from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 74
September 20, 2010
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/
- NEW FRUS VOLUME SHOWS DECLASS STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES
- FORMER LOS ALAMOS PHYSICIST CHARGED WITH SELLING NUKE INFO
- HOME FORECLOSURES AND SECURITY CLEARANCES
NEW FRUS VOLUME SHOWS DECLASS STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES
A new volume of the State Department's official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series on the war in Vietnam, published this month, embodies both the strengths and the weaknesses of the government document declassification program.
The new FRUS volume presents an exceptionally vivid and interesting account of the Nixon Administration's conduct of the war, beginning with the aftermath of the invasion of Cambodia. It also "documents President Nixon's penchant for secret operations and covert warfare." Several such secret operations "are documented in some detail to demonstrate the role of covert actions in support of overt political and military operations." See "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970-January 1972," published September 8, 2010:
While the 1100 page volume provides rich testimony to the value of the declassification process, it also highlights its surprising limitations.
For one thing, the process is painfully slow. Declassification review of this volume took four years, the Preface states, from 2006 to 2010. At that glacial rate, the State Department will never fulfill its statutory obligation to publish the record of U.S. foreign policy no later than 30 years after the fact.
What's worse is that U.S. government agencies continue to use an obsolete template for making declassification decisions. So while various covert actions are "documented in some detail," the amount of money spent on those same covert actions is scrupulously redacted at more than a dozen points with the parenthetical notation "dollar amount not declassified" -- as if the publication of these budget figures could possibly have any bearing on national security today.
Adding to the evident confusion, the dollar figures for covert action were nevertheless published in one of the documents (document 202 at page 617), which notes that "Funds in the amount of $235,000 for FY 1971 and $228,000 for FY 1972 were approved [for certain covert actions]."
Was this a declassification "error"? A publishing oversight? It's not clear.
Susan Weetman, the General Editor of the FRUS series, said that the publication decisions on covert actions were determined by the so-called "High Level Panel" (HLP) which is comprised of senior representatives of the State Department, CIA and National Security Council.
"While the release of some dollar amounts and the excision of others may appear inconsistent, it has been the policy of the HLP to approve the declassification of the overall budget figure for a covert action (occasionally broken out by fiscal year), but not release the specifics of how the money was spent," Ms. Weetman told Secrecy News.
In the present case, however, there is an unusual amount of detail about "how the money was spent." It's just the dollar figures that (in most cases) have been withheld.
The release of this FRUS volume, along with another volume on Vietnam published September 16, was timed to coincide with an upcoming State Department Office of the Historian conference on "The American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975":
One of the recurring themes in the Vietnam covert action volume is the prevalence of leaks of classified information, and the need to take drastic action to combat them.
"You will see leaks all over town in the next few weeks on this issue," Henry Kissinger told a group of Congressmen at a March 23, 1971 meeting "because the intelligence community is like a hysterical group of Talmudic scholars doing an exegesis of abstruse passages. If any of you are on an intelligence subcommittee, you might find this a good reason to cut the budget for the intelligence agencies," Kissinger suggested (at page 466).
FORMER LOS ALAMOS PHYSICIST CHARGED WITH SELLING NUKE INFO
A former Los Alamos nuclear weapons scientist, Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, and his wife, Marjorie Mascheroni, were charged with conspiracy to communicate classified nuclear weapons information with the intent to injure the United States and conspiracy to develop an illict atomic bomb after they allegedly offered to provide assistance to a supposed Venezuelan nuclear weapons program.
"The conduct alleged in this indictment is serious and should serve as a warning to anyone who would consider compromising our nation's nuclear secrets for profit," said Assistant Attorney General Kris in a September 17 news release.
The underlying story is so twisted and psychologically fraught that it may never be completely clarified. Mascheroni has been a fervent advocate of his own concept of inertial confinement fusion, while relentlessly criticizing the existing ICF program as misconceived and destined to fail. He has tangled repeatedly with security officials over clearance and disclosure issues, but he has also found some influential supporters, including former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, who provided him with legal representation on a pro bono basis.
According to the indictment, Mascheroni only thought of selling nuclear secrets (to an FBI agent he thought was a Venezuelan official) because he became increasingly frustrated with the United States government's unresponsiveness to his claims and concerns. The alleged turning point, the indictment says, came in 2007, when he attempted unsuccessfully to instigate a congressional hearing on "DOE-UC mismanagement of the nuclear stockpile, weapons programs, and national security." A copy of his 50-page proposal to Congress, of characteristic length and turgidity, is here:
"If those guys, the American government, doesn't give me this," he supposedly said, referring to the desired congressional hearing, "you know, I, I, the American government is going to be my enemy really."
"The public is reminded that an indictment contains allegations only and that every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty," the Justice Department properly noted in its news release on the case.
A 1995 Los Alamos report "edited by Marjorie Mascheroni" on environmental contamination at Los Alamos involving high-energy explosives is available here:
HOME FORECLOSURES AND SECURITY CLEARANCES
The crisis affecting the U.S. economy has made a discernable mark on security clearance disputes, according to a new study of clearance revocation cases.
"Since the collapse of the housing market in 2008, debt resulting from job losses and home foreclosures has had a devastating effect on people holding national security clearances. That, more than any other factor today, is causing the revocation or denial of security clearances, resulting in the loss of good paying jobs, and putting skilled workers further and further behind in their effort to dig out of debt."
The new study, by attorney Sheldon I. Cohen, examined cases before the Department of Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA), which is the only one of the eleven clearance adjudicating bodies to publish its decisions. The author found a growing trend, though the actual number of cases involved remains fairly small.
"From 2000 to 2002, there was one reported case at DOHA dealing with foreclosure. Between 2003 and 2006, there averaged three cases per year. In 2007 and 2008, the number of cases dealing with foreclosures jumped to nine each year. In 2009, there were twenty-four such cases, and in the first five months of 2010, which looks like a record year, there have been nine foreclosure cases thus far. While DOHA is the only adjudicative body for clearances that publishes its decisions, there is no reason to believe that any of the other ten federal Adjudication Authorities come to different results."
See "Debt and Home Foreclosures: Their Effect on National Security Clearances" by Sheldon I. Cohen, September 2010:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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