from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2018, Issue No. 67
November 13, 2018

Secrecy News Blog:


Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the likely chair of the House Armed Services Committee in the next Congress, told congressional colleagues that enhancing national security transparency is among his top oversight priorities.

"Together, we have made strides on national security issues but much more must be done to conduct vigorous oversight of the Trump Administration and the Department of Defense," he wrote in a November 8 letter to House Democrats, declaring his candidacy for HASC chairman.

"Specifically, we must look to eliminate inefficiency and waste at the DOD; boost oversight of sensitive military operations and ensure that the military works to avoid civilian casualties; protect our environmental laws nationwide; advance green technology in defense; take substantial steps to reduce America's overreliance on nuclear weapons; and promote greater transparency in national security matters," he wrote.

In an opinion column last month, Rep. Smith elaborated on the topic. He said the Trump Administration and the Pentagon had abused their secrecy authority with counterproductive results.

"The Defense Department under this administration [. . .] declared war on transparency in their earliest days on the job. On issue after issue, they have made conspicuous decisions to roll back transparency and public accountability precisely when we need it most," he wrote, citing numerous examples of unwarranted secrecy.

A course correction is needed, he said.

"Candid discussion with Congress about military readiness, the defense budget, or deployments around the world; the release of general information about the effectiveness of weapons systems that taxpayers are funding; and many other basic transparency practices have not harmed national security for all the years that they have been the norm," he wrote. "The efforts to further restrict this information are unjustified, and if anything, the recent policies we have seen call for an increase in transparency."

See "The Pentagon's Getting More Secretive -- and It's Hurting National Security" by Rep. Adam Smith, Defense One, October 28, 2018.

* * *

The mystery surrounding a classified US military operation called Yukon Journey was partially dispelled by a news story in Yahoo News.

"Even as the humanitarian crisis precipitated by Saudi Arabia's more-than-three-year war in Yemen has deepened, the Pentagon earlier this year launched a new classified operation to support the kingdom's military operations there, according to a Defense Department document that appears to have been posted online inadvertently."

See "Pentagon launched new classified operation to support Saudi coalition in Yemen" by Sharon Weinberger, Sean Naylor and Jenna McLaughlin, Yahoo News, November 10.

* * *

The need for greater transparency in military matters will be among the topics discussed (by me and others) at a briefing sponsored by Sen. Jack Reed and the Costs of War Project at Brown University on Wednesday, November 14 at 10 am in 236 Russell Senate Office Building. A new report on the the multi-trillion dollar costs of post-9/11 US counterterrorism operations will be released.


Incoming members of Congress face a steep learning curve in trying to understand, let alone master, many diverse areas of public policy such as national defense.

To help facilitate that learning process, the Congressional Research Service has issued a series of "defense primers" that provide a brief introduction to a variety of defense policy topics. Several of them have recently been updated, including these:

Defense Primer: Geography, Strategy, and U.S. Force Design, CRS In Focus, updated November 8, 2018:

Defense Primer: Department of the Navy, CRS In Focus, updated November 8, 2018:

Defense Primer: Naval Forces, CRS In Focus, updated November 8, 2018:

Defense Primer: United States Airpower, CRS In Focus, updated November 7, 2018:

Defense Primer: The United States Air Force, CRS In Focus, updated November 7, 2018:

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Energy and Water Development Appropriations: Nuclear Weapons Activities, updated November 9, 2018:

The Posse Comitatus Act and Related Matters: The Use of the Military to Execute Civilian Law, updated November 6, 2018:

The DOD's JEDI Cloud Program, CRS Insight, updated November 5, 2018:

Iran: Efforts to Preserve Economic Benefits of the Nuclear Deal, CRS In Focus, updated November 8, 2018:

Iran Sanctions, updated November 6, 2018:

Global Trends in HIV/AIDS, CRS In Focus, November 6, 2018:

21st Century U.S. Energy Sources: A Primer, updated November 5, 2018:


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

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