from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 8
January 24, 2011
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/
- CRS DIRECTOR'S RETIREMENT RENEWS OLD QUESTIONS
- STATE OF THE UNION: TRADITION AND FUNCTION
- CIA VIEWS CHINA'S "STUDENT INFORMANT SYSTEM"
- SENATE OFFICES TOLD TO AVOID WIKILEAKS
CRS DIRECTOR'S RETIREMENT RENEWS OLD QUESTIONS
Daniel P. Mulhollan, director of the Congressional Research Service, told CRS staff last week that he will be retiring in April. Mr. Mulhollan, who joined CRS in 1969, has been director of the congressional support organization for the past 14 years, making him its longest-serving leader.
Although the basic parameters of CRS operation are set by Congress, Mr. Mulhollan's departure may encourage reconsideration of some particular CRS policies that he favored. These could include, for example, the CRS posture of strict neutrality, the deliberate erosion of CRS expertise in recent years, and perhaps the policy of barring direct public access to CRS reports.
"Dan loved CRS, and he worked hard to keep it above the Hill's political fray," said one CRS analyst. "He kept CRS from suffering what GAO did-- getting downsized because it was viewed as too friendly to one political party."
But a former CRS analyst saw the issue of CRS impartiality differently: "In 2003, Dan invented a new standard of 'neutrality' that prohibits any analyst, no matter the weight of evidence, from stating that one position is stronger than another. The result is a remarkable watering down of CRS reports, a trend that has been noticed not only by congressional staff but by readers outside of Congress. Neither CBO nor GAO follows the standard of 'neutrality'," the former analyst said.
Another question is whether CRS should provide greater depth of analytical expertise or whether it should emphasize basic tutorials and reference services geared particularly towards new members and younger staffers.
The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 mandated the appointment of highly qualified Specialists and Senior Specialists at CRS to be "available for special work" for congressional committees and members, on topics such as American government, foreign policy, economics, and others.
Under Mr. Mulhollan, these top two levels of CRS expertise have atrophied. "Not since 1989 has CRS hired a Senior Specialist," according to a former analyst. In 1988 there were 18 of them. "The number is now down to four, with all facing retirement." Similarly, in the late 1980s there were 38 research Specialists. "The number is now down to five, with all close to retirement."
"In short, Dan over his reign has wiped out the two top levels of analytical competence" at CRS, the former analyst said. He has allocated their slots and salaries to "full-time administrators who have never done analytical work."
A current CRS analyst said the future of the organization would have to be different from its past, and that sophisticated subject matter expertise may not be the main thing that Congress is looking for. "CRS is famed for being apolitical and expert, but some congressional staff also find it a bit stodgy. For example, the CRS website lacks full text search, and it doesn't have podcasts or videos. It's just a heap of long, dry reports, and often what the staffers need are primers or short essays."
As for the policy of blocking direct public access to CRS reports, Congress is responsible for that, but it was firmly embraced by Mr. Mulhollan. (On various occasions since the 1990s, he expressed disapproval of FAS due to our continuing practice of publishing CRS reports online.) His successor could conceivably help to facilitate a change of direction in this area.
Before his departure, Mr. Mulhollan is expected to name an acting director, "someone who likely will continue his management policies and practices," according to one observer. The appointment of a new CRS director will be up to the Librarian of Congress.
STATE OF THE UNION: TRADITION AND FUNCTION
The history and characteristic features of the State of the Union address, to be delivered by President Obama on January 25, were reviewed in a recent report from the Congressional Research Service.
"Presidents often acknowledge the difficult nature of the goals they set, but such acknowledgment is qualified by a strong statement that Americans will always fulfill their destiny, solve intractable problems, and ultimately 'establish a more perfect Union'."
"No President has ever reported that the crisis facing the nation was insurmountable."
See "The President's State of the Union Address: Tradition, Function, and Policy Implications," November 17, 2010:
CIA VIEWS CHINA'S "STUDENT INFORMANT SYSTEM"
The Chinese Communist Party employs a growing network of student informants who monitor political expression on university campuses and denounce professors and students for politically subversive or unconventional views, according to a recent report from the Central Intelligence Agency.
Established in 1989 after the Tienanmen Square protests, "the principal objective of the Student Informant System [SIS] is to ensure campus stability and to control the debate and discussion of politically sensitive issues," the CIA report said. "Students have had their scholarships revoked and their academic records penalized because of information provided by student informants that is sometimes highly subjective, such as facial expressions."
"The SIS employs traditional political spying and denunciation techniques, seeking to create a 'white terror' (bai se kong bu) environment on campus -- in which students and teachers fear surveillance more than arrest -- to achieve and maintain influence and control."
The SIS has been met with both scholarly criticism and popular resistance, the CIA report said. A leading academic journal contended last year that "The information reported by student informants is neither accurate nor objective" and that "promoting a culture of denunciation may become an obstacle to learning."
Meanwhile, "some Chinese students are resisting government efforts at political spying and rejecting the culture of denunciation. Netizens are publishing rosters of student informants online, resulting in the student informants being denounced by peers."
Yet "the government appears determined to continue to use the SIS as a tool to ensure political stability on Chinese campuses."
A copy of the CIA report was obtained by Secrecy News. See "China: Student Informant System to Expand, Limiting School Autonomy, Free Expression," CIA Open Source Works, November 23, 2010:
SENATE OFFICES TOLD TO AVOID WIKILEAKS
"Do not visit the WikiLeaks site," the Office of Senate Security told Senate employees and contractors in a memorandum that was circulated to Senate offices last week.
Senate employees are free to access news reports that may discuss classified material, but they were instructed not to download the "underlying documents that themselves are marked classified (including classified documents publicly available on the WikiLeaks and other websites)."
The "Updated WikiLeaks Guidance" was issued by the Office of Senate Security. The one-page memo is undated, but a Senate staffer said it was received in his office on January 21.
It represents an implicit view that respect for executive branch classification procedures should be the Senate's paramount concern here, trumping open deliberation over the contents of the leaked materials or any other considerations.
*In a paradoxical way, the Wikileaks project is dependent upon the very secrecy system that it works to disrupt. Without secrecy, after all, there cannot be leaks. So why doesn't the U.S. government try to "disarm" Wikileaks by pro-actively disclosing the cables that Wikileaks has already obtained? Instead of passively enduring months or years of selective disclosures, the government could seize the initiative back from Wikileaks. Voluntary disclosure would permit it to present the most sensitive information with whatever explanatory or contextual material it wished to add.
For the moment, at least, that is not a realistic option, replied William J. Bosanko of the Information Security Oversight Office. Though the leaked records held by Wikileaks and its media partners are already compromised, he acknowledged, officially releasing them right now would interfere with other objectives that must take precedence. These include briefing foreign governments whose information has been exposed, correcting security vulnerabilities, and penalizing the unauthorized disclosures. Mr. Bosanko spoke at a January 20 panel discussion sponsored by the Collaboration on Government Secrecy at American University Washington College of Law.
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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