Commentary Magazine


Topic: Federation of American Scientists

Oral Transmission

Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post on a new secrecy policy the Bush administration is introducing. It creates a protected category called “Controlled Unclassified Information” that replaces the confusing “Sensitive but Unclassified.”

The new category is designed to safeguard information that doesn’t rise to the level of “secret” or “top-secret,” but should be kept out of the public domain nonetheless. Things like blueprints for tunnels and bridges that might be of use to terrorists fall under its rubric.

One novel feature of the new regulation is the requirement that, as Pincus explains, “one government official talking to another about information on terrorists will have to begin by saying: ‘What I am about to tell you is controlled unclassified information enhanced with specified dissemination.’”

This is a curious turn that intersects interestingly with the ongoing prosecution of two employees of AIPAC, facing charges of illicitly receiving and transmitting classified information. One of the issues in the case revolves around the fact that no documents changed hands. All of the allegedly classified information the defendants received was conveyed to them in conversation. The defense is claiming that they had no way of knowing what, if anything, was classified in what was given to them.

The new secrecy policy tightens up the secrecy regulations to deal precisely with that kind of situation. It left me wondering whether the step was taken in response to the gap revealed by the AIPAC case.

Pincus says nothing about this. Instead, quite predictably, he quotes two experts mocking the new policy.

Michael Clark, a contributing editor to the blog Daily Kos, who first wrote about the Bush memorandum, said the White House “seems to have used the crafting of new rules as an opportunity to expand the range of government secrecy.” Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, described it as a “not even half-baked” exercise in policymaking.

Also predictably, Pincus quotes no experts from the government or on the side of the government explaining the timing and significance of the new policy.

Connecting the Dots is left wanting to know more — yet another subject to dig into.

Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post on a new secrecy policy the Bush administration is introducing. It creates a protected category called “Controlled Unclassified Information” that replaces the confusing “Sensitive but Unclassified.”

The new category is designed to safeguard information that doesn’t rise to the level of “secret” or “top-secret,” but should be kept out of the public domain nonetheless. Things like blueprints for tunnels and bridges that might be of use to terrorists fall under its rubric.

One novel feature of the new regulation is the requirement that, as Pincus explains, “one government official talking to another about information on terrorists will have to begin by saying: ‘What I am about to tell you is controlled unclassified information enhanced with specified dissemination.’”

This is a curious turn that intersects interestingly with the ongoing prosecution of two employees of AIPAC, facing charges of illicitly receiving and transmitting classified information. One of the issues in the case revolves around the fact that no documents changed hands. All of the allegedly classified information the defendants received was conveyed to them in conversation. The defense is claiming that they had no way of knowing what, if anything, was classified in what was given to them.

The new secrecy policy tightens up the secrecy regulations to deal precisely with that kind of situation. It left me wondering whether the step was taken in response to the gap revealed by the AIPAC case.

Pincus says nothing about this. Instead, quite predictably, he quotes two experts mocking the new policy.

Michael Clark, a contributing editor to the blog Daily Kos, who first wrote about the Bush memorandum, said the White House “seems to have used the crafting of new rules as an opportunity to expand the range of government secrecy.” Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, described it as a “not even half-baked” exercise in policymaking.

Also predictably, Pincus quotes no experts from the government or on the side of the government explaining the timing and significance of the new policy.

Connecting the Dots is left wanting to know more — yet another subject to dig into.

Read Less

Cool It, Aftergood

Steve Aftergood, the proprietor of the blog Secrecy News, knows more about secrecy in government than just about anyone else in the United States. He has also thought deeply about the issue. He and I disagree about a great many things, including his contention that the Bush administration has been excessively secretive about what he calls its “shameful” activities in the realm of national security.

But unlike some of his colleagues in the open-government lobby, Aftergood believes that “genuine national security secrets such as confidential sources and legally authorized intelligence methods should be protected from disclosure.”

In this, he evidently disagrees with the premise of Wikileaks.org, whose purpose is to develop “an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis” that will combine “the protection and anonymity of cutting-edge cryptographic technologies. . . . Anybody can post comments to it. No technical knowledge is required.”

