from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2014, Issue No. 6
January 21, 2014
Secrecy News Blog: http://blogs.fas.org/secrecy/
- DEFENSE SCIENCE BOARD URGES EXPANDED GLOBAL MONITORING
- GAO TO ISSUE REPORT ON INTELLIGENCE CONTRACTORS
- SEN. MCCAIN BLASTS SECRET LEGISLATION ON DRONE POLICY
DEFENSE SCIENCE BOARD URGES EXPANDED GLOBAL MONITORING
While others speak of curbing intelligence surveillance activities, the Defense Science Board argues in a new report that the U.S. government should expand and accelerate global monitoring for purposes of detecting nuclear proliferation as "a top national security objective."
Intelligence techniques and technologies that are used to combat terrorism should also be harnessed to address the threat of proliferation, said the new DSB report, entitled "Assessment of Nuclear Monitoring and Verification Technologies," January 2014.
"The advances in persistent surveillance, automated tracking, rapid analyses of large and multi-source data sets, and open source analyses to support conventional warfighting and counterterrorism have not yet been exploited by the nuclear monitoring community.... New intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) technologies, demonstrated in recent conflicts, offer significant promise for monitoring undesirable nuclear activity throughout the free world."
The National Security Agency, among others, has pointed the way, the report suggested. A newly integrated global awareness system for counterproliferation should "build on lessons and experiences of successful national security capabilities, such as... NSA's counterterrorism capabilities...."
"The 'big data' technologies for extracting meaning from vast quantities of data that are being developed commercially in the information technology (IT) industry, and for other purposes in DoD and the IC, need to be extended and applied to nuclear monitoring."
In particular, "Exploiting the cyber domain should certainly be a big part of any nuclear monitoring effort. Both passive, depending on what is sent voluntarily, and active sources should be considered. Data gathered from the cyber domain establishes a rich and exploitable source for determining activities of individuals, groups and organizations needed to participate in either the procurement or development of a nuclear device.... Many of the new technology advances in data exfiltration, covert implantation, etc., hold promise for successful multi-INT collection and exploitation in non-permissive environments."
"Monitoring for proliferation should be a top national security objective -- and one that the nation is not yet organized or fully equipped to address."
At the same time, the DSB report emphasized the need for increased openness and transparency, both to strengthen international confidence and stability and to simplify the challenge of global monitoring of proliferation. (As used by the DSB -- and the USG -- the term transparency in this context seems to mean the exchange of data among interested governments, and does not necessarily imply release of information to the public.)
The DSB authors recommend "a comprehensive, sustained, policy-based diplomatic approach coordinated across the U.S. Government and with other nations devoted expressly to advance the cause of openness and transparency writ large.... This situation should be addressed with the highest priority."
"The Task Force envisions a multi-year effort, which can pay large dividends in terms of a universal transparency that would improve strategic and tactical stability against nuclear war among all nuclear weapons states, as well as achieve enhanced confidence building for nonproliferation efforts."
"All parties would benefit from the national security stability that would ensue from having transparent knowledge of the numbers/types of other nations' nuclear arsenals, while each nation in turn makes the knowledge of their own SNM [special nuclear material] and/or nuclear weapons inventories available to the others."
(The report does not mention the case of Israel, whose policy of nuclear opacity -- not transparency -- is supported at least tacitly by the U.S. government.)
"The Task Force does believe that the times are now propitious to move forward on a path to develop universal transparency regimes that can simultaneously fulfill these goals and requirements through an international process for achieving universal knowledge of nuclear weapon inventories and SNM inventories, and that the U.S. should lead in such an effort."
"Indeed, the U.S. has already declassified the size of its current nuclear arsenal."
Unfortunately, that last assertion is not correct. In May 2010, the U.S. government did declassify the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal as of September 2009. (At that time, there were 5,113 warheads.) But if you ask how big the arsenal is today, it turns out that the answer is once again classified. The Federation of American Scientists has petitioned the Department of Energy to revise that judgment in favor of public disclosure.
The new DSB report contains several other incidental observations of interest.
- To date, the U.S. has entered into roughly 25 agreements on nuclear cooperation with other countries (known as 123 Agreements).
- Of the nearly 1,000 active satellites in earth orbit, there are 200 engaged in earth observation.
