from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 100
November 12, 2003


The 2004 Defense Authorization Act, approved in a House-Senate conference, includes several provisions that could lead to development of new U.S. nuclear weapons.

The Act repeals a statutory ban on research and development of low-yield nuclear weapons, authorizes continued research on the "robust nuclear earth penetrator," and requires the Department of Energy to achieve and maintain the ability to conduct an underground nuclear explosive test within 18 months.

(Actual production, testing and deployment of a new nuclear weapon would require further congressional authorization, however.)

Collectively, these steps "will greatly improve our ability to deter a possible nuclear attack," said Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) on November 11.

Not so, said Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI). The new moves are "inconsistent with our longstanding commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and undermine our argument to other countries around the world that they should not develop or test nuclear weapons," he said.

A painstakingly impartial account of the issues raised by the new U.S. nuclear programs is presented by the Congressional Research Service in "Nuclear Weapons Initiatives: Low-Yield R&D, Advanced Concepts, Earth Penetrators, Test Readiness," 68 pages, October 28, 2003:


U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) is the new U.S. military combat command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado that is responsible for the military aspects of "homeland security." But there is more to it than that.

NORTHCOM has several distinct missions, including counterterrorism, counterintelligence, critical infrastructure protection and the protection of military bases and forces inside the United States, as Jim McGee parsed the matter in a series of groundbreaking articles he wrote on NORTHCOM in Congressional Quarterly Homeland Security.

"With almost no public attention or debate, the Pentagon is building an intelligence operation in Colorado that will link together U.S. spy agencies and federal, state and local police forces," McGee wrote in CQ Homeland Security on October 22.

This is not intrinsically surprising.

"In order to defend the U.S. from attack, NORTHCOM has a strong rationale for access to information collected by various intelligence and law enforcement agencies," according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.

"However, at a certain point, such access could create the perception -- or the reality -- that the military is spying on U.S. citizens," CRS said.

"What type of access should NORTHCOM be given to various types of sensitive data? What types of safeguards need to be established to ensure that this data is used properly?" CRS asked rhetorically.

For more on NORTHCOM, see "Homeland Security: Establishment and Implementation of Northern Command," Congressional Research Service, May 14, 2003:


Funding for special operations forces -- elite military units with specialized training that undertake particularly challenging, often classified missions -- has escalated rapidly in recent years.

Oversight and accountability have arguably not kept pace. When the Central Intelligence Agency undertakes a covert action, it must be justified by a presidential finding, which must be provided to Congress. It is not clear that any comparable procedure exists for keeping tabs on special forces when they undertake analogous clandestine missions.

A helpful introduction to the subject is "U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress," Congressional Research Service, August 15, 2003:


At the root of the momentous failure of U.S. intelligence is a lack of organizational agility, argues Bruce Berkowitz in a new paper, referring to an inability to quickly come to grips with new threats and challenges.

"Those critics who were looking for a 'smoking gun' -- a key piece of intelligence that would have tipped off officials to the September 11 plot -- are missing the bigger picture. The failure wasn't committed by our dedicated, motivated analysts and case officers. The problem is that these people were locked into an organization that is too slow, too inflexible, and too stuck in its ways to deal with today's threats."

In a characteristically thoughtful essay, Berkowitz specifies the features of an "agile" intelligence organization. (He might have noted, though he didn't, the desirability of an information policy that does not impose unnecessary obstacles to the dissemination of intelligence information inside and outside of government.) And he proposes benchmarks by which improvement could be measured.

See "Spying in the Post-September 11 World" by Bruce Berkowitz in the Hoover Digest, published by Stanford University's Hoover Institution, Fall 2003:


The Justice Department has issued new guidelines for FBI national security investigations and intelligence collection activities.

The new guidelines generally authorize "the proactive collection of information concerning threats to the national security, including information on individuals, groups, and organizations of possible investigative interest."

The good news is that the new guidelines are fully compliant with the law. The bad news is that the law is the USA Patriot Act!

A redacted version of the new guidelines was released by the Department of Justice, and first reported by the Washington Post on November 5.

A Justice Department fact sheet on the new guidelines, with links to the redacted version and to the previous version that has now been superceded, is posted here:


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

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