Aftergood has pointed out that there is a cardinal distinction between unauthorized disclosure of classified information in a democracy and in an authoritarian state, a distinction that Wikileaks.org (the site has been temporarily shut down by order of a federal judge) aims to blur:

In a democratic system, people have the opportunity to define their own disclosure standards. If you violate those standards or encourage others to do so then you are in effect undermining the democratic process.

Jay Lim of Wikileaks.org is unhappy with this kind of criticism, and has written a message to Aftergood, which has been posted on Secrecy News.

Who’s side are you on here Stephen [sic]? It is time this constant harping stopped.

You know full well if you make n comments about us and m negative ones about us it’ll only be the negative comment that is reported — since everyone else has only positive things to say and by your position at FAS [Federation of American Scientists} there is an expectation of positive comment. You are not a child. As a result of your previous criticism it seem you are becoming the “go to” man for negative comments on Wikileaks. Over the last year, our most quoted critic has not been a right wing radio host, it has not been the Chinese ambassador, it has not been Pentagon bureaucrats, it has been you Stephen [sic]. You are the number one public enemy of this project. On top of everything else, your quote is the only critical entry on our Wikipedia page. Some friend of openness!

We are very disappointed in your lack of support and suggest you cool it. If you don’t, we will, with great reluctance, be forced to respond.

Jay Lim

“Cool it” Aftergood. In other words: the message from Wikileaks.org to Aftergood is that he should shut up or they will “be forced to respond.” This sounds awfully like a threat. Is it not ominous that this is how some advocates of openness in government want to conduct the discussion? What does this tell us about Wikileaks.org project and the people behind it?

Steve Aftergood, the proprietor of the blog Secrecy News, knows more about secrecy in government than just about anyone else in the United States. He has also thought deeply about the issue. He and I disagree about a great many things, including his contention that the Bush administration has been excessively secretive about what he calls its “shameful” activities in the realm of national security.

But unlike some of his colleagues in the open-government lobby, Aftergood believes that “genuine national security secrets such as confidential sources and legally authorized intelligence methods should be protected from disclosure.”

In this, he evidently disagrees with the premise of Wikileaks.org, whose purpose is to develop “an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis” that will combine “the protection and anonymity of cutting-edge cryptographic technologies. . . . Anybody can post comments to it. No technical knowledge is required.”

Aftergood has pointed out that there is a cardinal distinction between unauthorized disclosure of classified information in a democracy and in an authoritarian state, a distinction that Wikileaks.org (the site has been temporarily shut down by order of a federal judge) aims to blur:

In a democratic system, people have the opportunity to define their own disclosure standards. If you violate those standards or encourage others to do so then you are in effect undermining the democratic process.

Jay Lim of Wikileaks.org is unhappy with this kind of criticism, and has written a message to Aftergood, which has been posted on Secrecy News.

Who’s side are you on here Stephen [sic]? It is time this constant harping stopped.

You know full well if you make n comments about us and m negative ones about us it’ll only be the negative comment that is reported — since everyone else has only positive things to say and by your position at FAS [Federation of American Scientists} there is an expectation of positive comment. You are not a child. As a result of your previous criticism it seem you are becoming the “go to” man for negative comments on Wikileaks. Over the last year, our most quoted critic has not been a right wing radio host, it has not been the Chinese ambassador, it has not been Pentagon bureaucrats, it has been you Stephen [sic]. You are the number one public enemy of this project. On top of everything else, your quote is the only critical entry on our Wikipedia page. Some friend of openness!

We are very disappointed in your lack of support and suggest you cool it. If you don’t, we will, with great reluctance, be forced to respond.

Jay Lim

“Cool it” Aftergood. In other words: the message from Wikileaks.org to Aftergood is that he should shut up or they will “be forced to respond.” This sounds awfully like a threat. Is it not ominous that this is how some advocates of openness in government want to conduct the discussion? What does this tell us about Wikileaks.org project and the people behind it?