- Some non-governmental analysis of commercial satellite imagery is of poor quality and "may introduce additional noise into U.S. and international monitoring systems. Some experts are concerned that bad data and bad analysis could increasingly tarnish or mask more reliable data.... There have already been major analytical errors made by untrained imagery analysts who have published openly."
- The efficient analysis of big data can be undermined by the "transmission latency" (or delayed transfer) of data stored in a cloud-based architecture. Therefore, the DSB says that when it comes to nuclear monitoring, "the analytics need to stay near the data." Similar concerns concerning prompt access are said to arise in the context of NSA analysis of telephony metadata.
GAO TO ISSUE REPORT ON INTELLIGENCE CONTRACTORS
The Government Accountability Office will issue a long-awaited report on intelligence community contractors in the next few weeks, a congressional official said.
The GAO report is an unclassified version of a classified assessment that was completed last year. According to a statement of work obtained by Secrecy News in 2012, the GAO project was to address the following issues:
"(1) To what extent do civilian intelligence agencies rely on and strategically review their reliance on contractors to perform critical professional and management support services? (2) To what extent do these agencies have policies and guidance that address the use of contractors for these services? (3) What steps have these agencies taken to manage the risks associated with using contractors for these services? (4) To what extent have these agencies addressed challenges with retaining federal personnel?"
The new contractor study is not the only GAO activity related to intelligence; it is one of "several, maybe half a dozen" GAO projects that are underway. By its nature, GAO tends not to deal with intelligence operations, or with sources and methods, the congressional official said. Rather, it is mainly concerned with workforce management, human capital, and similar issues in which it has particular expertise.
The official said that GAO now has a "constructive" relationship with intelligence agencies, particularly after the adoption in 2011 of Intelligence Community Directive 114, which established a common understanding of GAO's role and authorities.
"We're on the right path," the official said. "There are occasional bumps in the road, but you deal with the bumps."
A new appreciation for the potential utility of GAO audits and investigations of intelligence agency performance seems to be developing. Multiple bills have been introduced in the current Congress that would employ GAO in congressional oversight of intelligence.
Rep. Rush Holt's "Surveillance State Repeal Act" (HR 2818) would require the GAO to evaluate government compliance with foreign intelligence law.
The "NSA Accountability Act" (HR 3882) introduced by Rep. John Carney would require GAO to analyze the effectiveness of NSA programs, to report on the conduct of surveillance programs, and to describe any violations of law.
Another bill (HR 3900) introduced just last week by Rep. Michael McCaul is intended to facilitate GAO access to information in the intelligence community.
SEN. MCCAIN BLASTS SECRET LEGISLATION ON DRONE POLICY
In a striking new example of secret lawmaking, a classified provision in the consolidated appropriations bill passed by Congress last week prohibited the transfer of CIA drone operations to the Department of Defense.
"This is outrageous," said Sen. John McCain of the secret legislative move, "and it should not have happened."
The secret provision was first reported in the Washington Post. "The provision represents an unusually direct intervention by lawmakers into the way covert operations are run, impeding an administration plan aimed at returning the CIA's focus to traditional intelligence gathering and possibly bringing more transparency to drone strikes," wrote Greg Miller in the Post. ("Lawmakers seek to stymie plan to shift control of drone campaign from CIA to Pentagon," January 15.)
The term "secret law" is most often used to refer to executive branch actions that mandate national policy without public notice, or that reinterpret existing statutes in dubious or counterintuitive ways that are not disclosed to the public. But in this case, an important national policy measure was literally written into law by Congress in secret.
In his January 16 floor statement, Sen. McCain had this to say:
"...Tucked away in the classified portion of this bill is a policy rider that has serious national security implications and is a prime example of the appropriators overstepping their bounds. This provision will halt the transfer of the U.S. drone counterterrorism operations from the CIA to the Department of Defense. In doing so, it summarily changes a very important policy that guides how we do certain counterterrorism operations abroad from a direction that the President has specifically prescribed. And how did most of us become aware of this major policy change? By reading this morning's Washington Post; that is how."But it is the way that this Congress legislates. And though Senator McCain voted against the measure, the full Senate approved it, 72-26, and the President signed it into law on January 17.
"This is outrageous, and it should not have happened. While there may be differing opinions on who should control drone counterterrorism operations, we should be able to debate these differences in the committees of jurisdiction and eventually on the Senate floor. The fact that a major national security policy decision is going to be authorized in this bill without debate or authorization is unacceptable and should not be the way we legislate on such important national security issues."
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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