from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 24
March 2, 2004


Los Alamos scientists are using computer simulations to gain insight into the nature of Islamist terrorist organizations.

"Borrowing tools from the field of computational economics and sociology, we are developing agent-based models that simulate social networks and the spread of social grievances within those networks," wrote Edward P. MacKerrow in the latest issue of Los Alamos Science.

"Our computer-generated 'agents' are humanlike, endowed with personal attributes and allegiances that statistically match the demographics of a specified region and, like people, interact with one another and response to societal pressures."

"We can expose our agents to a variety of determinants -- new government policies, different media exposure, economic pressures, and others -- and quickly generate hundreds of new scenarios."

The goal is to develop "a detailed understanding of the sociodynamics of militant Islamic terrorism," MacKerrow wrote.

See "Understanding Why -- Dissecting Radical Islamist Terrorism with Agent-Based Simulation" by Edward P. MacKerrow, Los Alamos Science, Number 28, 2003 (1.5 MB PDF file):

For no good reason, the full text of the latest issue of Los Alamos Science is not available on the Los Alamos web site. But a copy may be found here:


"Until today, the Government has been reticent about discussing in any detail the decision-making steps that may result in an American citizen being designated as an enemy combatant or how an American detainee held in the United States may be provided access to counsel," said White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales last week.

"Our silence has been largely for reasons of national security."

"We realize that our relative silence on this issue has come at a cost. Many people have characterized -- mis-characterized, in our view -- our actions in the war on terrorism as inconsistent with the rule of law."

"Indeed, because of our silence, many critics have assumed the worst. They have assumed that there is little or no analysis -- legal or otherwise -- behind the decision to detain a particular person as enemy combatant. To them, the decision making process is a black box that raises the specter of arbitrary action."

In his February 24 speech, Mr. Gonzales filled in some of the procedural gaps, while insisting that determinations regarding who is an enemy combatant are the sole province of the executive branch.

His presentation is predicated on the assumption that the "war on terrorism" is analogous, in every significant way, to past wars such as World War II and that past law and precedent is therefore a sufficient guide to current practice.

See the text of his speech before the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security here:

The speech was reported and analyzed in "Bush Counsel: How U.S. Classifies Terror Suspects" by Vanessa Blum, Legal Times, March 1 (sub. or free reg. required):


The new regulations that exempt "critical infrastructure information" from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act were discussed and interpreted by the Department of Justice Office of Information and Privacy in an online notice last week.

Justice reiterated that the new regulations are likely to be expanded to encompass information submitted to agencies other than the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and that "such a development could be expected to have an impact upon the daily processes of FOIA administration at many agencies."

The Justice notice also observed that DHS procedures governing the handling of "sensitive homeland security information" (SHSI) are not yet complete.

Those long-anticipated procedures "hold the potential of significantly altering the landscape for the safeguarding of federal information," the notice said. See:


"The origins of the Intelligence Community are basically white male, if you go back to World War II and its aftermath," observed Gen. James Clapper, head of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). "And that may be a lingering legacy yet today."

However "we can no longer expect an Intelligence Community that is mostly male and mostly white to be able to monitor and infiltrate suspicious organizations or terrorist groups," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA). "We need spies that look like their targets, CIA officers who speak the dialects that terrorists use, and FBI agents who can speak to Muslim women that might be intimidated by men."

The challenges to the workforce of U.S. intelligence presented by a multicultural world, and efforts to meet those challenges, were addressed in a November 5, 2003 open hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The transcript of that hearing, published last month, is available here:


A U.S. Army correspondence course for intelligence personnel provides an introduction to the theory of revolution and the role of intelligence in confronting insurgencies and bolstering internal defense in foreign countries.

Students may monitor their own progress with multiple-choice self-test questions such as the following:

The correct answer, um, is C.

See "Intelligence in Support of Internal Defense Operations," U.S. Army Intelligence Center, Fort Huachuca, AZ, September 1998 (thanks to RT):


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

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