Read Less

Widespread Warrantless Wiretapping of the American Media?

Are the internal communications of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, ABC, CBS, and NBC news routinely being intercepted and analyzed without warrants? The shocking answer is probably yes.

These news outfits all regularly collect classified information from the U.S. national- security apparatus. Some of the highly sensitive secrets they gather are put before the public, as when as in 2006 the New York Times disclosed a joint CIA-Treasury program to track al-Qaeda finances. But some secrets, the media decline to publish, making their own judgments that to do so would damage national security or imperil American lives.

But as editors deliberate about such sensitive matters, public officials may well be listening in, trying to uncover exactly what journalists know. Only they are not officials from our government.

In November 1983, Ronald Reagan issued a top-secret directive, which has now been declassified and posted on the web by the Federation of American Scientists. It explained that:

Mobile and fixed communications systems used by key U.S. Government officials in the Nation’s capital and surrounding areas are especially vulnerable to intercept and exploitation by foreign intelligence services. Information transmitted by such systems often is extremely sensitive. Even information which in isolation is unclassified can reveal highly sensitive classified information when taken in aggregate.

And Reagan imposed a solution:

To limit this aspect of the hostile intelligence threat, I direct immediate action be taken to provide secure mobile and fixed official telecommunication systems to support the U.S Government officials in the following categories.

The directive proceeded to list the various officials whose communications were to be immediately secured. We can assume, once this directive was fulfilled, that foreign intelligence agencies found it much harder to conduct electronic surveillance of the U.S. government.

But what about protecting the communications of the press?

Let’s take an editor like Bill Keller of the Times at his word when he says that his paper, in the name of safeguarding American security, only publishes a fraction of the classification information it unearths from the U.S. government.  Even if it is true, it is irrelevant.

For technologically sophisticated foreign spy outfits, like Russian and Chinese intelligence, directing antennae toward the headquarters of the Washington Post or the Washington bureau of the New York Times, or for that matter, the New Yorker — the home of that master liberator of American secrets, Seymour Hersh — would be a perfectly logical and highly fruitful move. What better way to get up-to-date assessments of high-level U.S. government deliberations? And what better way to uncover the occasional highly significant classified fact?

Is such surveillance really going on? Connecting the Dots has no direct evidence that it is. We can only conjecture. And ask knowledgeable readers to help connect the dots.

Are the internal communications of the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, ABC, CBS, and NBC news routinely being intercepted and analyzed without warrants? The shocking answer is probably yes.

These news outfits all regularly collect classified information from the U.S. national- security apparatus. Some of the highly sensitive secrets they gather are put before the public, as when as in 2006 the New York Times disclosed a joint CIA-Treasury program to track al-Qaeda finances. But some secrets, the media decline to publish, making their own judgments that to do so would damage national security or imperil American lives.

But as editors deliberate about such sensitive matters, public officials may well be listening in, trying to uncover exactly what journalists know. Only they are not officials from our government.

In November 1983, Ronald Reagan issued a top-secret directive, which has now been declassified and posted on the web by the Federation of American Scientists. It explained that:

Mobile and fixed communications systems used by key U.S. Government officials in the Nation’s capital and surrounding areas are especially vulnerable to intercept and exploitation by foreign intelligence services. Information transmitted by such systems often is extremely sensitive. Even information which in isolation is unclassified can reveal highly sensitive classified information when taken in aggregate.

And Reagan imposed a solution:

To limit this aspect of the hostile intelligence threat, I direct immediate action be taken to provide secure mobile and fixed official telecommunication systems to support the U.S Government officials in the following categories.

The directive proceeded to list the various officials whose communications were to be immediately secured. We can assume, once this directive was fulfilled, that foreign intelligence agencies found it much harder to conduct electronic surveillance of the U.S. government.

But what about protecting the communications of the press?

Let’s take an editor like Bill Keller of the Times at his word when he says that his paper, in the name of safeguarding American security, only publishes a fraction of the classification information it unearths from the U.S. government.  Even if it is true, it is irrelevant.

