from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 42
May 2, 2005


Scientists in academia and elsewhere are expressing alarm that government actions to expand controls on so-called "deemed exports" could have the unintended consequence of stifling basic research.

A "deemed export" occurs when a foreign national working in the United States gains access to technology -- or information -- that is export controlled.

As noted by the Department of Commerce Inspector General last year, "Export controls of technical data apply to a wide variety of information, including technology related to the design, development, and use of certain products such as computers, semiconductors, integrated circuits, lasers, and sensors."

Strict enforcement of controls on such information would require imposing severe, possibly unworkable limits on interactions with foreign scientists and with foreign students in the U.S.

"Depending on how you parse the requirements," one distinguished academic scientist said yesterday, "their impact would range from serious to disastrous."

If controls on access to laboratory equipment are enforced by surveillance and monitoring systems, another eminent scientist said, "then the notion of an open university disappears at that point."

The latest concerns were triggered by a notice from the Department of Commerce announcing a proposal to revise and "clarify" requirements on deemed exports. Comments on the proposal are invited through May 27. See the March 28 Federal Register notice here:

The National Academy of Sciences will host a workshop on Friday, May 6 to consider the implications of the emerging policy, and possible alternatives. For more information, see the web site of the Roundtable on Scientific Communication and National Security:

From a different perspective, the U.S. Government's National Counterintelligence Executive (NCIX) recently expressed its own concern that "Foreign access to state-of-the-art technology can only rise as an increasing share of Doctorates awarded by US universities in the fields of science and engineering go to foreign-born researchers."

The NCIX report cited National Science Foundation data that 28 percent of US doctorates in science and technology went to non-US citizens in 1995, rising to 38 percent in 2003.

See the 2004 Annual Report to Congress on Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage, National Counterintelligence Executive, April 2005 (1.7 MB PDF file):

Pressure to curtail foreign national participation in U.S. scientific activity has also been driven by some members of Congress, who see only threats and no benefits to international scientific cooperation.

"I would suggest the standard we should use is that Chinese students are free to come here as long as they're studying poetry and [free] enterprise, and not high-tech systems that could have dual use," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) at an April 14 House hearing.


The laws governing "rendition" or transfer of a prisoner from one country to another for purposes of interrogation are considered in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

"Although the particularities regarding the usage of extraordinary renditions and the legal authority behind such renditions is not publically available, various U.S. officials have acknowledged the practice's existence."

"Recently, there has been some controversy as to the usage of renditions by the United States, particularly with regard to the alleged transfer of suspected terrorists to countries known to employ harsh interrogation techniques that may rise to the level of torture, purportedly with the knowledge or acquiescence of the United States."

"This report discusses relevant international and domestic law restricting the transfer of persons to foreign states for the purpose of torture."

See "Renditions: Constraints Imposed by Laws on Torture," Congressional Research Service, April 28, 2005:


Nanoscale devices "that take advantage of quantum and other phenomena offer exciting possibilities for future [Intelligence Community] applications," according to a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences.

Areas of potential interest include quantum computing and communication, molecular electronics, and intelligent sensor networks.

However, some proposed capabilities are "highly speculative or specious," the Academy study said. The Intelligence Community should develop in-house expertise to help it "avoid investing in 'science fiction' areas such as nonbiological exponential manufacturing systems (assemblers)."

A three-page unclassified summary of the 2005 report on "Nanotechnology for the Intelligence Community" may be found here:


A new U.S. Army field manual articulates military doctrine for confronting civil unrest abroad and at home.

"In addition to covering civil unrest doctrine for OCONUS [outside continental United States] operations, [the new manual] addresses domestic unrest and the military role in providing assistance to civil authorities requesting it for civil disturbance operations."

See Field Manual (FM) 3-19.15, "Civil Disturbance Operations," 18 April 2005 (256 pages, 5.6 MB PDF file):

The U.S. Army has also newly updated its regulations on "Military Justice." See AR 27-10, 27 April 2005 (171 pages, 1.0 MB PDF file):


The national security classification system is susceptible to political abuse not only through needless classification of information but also through tactical or selective declassification.

Last year, three Senators asked the Justice Department to declassify certain aggregate information about how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was being used, including the number of times that business records had been accessed pursuant to a FISA Court order.

This past March, the Justice Department denied their request, explaining that such information had to remain classified "in the interest of national security."

But then, two weeks later, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales disclosed the very same information in open testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"We appreciate the declassification of this information," wrote Democratic Senators Russell D. Feingold, Richard J. Durbin, and Patrick Leahy.

"However, we were disappointed that the Department chose to declassify this information at a time that suited its political ends, rather than in response to our oversight letter, which we sent to Attorney General Ashcroft more than six months ago."

The three Senators went on to reiterate their request for further declassification of FISA information. See a copy of their April 29 letter here:


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

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