from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2016, Issue No. 92
November 10, 2016
Secrecy News Blog: http://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/
- TRANSPARENCY WILL NEED A REBOOT IN THE TRUMP ERA
- INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY SPENDING, & MORE FROM CRS
- PATENTS GRANTED TO TWO FORMERLY SECRET INVENTIONS
TRANSPARENCY WILL NEED A REBOOT IN THE TRUMP ERA
The future of transparency in the Trump Administration is uncertain. It will ultimately be determined in practice as the new Administration embarks on its programs, determines its priorities, appoints its personnel, engages with Congress and confronts the public.
On his first full day in office, President Obama famously pledged to conduct the most transparent Administration in history. Though it was imperfectly executed and suffered some reversals, I think that pledge was fulfilled to an impressive extent. More government information was made more easily available to more people than ever before. The reported volume of new national security secrets created in the past two years dropped to historically low levels. Whole categories of information that had previously been off-limits -- the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, the President's Daily Brief, the size of the annual intelligence budget request, among others -- were newly subject to declassification and disclosure during Obama's tenure. If this was not the most transparent Administration in history, then which Administration was?
Donald Trump's estimation of transparency already appears to be radically different. Although his Twitter persona during the campaign represented a degree of unfiltered candor that is almost alarming in a public official, it was unaccompanied by detailed policy proposals that might have informed the election. Trump's refusal to release his tax returns as a presidential candidate was a startling repudiation of a longstanding norm of American governance. Worse, the fact that this refusal was not considered disqualifying by his supporters suggests that the norm is weaker than supposed. Far from being a given, the value of transparency itself may not be widely understood or shared by many Americans.
It's not that Trump has promised transparency and failed to deliver. He has promised nothing of the kind. Hypocrisy on this point would actually be a step forward.
In what seems to be the first post-election reference to the FOIA by the Trump transition team, applicants for positions in the new Administration were advised that "One should assume that all of the information provided during this process is ultimately subject to public disclosure, if requested under the Freedom of Information Act." (also noted by Russ Kick)
This is somewhat misleading, since various types of personal privacy information such as social security numbers would not be subject to FOIA. But perhaps it is a healthy sign that a some awareness of the FOIA and its disclosure requirements is already present in the Trump camp.
INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY SPENDING, & MORE FROM CRS
In a deeply fractured political environment, the work of the Congressional Research Service may be even more valuable than ever. Non-partisan to a fault, CRS provides the same policy analysis to Republicans and Democrats, to problem-solvers and to nihilists. CRS reports can therefore help to establish a common framework for debate, and a shared vocabulary for discussion. They are at least a place to start a conversation.
One newly updated CRS report "examines Intelligence Community (IC) funding over the past several decades, with an emphasis on the period from 2007-2017." See Intelligence Community Spending: Trends and Issues by Anne Daugherty Miles, November 8, 2016.
It was issued along with a new companion report on the structure and management of U.S. intelligence. See Intelligence Community Programs, Management, and Enduring Issues, also by Anne Miles, November 8, 2016.
Other new and updated Congressional Research Service reports include the following.
Internet Gambling: Policy Issues for Congress, November 7, 2016:
Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated November 8, 2016:
Cuba: Issues for the 114th Congress, updated November 8, 2016:
FY2017 Defense Spending Under an Interim Continuing Resolution (CR): In Brief, updated November 7, 2016:
Women in Congress, 1917-2016: Biographical and Committee Assignment Information, and Listings by State and Congress, updated November 7, 2016:
Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF): Program Overview and Issues, updated November 8, 2016:
Youth Transitioning from Foster Care: Background and Federal Programs, updated November 8, 2016:
What Is the Farm Bill?, updated November 8, 2016:
When Does Sovereign Immunity Protect Property Owned by State Sponsors of Terrorism?, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 8, 2016:
PATENTS GRANTED TO TWO FORMERLY SECRET INVENTIONS
Two patent applications that had been subject to "secrecy orders" under the Invention Secrecy Act for years or decades were finally granted patents and publicly disclosed in 2016.
"Only two patents have been granted so far on cases in which the secrecy order was rescinded in FY16," the US Patent and Trademark Office said this week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
They were among the 20 inventions whose secrecy orders were rescinded over the past year.
One of the patents concerns "a controllable barrier layer against electromagnetic radiation, to be used, inter alia, as a radome for a radar antenna for instance." The inventor, Anders Grop of Sweden, filed the patent application in 2007 and it was granted on April 5, 2016 (patent number 9,306,290).
The other formerly secret invention that finally received a patent this year described "multi-charge munitions, incorporating hole-boring charge assemblies." Detonation of the munitions is "suitable for defeating a concrete target." That invention was originally filed in 1990 by Kevin Mark Powell and Edward Evans of the United Kingdom and was granted on October 25, 2016 (patent number 9,476,682).
The inventors could not immediately be contacted for comment. But judging from appearances, the decision to control the disclosure of these two inventions for a period of time and then to grant them a patent was consistent with the terms of the Invention Secrecy Act, and it had no obvious adverse impacts.
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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