For technologically sophisticated foreign spy outfits, like Russian and Chinese intelligence, directing antennae toward the headquarters of the Washington Post or the Washington bureau of the New York Times, or for that matter, the New Yorker — the home of that master liberator of American secrets, Seymour Hersh — would be a perfectly logical and highly fruitful move. What better way to get up-to-date assessments of high-level U.S. government deliberations? And what better way to uncover the occasional highly significant classified fact?

Is such surveillance really going on? Connecting the Dots has no direct evidence that it is. We can only conjecture. And ask knowledgeable readers to help connect the dots.

Read Less

Smarter Secrecy?

Chalk one up for my friend Steve Aftergood. Back in 2002, his organization, the Federation of American Scientists, sued the CIA in a fruitless effort to get it to declassify the sum total it was spending annually on intelligence. That number had long been classified. But the 9/11 Commission recommended that it be made public and Congress agreed. The WaPo reports that Adm. Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, will announce today that the fiscal 2007 intelligence budget is near $50 billion. Aftergood’s efforts have borne fruit after all.

But will this revelation damage national security?

Back in August, in a post entitled Secrecy for the Sake of Secrecy, I argued that declassification of the budget total was a bad idea, not because the information itself was sensitive but because it would send the wrong signal.

“Good and completely rational arguments exist for disclosing the intelligence budget,” I wrote. “But the larger fact is that an unfortunate and damaging climate of openness has come to surround things that should be wrapped in darkness. For that reason alone, if for no other, disclosing the total intelligence budget would be a step in the wrong direction.”

Aftergood commented sardonically on my post at the time, saying:   

Gabe, I find this argument hard to follow. Can it be that because “highly sensitive secrets . . . are leaked to the press with regularity” we should classify things that are not highly sensitive? Is this some kind of hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-you remedy? I think the new consensus in favor of budget disclosure makes much more sense: Smarter secrecy, not more secrecy.

Aftergood and I often sharply disagree about what constitutes “smarter secrecy.” But let’s give him one point in this round. My argument was somewhat perverse. I will take a zero.

Chalk one up for my friend Steve Aftergood. Back in 2002, his organization, the Federation of American Scientists, sued the CIA in a fruitless effort to get it to declassify the sum total it was spending annually on intelligence. That number had long been classified. But the 9/11 Commission recommended that it be made public and Congress agreed. The WaPo reports that Adm. Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, will announce today that the fiscal 2007 intelligence budget is near $50 billion. Aftergood’s efforts have borne fruit after all.

But will this revelation damage national security?

Back in August, in a post entitled Secrecy for the Sake of Secrecy, I argued that declassification of the budget total was a bad idea, not because the information itself was sensitive but because it would send the wrong signal.

“Good and completely rational arguments exist for disclosing the intelligence budget,” I wrote. “But the larger fact is that an unfortunate and damaging climate of openness has come to surround things that should be wrapped in darkness. For that reason alone, if for no other, disclosing the total intelligence budget would be a step in the wrong direction.”

Aftergood commented sardonically on my post at the time, saying:   

Gabe, I find this argument hard to follow. Can it be that because “highly sensitive secrets . . . are leaked to the press with regularity” we should classify things that are not highly sensitive? Is this some kind of hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-you remedy? I think the new consensus in favor of budget disclosure makes much more sense: Smarter secrecy, not more secrecy.

Aftergood and I often sharply disagree about what constitutes “smarter secrecy.” But let’s give him one point in this round. My argument was somewhat perverse. I will take a zero.

Read Less

Government Secrets

Should We Expel the Jews From Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi?

The open-government lobby in Washington is highly influential. From the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to the First Amendment Center, and with many stops in between, there are dozens of organizations fighting against government secrecy, even in cases where secrecy is essential for the protection of our national security.

But if some of this is heedless and even mindless, it does not follow that everything the open-government lobby does is bad. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS), one of the most influential groups in the lobby, is on the Left–sometimes the far Left–on many issues. FAS posts an immense collection of documents pertaining to national security, some of them open-source material, some of them declassified by the U.S. government, and some of them “declassified” after being published by FAS itself.

