from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 111
November 18, 2008

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Scattered details of a little-known U.S. government database containing the DNA of suspected terrorists were gathered and reported today in the Financial Times. See "Fears over Covert DNA Database" by Stephen Fidler.

The Joint Federal Agencies [or more often: Antiterrorism] Intelligence DNA Database (JFAIDD) is described in a 2007 briefing slide as "a searchable database of DNA profiles from detainees and known or suspected terrorists."

The JFAIDD contains 15,000 DNA profiles, according to a 2007 report of the Defense Science Board, with "a queue of 30,000 new samples in the laboratory and 400 [pending] requests for DNA profiles, searches, or comparisons." See "Defense Biometrics" (at page 32).

The collection of the DNA samples was described in a 2006 Army document. "U.S. military units shall collect two buccal [intra-oral cheek] swabs from each person." See "Biometric Collection, Transmission and Storage Standards, U.S. Army Biometrics Task Force, July 24, 2006 (at pp. 21-22).

"The FBI has been collecting biological evidence from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) removed from Iraq and Afghanistan and databasing the mtDNA profiles from this evidence since February 2004," the Justice Department said in its 2009 budget justification book for the FBI. "Only occasionally can these profiles be compared to reference samples from suspected terrorists or their maternal relatives."

"Collecting DNA from detainees and obtaining the mtDNA profiles from these samples has the potential to provide excellent actionable intelligence in the Global War on Terror through comparison with evidence already analyzed..."

But "The FBI can process [only] two samples every three days using manual methods. Given this rate, the DNA Analysis Unit... cannot keep up with the collection of these samples and would likely lose valuable intelligence from the lag time required to analyze these samples."

The Justice Department therefore requested funding to automate the DNA analysis process, to permit analysis of 40 samples a day, five days a week so as to keep pace with the anticipated delivery of "approximately 9,000 samples per year from detainees of the U.S. government."

See the 2009 FBI budget justification (at page 6-112).


There were 5,023 invention secrecy orders in effect at the end of FY 2008, up slightly from last year's total of 5,002.

Under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, secrecy orders are applied by government agencies to patent applications that may be "detrimental to national security." The patent is withheld, and the invention described in the application is subject to various degrees of restriction, depending on its sensitivity, from export controls to national security classification.

Last year, 68 new secrecy orders were imposed, while 47 were rescinded, according to statistics released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists.

The specific nature of the currently restricted inventions is, of course, not published. But it is possible to get information about dozens of patent applications that were formerly subject to secrecy orders that were later rescinded.

A list of secrecy orders rescinded in 2005-2006, by application number, was released in response to a FOIA request from researcher Michael Ravnitzky.

A description of each formerly restricted application can be found by searching the application number on the Patent Office web site ( Thus, the first invention on the list was described as a "rocket engine chamber with layered internal wall channels."


Expectations of significant changes in government information policy continue to grow as more and more groups and individuals offer their recommendations for reform to the next administration and its transition team.

Proposals for change concerning classification, freedom of information, and presidential records were developed by a cross-section of interested organizations convened by the National Security Archive and published here:

A catalog of proposals affecting a broad range of national security and civil liberties issues, including secrecy, was compiled by the Constitution Project.


Under the Freedom of Information Act, one need not be a lawyer to file a lawsuit. A clever, committed advocate can sometimes defeat a team of government lawyers and win disclosure of denied documents. On the other hand, an inept, overzealous or unlucky litigant can leave a trail of legal wreckage that will make the lives of other FOIA requesters more difficult.

A newly updated guidebook will help any would-be litigant, whether a lawyer or not, to avoid many of the pitfalls of FOIA litigation and to realistically assess the chances of success. Don't file suit without it.

"Litigation Under the Federal Open Government Laws 2008" was edited by Harry A. Hammitt, Marc Rotenberg, John A. Verdi, and Mark S. Zaid. It can be purchased from Harry Hammitt's web site here:

or from the Electronic Privacy Information Center here:


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

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