from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 109
November 29, 2011

Secrecy News Blog:


The history, missions and operations of the nine U.S. military combatant commands (COCOMs) are detailed in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

Collectively, these military commands operate across the globe. "In a grand strategic sense, the [Unified Command Plan] and the COCOMs are the embodiment of U.S. military policy both at home and abroad. The COCOMs not only execute military policy but also play an important role in foreign policy," the CRS said.

The CRS report presents some critical discussion of the role of the COCOMs in shaping U.S. policy. The report cites a series of stories by Dana Priest in the Washington Post in September 2000 which said the COCOMs "had evolved into the modern-day equivalent of the Roman Empire's proconsuls-- well-funded, semi-autonomous, unconventional centers of U.S. foreign policy."

"Some national security experts consider this [Washington Post] series as the catalyst of the continuing debate as to whether or not COCOMs have assumed too much influence overseas, thereby diminishing the roles other U.S. government entities play in foreign and national security policy," the CRS report said. "The assertion that COCOMs have usurped other U.S. government entities in the foreign policy arena may deserve greater examination," the report added.

Congress has prohibited CRS from making its publications directly available to the public. A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News. See "The Unified Command Plan and Combatant Commands: Background and Issues for Congress," November 7, 2011:


The expanding role of women in combat is examined in another new report from the Congressional Research Service.

"Laws prohibiting women from serving in combat units were repealed in the early 1990s," the CRS report noted. "However, since then, it has been U.S. military policy to restrict women from certain units and military occupations, especially ground combat units. In recent years, efforts have been underway to remove these restrictions. Opponents have questioned the need to modify or remove these restrictions and the purposes for doing so."

Meanwhile, "In 10 years of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of female members have been deployed, and hundreds wounded and/or killed. According to the Department of Defense (DOD), as of August 31, 2011, over 26,000 female members were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. On numerous occasions women have been recognized for their heroism, two earning Silver Star medals."

See "Women in Combat: Issues for Congress," November 8, 2011:


The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that was supposed to provide independent oversight of U.S. counterterrorism policies remains dormant and out of service because its members have still not been named and confirmed.

In a report that was newly updated this month, the Congressional Research Service traced the origins of the Board from a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission through its initial establishment as a White House agency to its reconstitution as an independent agency chartered by statute in 2007.

The Board was assigned two overriding missions: It was supposed to "analyze and review actions the executive branch takes to protect the Nation from terrorism, ensuring that the need for such actions is balanced with the need to protect privacy and civil liberties"; and to "ensure that liberty concerns are appropriately considered in the development and implementation of laws, regulations, and policies related to efforts to protect the Nation against terrorism."

So had the Board been functional, it might have been a valuable participant in current deliberations over military detention authority, for example. It might also have conducted investigative oversight into any number of other counterterrorism policies, as mandated by law. But for all practical purposes, there is no Board.

Last January, President Obama named Elisebeth C. Cook and James X. Dempsey to serve on the Board. The Senate has not acted on their nomination. Even if they had been confirmed, however, they would not have constituted a quorum. Thus, the Board's activation is still dependent on presidential nomination of additional Board members.

See "Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board: New Independent Agency Status," November 14, 2011:


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

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