Whether such private acts of declassification are a good or bad thing is a subject for another day. But the FAS website, especially its Secrecy News blog run by Steven Aftergood, almost always touches on important subjects and is a daily stop on my tour of the World Wide Web.

In its most recent post, FAS features some open-source material from the American Civil War. The subject is, of all things, “Abraham Lincoln and the Jews.” More specifically, it is Order No. 11, issued by General Ulysses S. Grant on December 17, 1862, expelling all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, where his forces had taken the field. Why did Grant take this action, and what was Lincoln’s response? To find out, click here.

Should We Expel the Jews From Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi?

The open-government lobby in Washington is highly influential. From the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to the First Amendment Center, and with many stops in between, there are dozens of organizations fighting against government secrecy, even in cases where secrecy is essential for the protection of our national security.

But if some of this is heedless and even mindless, it does not follow that everything the open-government lobby does is bad. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS), one of the most influential groups in the lobby, is on the Left–sometimes the far Left–on many issues. FAS posts an immense collection of documents pertaining to national security, some of them open-source material, some of them declassified by the U.S. government, and some of them “declassified” after being published by FAS itself.

Whether such private acts of declassification are a good or bad thing is a subject for another day. But the FAS website, especially its Secrecy News blog run by Steven Aftergood, almost always touches on important subjects and is a daily stop on my tour of the World Wide Web.

In its most recent post, FAS features some open-source material from the American Civil War. The subject is, of all things, “Abraham Lincoln and the Jews.” More specifically, it is Order No. 11, issued by General Ulysses S. Grant on December 17, 1862, expelling all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, where his forces had taken the field. Why did Grant take this action, and what was Lincoln’s response? To find out, click here.

Read Less

Secrecy for the Sake of Secrecy

Ever since the CIA was established in 1947, the annual amount of money spent on intelligence has been treated as a closely guarded secret. In recent years, a small army of liberal advocacy groups has been calling for disclosure. Their cause gained momentum when the 9/11 Commission threw its weight behind it. Just this past week, Congress passed a law, which President Bush has already signed, that would compel such disclosure.

But the House of Representatives is now busy undoing its own work, and the final outcome is far from clear. Bush, for his part, signed the bill under duress. His administration, remaining faithful to its reputation (ill-deserved, as I have argued here) as the “most secretive” in American history, has consistently argued against disclosure.

Read More

Ever since the CIA was established in 1947, the annual amount of money spent on intelligence has been treated as a closely guarded secret. In recent years, a small army of liberal advocacy groups has been calling for disclosure. Their cause gained momentum when the 9/11 Commission threw its weight behind it. Just this past week, Congress passed a law, which President Bush has already signed, that would compel such disclosure.

But the House of Representatives is now busy undoing its own work, and the final outcome is far from clear. Bush, for his part, signed the bill under duress. His administration, remaining faithful to its reputation (ill-deserved, as I have argued here) as the “most secretive” in American history, has consistently argued against disclosure.

The administration’s most recent statement came in February:

Disclosure, including disclosure to the nation’s enemies and adversaries in a time of war, of the amounts requested by the President and provided by the Congress for the conduct of the nation’s intelligence activities would provide no meaningful information to the general American public, but would provide significant intelligence to America’s adversaries and could cause damage to the national-security interests of the United States.

Does this position make sense, and does it constitute the best argument against disclosure? Any honest attempt to answer must come in two parts. What damage might be done to American security by revealing the number; and would that number really provide “no meaningful information” to the American public?

Certainly, during the period of the cold war when we were facing a single rival superpower, the total amount the U.S. spent gathering intelligence could have been of some value to Moscow. If the total budget showed a significant up-tick from year to year, that might have revealed something important—the inauguration, say, of a major new satellite system for listening in on Soviet military communications.

Even if that information would have been of limited value to the Kremlin, there was a plausible case for preventing the USSR from gaining even marginal advantages in the high-stakes competition of the era.

