” according to NDC Director Sheryl J. Shenberger.

But under current procedures, it is hard to see any trajectory that will lead to elimination of the declassification backlog by December 2013.

One alternative way to proceed would be for the National Archives to seek legislative relief from the certification requirements of the Kyl-Lott Amendment, particularly with respect to so-called Formerly Restricted Data (FRD).  Most of the historical nuclear weapons information in the FRD category is of no special sensitivity and its presence should no longer pose an obstacle to expedited declassification.  In those cases where the information is sensitive, such as weapons design information, the Department of Energy is currently seeking authority to remove it from the FRD category and to redesignate it as Restricted Data.  This would further strengthen the case for amending Kyl-Lott to eliminate screening for FRD, thereby simplifying the declassification problem.


The possibility of increasing U.S. investment in the Middle East as a way to encourage democratic political transitions was examined in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.  See U.S. Trade and Investment in the Middle East and North Africa: Overview and Issues, January 20, 2012.

Other new or updated CRS reports that have not been made readily available to the public include these:

Australia: Background and U.S. Relations, January 13, 2012

European Union Enlargement, January 26, 2012


Ex-KGB spy Litvinenko was working for MI6 when he died

January 31, 2012

Alexander Litvinenko

Confidential documents leaked to the British press show that a leading medical examiner wants to reinspect the 2006 death of a former Soviet intelligence officer, in light of new revelations. Alexander Litvinenko was an employee of the Soviet KGB and its successor organization, the FSB, who in 2000 defected with his family to the United Kingdom. He soon became known as an increasingly vocal critic of the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2006, Litvinenko came down with radioactive poisoning soon after meeting a former colleague, Andrey Lugovoy, in a London restaurant. The latter is believed by British authorities to have assassinated Litvinenko “with the backing of the Russian state”. Although much of the case remains shrouded in mystery, an important new clue was added to the equation in October, when Litvinenko’s widow publicly admitted that her husband had been a paid employee of British intelligence services MI5 and MI6. Marina Litvinenko told British tabloid newspaper The Mail on Sunday that Alexander had advised both agencies on “combat[ing] Russian organized crime in Europe”. She had previously denied rumors that her husband had been working for British intelligence when he was killed —ostensibly by the Russian government. The revelation appears to have prompted a British coroner to request that the medical investigation into Litvinenko’s death be reopened. Documents leaked to The Mail on Sunday appear to show that Andrew Reid, a coroner at St Pankras Hospital in London, has formally requested that both MI5 and MI6 release all of their internal files on Litvinenko, in the context of a new investigation. Dr Reid, who is in charge of an ongoing classified inquest into the former KGB officer’s alleged assassination, states in his written request that any evidence supplied by MI5 and MI6 will be fed into “a wide-ranging investigation” that will “extend beyond the mechanical circumstances of [Litvinenko’s] death”. The medical examiner adds that the information regarding Litvinenko’s employment with the British intelligence services requires further elaboration, and that the inquest into the late spy’s death may benefit from any documents, reports, and telephone or email intercepts, that British intelligence may have on him. Dr Reid’s request also raises the possibility that the inquest may be upgraded into a full-scale public inquiry headed by a senior judge, who will be able to consider evidence by MI5 and MI6, presented behind closed doors at an “appropriately secure” venue.

Analysis: Why is Israel so chatty about a possible strike on Iran?

January 31, 2012

Ronen Bergman


This past Sunday, Israeli intelligence expert Ronen Bergman published an extensive cover story in The New York Times Magazine, titled simply: “Will Israel Attack Iran?”. He answers his question in the affirmative, saying that “after speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012”. Bergman, who a year ago wrote an excellent, well-informed account of the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh assassination, sees a “small and ever-diminishing” window of opportunity to stop the looming war.  But he says that few in Israel believe that the United States administration of President Barack Obama is willing or able to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran. Instead, the predominant sentiment in the Jewish state is that “only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves”, he writes. But the intense discussion about a possible Israeli attack on Iran begs a critical question, which is asked by Laura Rozen, Senior Foreign Affairs Reporter for Yahoo News. She asks, why are Israeli leaders so chatty on the topic? One would think that, by being so vocal about their intentions, they risk losing a major strategic advantage that Israel’s military has relied on in the past: namely the element of surprise. In her search for an answer, she did what good reporters usually do: she actually picked up the phone and called Bergman in Israel. A condensed version of their interesting discussion is provided here. In it, she queries the Israeli intelligence expert about the widespread view that, if Israeli planes were indeed preparing to strike Iran, Tel Aviv would be very discrete about it. Bergman’s response is somewhat convincing; he says that most Israeli statements on the subject are “not meant for Israeli ears” —though they often reverberate inside Israel. Rather, Tel Aviv is trying to promote its foreign policy image as that of an unpredictable international actor, to prompt the intensified intervention of Western governments, particularly European ones. He also tells Rozen that he does not think the Israeli population is ready for war, and that the backlash of a possible Israeli attack on Iran may prove “very problematic, [as] the world will be mad at Israel”. He adds that one of the reasons why the Israeli government has postponed its attack plans against Iran is that Tel Aviv is “wait[ing] for President Obama to win re-election” before it sends out the planes.

Solder Of Fortune Magazine Weekly Article Briefing 23-27 Jan, 2012

January 28, 2012

An ISAF/Afghan joint operation in Kunduz province captured several would-be
suicide bombers.


The U.S. Navy rescued two humanitarian workers held by Somali pirates.

Lessons in ISR from Iraq and Afghanistan are being used to secure our border.

ISAF troops captured a Taliban leader in Helmand province.

An Air Force combat controller received the Silver Star for heroism.

