from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 116
December 20, 2011

Secrecy News Blog:


The U.S. electric power grid is vulnerable to damage from severe electromagnetic solar storms and remedial measures should be taken to reduce that vulnerability, a new study from the JASON scientific advisory panel concluded.

On the other hand, the JASONs said, catastrophic worst-case scenarios advanced by some are not plausible, and they should not serve as a basis for policy making.

Public disclosure of the new JASON study was blocked by the Department of Homeland Security, which sponsored the analysis. But a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

"Concerns about the vulnerabilities of technical infrastructure to space weather have been growing since the sun entered the early stages of the current sunspot cycle in 2009, increasing prospects for severe solar storms," the report said.

"We agree that the U.S. electric grid remains vulnerable," the JASONs concluded. "Mitigation should be undertaken as soon as possible to reduce the vulnerability of the U.S. grid. The cost appears modest compared to just the economic impact of a single storm," they added.

But the panel declined to endorse a worst-case scenario proposed in 2010 by J. Kappenman, who envisioned "the possibility of catastrophic damage to the U.S. electric grid, leaving millions without power for months to years."

"We are not convinced that the worst case scenario... is plausible. Nor is the analysis it is based on, using proprietary algorithms, suitable for deciding national policy," the JASON report said.

Instead, "a rigorous and fully transparent risk analysis should be done of the U.S. grid." See "Impacts of Severe Space Weather on the Electric Grid," JASON report JSR-11-320, November 2011 (large pdf):

Ironically, the Department of Homeland Security, which requested the JASON study, refused to make it publicly available. In a November 20 letter to the Federation of American Scientists, DHS said that no portion of the study would be released under the Freedom of Information Act because it was subject to the "deliberative process privilege."

A copy of the report was obtained independently.


Congress last week enacted the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.

"The legislation we are approving today keeps funding for intelligence essentially flat from fiscal year 2011, representing the a meaningful reduction from the President's request," said Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on December 14.

Curiously, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, described the outcome somewhat differently on December 16: "The bill is significantly below the President's budget request for fiscal year 2012 and further still below the levels authorized and appropriated in fiscal year 2011."

In both the House and the Senate action on the bill there was a conspicuous absence of public debate on any issue of intelligence policy. No dissenting views were expressed. Nor was there any discussion of or insight into current intelligence controversies. For that, one must turn to other venues, such as "Secrecy defines Obama's drone war" by Karen DeYoung in today's Washington Post.


The U.S. government acknowledges that U.S. military forces were involved in "armed conflict" this year in Libya, but it does not acknowledge that they were engaged in "hostilities."

Earlier this year, State Department legal advisor Harold H. Koh attempted to parse these distinctions, which have significant legal consequences, and to deflect some pointed questions from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His responses to Senators' questions for the record from a June 28 Committee hearing were published last month.

The full hearing volume is here:


New reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made readily available to the public include these:

"U.S. Arms Sales: Agreements with and Deliveries to Major Clients, 2003-2010," December 16, 2011:

"Pakistan: U.S. Foreign Aid Conditions, Restrictions, and Reporting Requirements," December 15, 2011:


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

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