But the Soviet Union is no more. Now we face rising but still second-rate powers like China, a range of much smaller rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea, and terrorist bands worldwide like al Qaeda. Could trends in the total U.S. intelligence budget be of any value to any of them? It is hard to see how.

What about the American public? Would it benefit from knowing whether, in a given year, more or less is being spent? As it happens, during the Clinton era, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Federation of American Scientists, the intelligence budget was disclosed for two successive years. In 1997, the sum was 26.6 billion; a year later, it had increased fractionally to $26.7 billion.

In these two numbers alone, we see a powerful case for revealing the budget. I do not know whether the two numbers were adjusted for inflation, but if they were, what they show is an intelligence budget that was flat. If they were not, they show an intelligence budget in decline. A look at the entire intelligence-budget trend-line for the Clinton presidency might well offer a valuable instrument in assessing just how we fell victim to the worst intelligence failure in American history on September 11, 2001. Surely that would qualify as “meaningful information.”

Still, this does not settle the matter. There is an additional argument for secrecy that the Bush administration did not make but should have.

The fact of the matter is that we have been far too open about intelligence matters in recent years. In World War II and throughout much of the cold war it was rightly taken for granted that “loose lips sink ships.” Today, by way of contrast, highly sensitive secrets, including those regarding ongoing operations against al Qaeda, are leaked to the press with regularity. Our culture seems to have forgotten that too much openness can get us all—or many of us—killed.

Good and completely rational arguments exist for disclosing the intelligence budget. But the larger fact is that an unfortunate and damaging climate of openness has come to surround things that should be wrapped in darkness. For that reason alone, if for no other, disclosing the total intelligence budget would be a step in the wrong direction.

Read Less

Have NoFEAR: The CIA Is on the Case

Not long after the attacks of 9/11 took the lives of some 3,000 Americans, Congress acted to pass the NoFEAR Act of 2002, putting the CIA under its strictures. If one were to guess by the title and the timing, one might conclude that the NoFEAR Act was designed to reconfigure our lead intelligence agency so that it would be well organized to locate, capture, and/or kill our terrorist adversaries. But one would be wrong. All that the the NoFear Act required was for the CIA to work harder in weeding out discrimination and to post summary statistics on its website about its progress in resolving complaints about things like “sexual” and “non-sexual” harassment. In 2005, the typical such complaint was under investigation for an average of 897 days. By the following year, the CIA had made a huge stride forward and the typical complaint was investigated for an average of only 396 days. 

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, Iran’s stark raving president, is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Does the CIA have inside sources in Tehran that report to us what he tells his cabinet members, or microphones in his home so that we know what he chats about with his charming wife through her chador? I wouldn’t count on it.

Once upon a time, though, we had a very different kind of intelligence agency.

Read More

Not long after the attacks of 9/11 took the lives of some 3,000 Americans, Congress acted to pass the NoFEAR Act of 2002, putting the CIA under its strictures. If one were to guess by the title and the timing, one might conclude that the NoFEAR Act was designed to reconfigure our lead intelligence agency so that it would be well organized to locate, capture, and/or kill our terrorist adversaries. But one would be wrong. All that the the NoFear Act required was for the CIA to work harder in weeding out discrimination and to post summary statistics on its website about its progress in resolving complaints about things like “sexual” and “non-sexual” harassment. In 2005, the typical such complaint was under investigation for an average of 897 days. By the following year, the CIA had made a huge stride forward and the typical complaint was investigated for an average of only 396 days. 

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, Iran’s stark raving president, is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Does the CIA have inside sources in Tehran that report to us what he tells his cabinet members, or microphones in his home so that we know what he chats about with his charming wife through her chador? I wouldn’t count on it.

Once upon a time, though, we had a very different kind of intelligence agency.

During the cold war, when the divided city of Berlin was regularly the pivot point of world crises, America’s lead spy agency was vitally interested in knowing what the Russian military high command was talking about in its local headquarters and in its discussions with Moscow. As early as 1948, U.S. intelligence officers began to contemplate the possibility of tapping Soviet and East German communication lines. Sometime in 1952, an actual operation to do just that was set in motion: the Berlin Tunnel project, codenamed PBJOINTLY.  