Radical Islam is rising in Nigeria, as Boko Haram continues its attacks.

A UAV strike in Somalia killed an al-Qaeda operative.

Two Afghan cops repelled an ambush by insurgents.

Gunmen from Boko Haram attacked a police station in northern Nigeria.

A World War II veteran received a long-overdue Purple Heart.

The hunt for a Taliban explosives expert lead to two dead insurgents.

Bold Alligator 2012 is intended to re-invigorate Navy and Marine amphibious

Secrecy News

January 23, 2012


A government agency’s decision to revoke an employee’s security clearance cannot be reviewed by a federal court even if the decision is based on ethnic discrimination or religious prejudice or other unconstitutional grounds, a court said last week.

Judge James C. Cacheris of the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed a lawsuit brought by Mahmoud M. Hegab, a budget analyst at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).  Mr. Hegab alleged that his security clearance had been revoked by NGA “based solely on [his] wife’s religion, Islam, her constitutionally protected speech, and her association with, and employment by, an Islamic faith-based organization.”  (“Clearance Lost Due to Anti-Islamic Prejudice, Lawsuit Says,” Secrecy News, October 6, 2011.)

The NGA disputed the claim and moved to dismiss the lawsuit.  Mr. Hegab, represented by attorney Sheldon I. Cohen, responded in opposition on December 14.

But in his January 19 opinion, Judge Cacheris said that it didn’t matter even if the plaintiff’s allegations were true, because the court lacked the authority to review the underlying bases of the dispute.

“A determination of whether Hegab’s security clearance was revoked due to legitimate national security concerns or, as Hegab alleges, constitutionally impermissible bases would necessarily require a review of the merits of NGA’s decision. Absent clear congressional directive, which Hegab fails to identify, such a review is flatly prohibited by Egan and Fourth Circuit precedent,” Judge Cacheris wrote.

Egan” here refers to the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Department of the Navy v. Egan, which has often been invoked in support of broad and unreviewable executive branch authority in national security policy.  A critique of Egan and its subsequent application was presented by constitutional scholar Louis Fisher, then of the Law Library of Congress, in “Judicial Interpretations of Egan,” November 13, 2009.


New or updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).

Afghanistan Casualties: Military Forces and Civilians, January 18, 2012

FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act: Selected Military Personnel Policy Issues, January 5, 2012

Spectrum Policy in the Age of Broadband: Issues for Congress, January 5, 2012

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Terrorism Investigations, December 28, 2011

Economic Downturns and Crime, December 19, 2011


The Department of Defense has prepared a guide (large pdf) for military personnel who are engaged in foreign disaster relief operations, an endeavor which arises with some frequency.

“The U.S. Government (USG) responds to approximately 70-80 natural disasters across the globe each year. In approximately 10-15 percent of these disaster responses, the Department of Defense (DoD) lends support to the overall USG effort.”

“DoD disaster assistance can range from a single aircraft delivering relief supplies, to a fullscale deployment of a brigade-size or larger task force. Though the overall percentage of disasters requiring DoD support is relatively small, these disasters tend to be crises of the largest magnitude and/or the greatest complexity.”

The new guide “offers an overarching guide and reference for military responders in disaster relief operations.”  See “Department of Defense Support to Foreign Disaster Relief,” GTA-90-01-030, 13 July 2011.


The Joint Chiefs of Staff have produced updated doctrine on intelligence support to military operations.  The new doctrine (pdf) reflects changes in intelligence organizations, roles and missions.

Among other things, the new publication introduces the term “biometric-enabled intelligence” or BEI.  “BEI is derived from the collection, processing, and exploitation of biometric signatures; the contextual data associated with those signatures; and other available information that answers a commander’s or other decision maker’s information needs concerning persons, networks, or populations of interest.”

See Joint Publication 2-01, “Joint and National Intelligence Support to Military Operations,” 05 January 2012.

Turkish officials see link between Israel and Kurdish rebels

January 23, 2012

Israeli Heron UAV

Turkish intelligence agencies have authored a report detailing alleged Israeli assistance to Kurdish rebels, whose goal is to secede from Turkey and create an independent Kurdish homeland, according to a leading Turkish newspaper. The Ankara-based Zaman said the intelligence report was commissioned after Turkish forces detected Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) conducting reconnaissance missions over Turkey. The paper, which is tacitly affiliated with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, said the UAVs were spotted flying over Turkey’s Adana and Hatay provinces, both of which are adjacent to Turkey’s border with Syria. As intelNews reported last August, Turkey’s main intelligence directorate, the MİT, is convinced that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad has increased its clandestine support for the largest Kurdish secessionist group, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), in an attempt to court Syria’s 500,000-strong Kurdish minority. According to the Zaman news report, airborne intelligence collected by Israeli Heron UAVs is shared with PKK guerrillas, who then use it to construct training bases in Syrian border regions. This explains, claims the paper, why most PKK training bases in Syria are located “in areas that are known to be weak spots for the Turkish military”. The report also claims that Turkish intelligence has verified that senior PKK military commander Kenan Yıldızbakan has visited Israel “several times” in recent months. Yildizbakan is believed to have commanded a brazen PKK assault on a Turkish naval base in İskenderun in 2010, which killed seven and wounded four members of the Turkish armed forces. Earlier this month, we reported that an Israeli drone flying over Turkey was nearly shot down by the Turkish Air Force. IntelNews also reported earlier this month on a news story from leading French newspaper Le Figaro, which claimed that officers of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad were recruiting and training Iranian dissidents in clandestine bases located in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. The Paris-based daily cited a “security source in Baghdad”, who alleged that the Mossad was actively recruiting Iranian exiles in Kurdistan, for use in Israel’s clandestine war against the Iranian nuclear program.