from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 80
August 16, 2005


"To attack [America's electrical] grid, a terrorist need only study publicly available trade journals, which explain where new facilities are constructed," according to an op-ed in the New York Times on August 13. "A terrorist could then disable a particular system by destroying the computers and relays housed in the poorly protected building."

The New York Times op-ed editor has an affinity for such claims about the simplicity of perpetrating a disastrous act of terrorism.

On May 30, the Times published an op-ed article asserting that "a terrorist," using a 27 page manual found online, could manufacture gram quantities of botulinum toxin and cause tens or hundreds of thousands of casualties. No lab scientist familiar with the procedures involved would endorse that scenario, presented by a Stanford business professor.

The notion of a hyper-competent terrorist who can easily overcome the physical and technical obstacles that perplex and detain ordinary mortals has become a common rhetorical trope in public discussions of terrorism.

George Smith of conducted a Nexis search for the phrase "easy for a terrorist" (and similar formulations) and found about one hundred mainstream media citations over the past two years.

Judging from press reports, nearly everything comes "easy" to terrorists:

"From food terror, to manipulating the flu virus, to blowing up chemical plants, to getting driver's licenses, to coming across the Mexican border, to buying large caliber guns, to shooting down planes with ground-to-air missiles, to spreading hoof-and-mouth disease and destroying the cattle industry, to paralyzing Los Angeles by attacking power stations, to causing major blackouts, to putting anthrax in bagged rice," Smith found. "There really is no end to it. It's stupefying in its universality."

Such glib assessments of terrorist capabilities are worse than simply wrong. They spread fear and a sense of helplessness, doing the work of the terrorists, and they threaten to dissipate limited security and financial resources in a hundred different directions.


A new Department of Defense publication spells out official doctrine for the conduct of military operations in defense of homeland security.

The military has two "distinct but interrelated" homeland security missions, the new publication explains: homeland defense and civil support.

Homeland Defense is "the protection of US sovereignty, territory, domestic population, and critical infrastructure against external threats and aggression or other threats as directed by the President."

Civil Support refers to "support to US civil authorities for domestic emergencies, and for designated law enforcement within the scope of restrictions required by the Posse Comitatus Act and other support approved by the SecDef."

The new publication "describes the homeland security framework, mission areas, missions and related supporting operations and enabling activities. It also discusses legal authorities; joint force, multinational, and interagency relationships; command and control; planning and execution; and training and resource considerations," the preface states.

The new doctrinal publication is "Homeland Security," Joint Publication 3-26, dated 2 August 2005 (flagged by A copy is posted here (117 pages, 4 MB PDF file):


The military and intelligence value of monitoring "infrasound" -- inaudible sound waves of a frequency less than 20 Hertz -- is the subject of a new report from the secretive JASON advisory group on military science and technology.

"Using sound as a source of intelligence in a tactical setting has a long military tradition. Our study was undertaken to assess how this technique might be exploited in contemporary settings, in particular at tactical infrasound arrays," the JASON authors write.

"An array of low power robust sensors could be used to monitor diverse activities from a distance. Sonic data could provide strategic information to corroborate rocket launches that are detected by other means, including perhaps location information for mobile launch vehicles. Activity levels at military airfields could be monitored from a safe distance. Real time bomb damage assessments could be augmented with sonic data; particularly when attacking targets below the surface, listening for the explosions can help identify instances when the ordinance fails to detonate. These are but a few examples of the potential utility of sonic monitoring in the intelligence arena," the report stated.

The JASON report was prepared for the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center.

A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See "Tactical Infrasound," May 2005 (72 pages, 1.4 MB PDF file):


Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) caused a stir lately by alleging that a classified military intelligence data mining program codenamed ABLE DANGER had identified September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta as a threat as early as summer of 2000 and that the 9/11 Commission had been so informed but had chosen to suppress the information.

In an official statement on the matter, former Commission Chair and Vice Chair Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton disputed Weldon's account, and Weldon himself has begun to backtrack, stating that he is no longer certain that a chart he obtained from the military in 2001 actually named Atta.

A copy of the August 12 Kean-Hamilton statement is here:

Rep. Weldon has a history of making inflammatory allegations that later proved to be unfounded.

On June 7, 1999 he stood on the House floor and accused the Clinton Administration of leaking the design of the W87 nuclear warhead to U.S. News and World Report. It was a charge he repeated several times, referring to an artist's rendering of the W87 warhead which appeared in the magazine's July 31, 1995 edition.

"This administration leaked this document to U.S. News & World Report, giving the entire populace of the world... access to the design of the W87 nuclear warhead," he alleged.

"I have been told... that it was [Secretary of Energy] Hazel O'Leary herself who gave U.S. News & World Report the actual diagram of the W87 nuclear warhead in 1995," he said.

On June 8, 1999 he stated flatly: "Hazel O'Leary leaked the plans, which are in this magazine, for the W87 nuclear warhead."

None of this was true.

No government diagram of the W87 warhead was given to U.S. News. The artist's rendering of the weapon was a conceptual drawing, not a design. It was explicitly credited by the magazine to the Natural Resources Defense Council. An NRDC analyst confirmed that he had supplied the information to the graphic artist, and that it was based on informed speculation, not classified information.

In accordance with the political tactics used to attack the Clinton-Gore Administration throughout much of the 1990s, Rep. Weldon never retracted or apologized for his unfounded accusations. See:

According to an August 10 story in The Hill, Rep. Weldon said House Speaker Dennis Hastert will support his potential bid to become the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in 2008.


Following a dispute with the National Academy of Sciences over the release of security-related information in an NAS report on spent nuclear fuel, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission undertook a review of its policy regarding public disclosure of such information.

An NRC Task Force prepared a report on the subject, and the NRC recently approved a new statement of disclosure policy.

"The task force has concluded that the Commission has considerable authority to withhold from public disclosure information that could be useful, or could reasonably be expected to be useful, to a terrorist, provided that the information is not readily available to the public already," the report stated.

The resulting NRC policy concluded generally that "to the extent practicable," the withholding of sensitive information from public disclosure should conform to Freedom of Information Act principles for withholding security-related information.

See "NRC Task Force Report on Public Disclosure of Security-Related Information," Nuclear Regulatory Commission, May 18, 2005 (approved June 30, 2005) (thanks to MJR):


A proposed rule on declassification of national security information at the National Archives (NARA) would update current policy to reflect President Bush's March 2003 amendments to classification policy.

The proposed rule, published for public comment in the Federal Register on August 12, also sets forth procedures for automatic declassification and for reclassification of information that has been previously declassified.

The Federal Register notice presents a useful and informative series of questions and answers regarding classification and declassification policy. (It mistakenly continues to refer to the "Director of Central Intelligence," a position that no longer exists.)

Thus: "Can previously released White House-originated information be reclassified or have its classification restored?"

The answer: "An agency or an entity within the Executive Office of the President that solely advises and assists the President, may ask NARA to temporarily close, review, and possibly reclassify or restore the classification of White House-originated information that has been declassified and previously released."

See the Proposed Rule on Declassification of National Security Information, Federal Register, August 12:


The Congressional Research Service does not make its publications directly available to the public. The following CRS reports were obtained by Secrecy News.

"Missile Survey: Ballistic and Cruise Missiles of Selected Foreign Countries," updated July 26, 2005:

"Iran's Nuclear Program: Recent Developments," updated August 2, 2005:

"'Bunker Busters': Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator Issues, FY2005 and FY 2006," updated August 2, 2005:

"Black Members of the United States Congress: 1870-2005," updated August 4, 2005:

"Cambodia: Background and U.S. Relations," July 8, 2005:


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

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