from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2013, Issue No. 52
June 6, 2013

Secrecy News Blog:


The Department of Defense this week released the 2012 update of its doctrine on "Peace Operations" including new guidance on so-called Mass Atrocity Response Operations that are designed to prevent or halt genocide or other large-scale acts of violence directed at civilian populations.

A mass atrocity consists of "widespread and often systematic acts of violence against civilians by state or non-state armed groups, including killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, or deliberately inflicting conditions of life that cause serious bodily or mental harm," the updated Pentagon guidance said in Joint Publication 3-07.3 on Peace Operations.

"Mass atrocities can erupt at any time during any operation even in an initially uncontested peacekeeping or humanitarian relief operation," it stated.

Mass Atrocity Response Operations, or MARO, is a newly adopted doctrinal concept that is detailed in Appendix B to the DoD Joint Publication on Peace Operations. The document, dated 01 August 2012, was withheld from online public access on the DoD Joint Electronic Library. But a copy was released to the Federation of American Scientists this week under the Freedom of Information Act.

The MARO concept (and even the term itself) is traceable to an influential advocacy effort by Sarah Sewall and her colleagues at the Harvard Kennedy School over the past several years.

In a 2010 Handbook on MARO, they wrote that "The United States does not currently recognize mass atrocities as a unique operational challenge, and there is no operational concept or doctrine that might help commanders understand the dynamics and demands of responding to mass atrocities. As a result, the US is not fully prepared to intervene effectively in a mass atrocity situation."

Their project aimed to change that state of affairs, and they succeeded to a remarkable extent. "The term MARO is not yet enshrined in military doctrine," they wrote then, "but it should be." And now, with the new Joint Publication on Peace Operations, it is.

(Along the way, in the August 2011 Presidential Study Directive 10, President Obama declared that "Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.")

But the Harvard MARO Project was not without critics. Alan J. Kuperman of the University of Texas wrote that the 2010 MARO Handbook emphasized operational issues to the detriment of larger strategic considerations: "Unfortunately, since military intervention can unintentionally increase the likelihood of atrocities, the 'how' of intervention is inextricably linked to debates about 'whether' such action is advisable."

"Since the advent of widespread humanitarian military intervention in the 1990s, such operations have frequently backfired strategically, by increasing civilian suffering, contrary to their political objective," he wrote. ("Mass Atrocity Response Operations: Doctrine in Search of Strategy," Genocide Studies and Prevention, April 2011, pp. 59-65.)

The new DoD doctrine appears cognizant of these ambiguities and countervailing factors, without being to resolve them in any categorical way.

"The PO [peace operations] force may face difficulties when conducting MARO," the doctrine notes, "including the challenge of distinguishing between perpetrator and victim groups when the groups are intermingled, when atrocities are being committed by multiple groups, or when the actions are reciprocal... Because a MARO can alter power balances, former victim groups may be able to conduct their own revenge atrocities.... Many people may be misled into assisting in the commission of atrocities by being convinced that they are acting in self-defense."

"MARO can include unique escalatory dynamics," as further detailed in the Joint Publication. "By pursuing MARO, the PO force may change the dynamics on the ground, leading to the potential for MARO to generate second- and third-order effects, intended or unintended."

These are not issues that can be conclusively settled in military doctrine. "Most of the complexity in MARO -- e.g., how to identify perpetrators, whether to treat the symptoms of the violence and/or the root causes, and the degree of risk to assume in moving swiftly -- should be addressed by interagency mechanisms such as the President's Atrocities Prevention Board."

It will still be up to policymakers "to provide the PO [peace operations] force commander with clear guidance and objectives."


The government declared today that the identity of the reporter to whom accused leaker Stephen Kim allegedly disclosed classified information is James Rosen of Fox News. Mr. Rosen's association with the case was publicly known for years. But it was still classified. Now it's not.

"The United States hereby gives notice to the Court, defense counsel, and the defendant, that the following facts have been declassified," prosecutors wrote in a pleading filed this morning. "The 'reporter for a national news organization' to whom the defendant is alleged to have made an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, as charged in Count One of the Indictment, is James Rosen of Fox News."

Mr. Rosen was controversially described in a recently revealed FBI affidavit as having acted in probable violation of the Espionage Act, and as a co-conspirator with the defendant, Mr. Kim. His identity was known all along. But as is all too often the case, declassification lags far behind the public record.


At the request of the FBI, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ordered a Verizon subsidiary to surrender the telephone records of its U.S. business customers to the National Security Agency for at least a three month period beginning last April 25.

The startling disclosure was reported last night by Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian. A copy of the Top Secret FISC order itself was also posted online by the Guardian.

Several features of the operation are problematic, to say the least. The order is sweeping in scope, encompassing "all" call metadata (telephone numbers of callers and recipients, time, duration and more, though not the substantive contents of any conversation). It is unfocused on any specified target of investigation. It is prospective, requiring reporting of future telephone calls that have not yet taken place. And as such, it would seem to exceed any reasonable presumption of what the consent of the governed would allow.

At first glance, it appears to be a massive overreach by the government, and a massive failure of congressional oversight and judicial review to curb the Administration's excess.


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

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