from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 55
June 5, 2008
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/
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- ENERGY DEPT IS "COMMITTED" TO IMPROVING DECLASSIFICATION
- SENATE COMMITTEE ISSUES REPORTS ON PRE-WAR IRAQ INTEL
- JASON WARNS OF THREAT FROM SLEEPING ENEMIES
ENERGY DEPT IS "COMMITTED" TO IMPROVING DECLASSIFICATION
The Department of Energy has responded favorably to the recent recommendations of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) for improving the declassification of historical records.
In a January 29, 2008 directive, President Bush had instructed agencies to provide comments on the December 2007 PIDB report on "Improving Declassification" (Secrecy News, Jan. 31). DOE responded in a newly disclosed April 21 memorandum addressed to national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.
The PIDB report "offers many sound recommendations," wrote Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman, and "DOE is committed to meeting the challenges of declassification."
In fact, DOE endorsed most of the dozens of specific recommendations presented by the PIDB, though it also opposed several. In particular, DOE expressed support for establishment of a National Declassification Center that would coordinate agency declassification programs and expedite the declassification process. DOE opposed a recommendation to treat certain nuclear weapons-related information known as Formerly Restricted Data as regular classified information.
The DOE memorandum also expressed strong support for creation of a database of declassification activity that would be made publicly accessible, a proposal that has been advocated by the Federation of American Scientists.
"The establishment of a centralized database would provide a tremendous service to the public by eliminating the requirement to search multiple agency databases to find all relevant declassified documents in a topic of interest," DOE wrote.
Not only that, DOE said, "an electronic version of the entire document should be made available to the public rather than just the information required to request the document."
The DOE memorandum includes some eccentric views, perhaps to make sure that readers are paying attention. Thus, DOE refuses to rule out the possibility of prosecuting someone for possessing records that were legally obtained from the government.
"DOE agrees that prosecuting members of the public for maintaining, using, or disseminating a record or information contained in a record that they had lawfully obtained from any agency of the Federal Government should be rare."
"However, expressly prohibiting such action in an Order or statute is not advisable," DOE said, since legal action might be necessary in order "to prevent the proliferation of information that could be particularly damaging to the national security (e.g., nuclear weapons design information)."
Overall, the DOE response to the PIDB recommendations provides a constructive basis for further policy development in anticipation of revisions to national security information policy in the next Administration.
Secrecy News obtained a copy of the DOE response under the Freedom of Information Act. Requests for other agency responses to the PIDB report are still pending.
Creation of a government-wide declassification database and other possible reforms to classification and declassification policy were discussed by myself and others in a July 12, 2007 hearing before a subcommittee of the House Intelligence Committee. The record of that hearing, titled "Classification of National Security Information," has just been published and is available here:
SENATE COMMITTEE ISSUES REPORTS ON PRE-WAR IRAQ INTEL
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today finally released the final two reports of its investigation into pre-war intelligence on Iraq.
"Before taking the country to war, this Administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced," said Senator Jay Rockefeller in a news release.
"Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence," Rockefeller said. "In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed."
A summary of the report's conclusions, which would have been most useful about four years ago, is presented here, with links to the newly released reports:
JASON WARNS OF THREAT FROM SLEEPING ENEMIES
The Pentagon should "monitor enemy activities in sleep research" says a newly disclosed report from the elite defense science advisory panel known as JASON.
The JASONs were investigating the potential for U.S. adversaries "to exploit advances in Human Performance Modification, and thus create a threat to national security."
Their report examined "the present state of the art in pharmaceutical intervention in cognition and in brain-computer interfaces, and considered how possible future developments might proceed and be used by adversaries."
Among their findings was the underappreciated significance of sleep and the possibility of a "sleep gap" (a term not used in the report).
"The most immediate human performance factor in military effectiveness is degradation of performance under stressful conditions, particularly sleep deprivation."
"If an opposing force had a significant sleep advantage, this would pose a serious threat."
Fortunately, "the technical likelihood of such a development is small at present." Just to be safe, however, the scientists recommended that the Pentagon "Monitor enemy activities in sleep research, and maintain close understanding of open source sleep research."
In general, the JASONs went on to observe, "the publicity and scientific literature regarding human performance enhancement can easily be misinterpreted, yielding incorrect conclusions about potential military applications."
See "Human Performance," JASON, March 2008:
Selected other reports from JASON are available here:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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