A clandestine tunnel was mapped out—some 1,500 feet long, extending well into the Soviet zone where military communication cables were known to be buried. A major problem was how to handle the huge volume of extracted dirt without tipping off the omnipresent guards along the border. A number of different ideas were entertained. One CIA employee proposed digging a hole and dumping the dirt into it; out of this facetious suggestion a real solution to the problem was found.

That piquant detail, and the story of the tunnel operation in full, are recounted in an internal CIA history of the operation written in 1967 and only recently declassified (and made available in the invaluable online document repository maintained by the Federation of American Scientists). The episode may have been one of the great U.S. intelligence triumphs of the cold war. But as with all things in the intelligence wilderness of mirrors, maybe not.

The official history notes that the existence of the tunnel was disclosed to the Russians at its inception by a Soviet mole inside British intelligence. For unknown reasons Moscow may then have let it operate only to terminate it on their own schedule. But a good deal of countervailing evidence suggests that PBJOINTLY came to a more prosaic end brought about by bad weather.

In April 1956, heavy rain caused some short-circuits in Soviet cables; repair efforts were made to restore the broken links; in the course of replacing aging lines, Soviet technicians found the equipment chamber at the end of the tunnel where the Americans were tapping their communications. But the CIA, which was very clever back then, had put an official looking sign on the entrance in Russian and German: “Entry Forbidden by Order of the Commanding General.” In case the instruction was disobeyed, they had also placed a microphone inside the chamber. The conversations the CIA picked up made it clear that the Soviets had no idea what they had stumbled upon. Only gradually, as they Russians investigated further, did the nature of the chamber dawn on them.

With that, after eleven months and eleven days of operation, the CIA tunnel project came to an end.  While it was running, however, it provided a wealth of highly sensitive information about Soviet politics and military developments in a range of spheres, including discussion of unrest among Soviet nuclear scientists. The official history comments on the information’s reliability: “Despite our knowledge that certain elements of the Soviet government were aware of our plans to tap these cables, we have no evidence that the Soviets attempted to feed us deception material through this source.”

Could American intelligence replicate such a feat today? We don’t know what we don’t know about the CIA’s successes, so it may be unfair to judge. But with the agency attempting to comply with a hundred absurd congressional mandates that have turned it into a timid and paralytic bureaucracy, it seems highly unlikely. We are in the midst of one of the most dangerous moments in our history, and given what it tells us about our own lack of seriousness in matters of intelligence, the NoFEAR Act itself is one of the major things we have to fear.

Read Less

Put Steven Aftergood in the Brig

The men and women who are defending our country, whether in the field or in the Pentagon, deserve our gratitude and respect. But sometimes the U.S. Army does things that are wrong, and sometimes it does things that are dumb.

In the latter category, consider its ham-fisted efforts to protect sensitive military information from disclosure to the enemy. Under the title “Operations Security” (OPSEC), the Army recently published an updated, 79-page, densely packed manual on the subject, replete with instructions like the following:

(a) Identification of critical information – determine what information needs protection.
(b) Analysis of threats – identify the adversaries and how they can collect information.
(c) Analysis of vulnerabilities – analyze what critical information friendly forces are exposing.
(d) Assessment of risk – assess what protective measures should be implemented.
(e) Application of appropriate OPSEC measures – countermeasures that protect critical information.

The OPSEC document itself contains a classification marking of “For Official Use Only” (FOUO) noting that it “contains technical or operational information” and that “Distribution is limited to U.S. Government agencies and their contractors.”

It also bears a “Destruction Notice,” instructing those who possess it to “destroy [it] by any method that will prevent disclosure of contents or reconstruction of the document.”

The trouble is that the OPSEC document is now widely available on the web. Published first by Wired News, it was then replicated by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), the Left-leaning advocacy group which runs a website that is one of the world’s best private repositories of documents pertaining to U.S. security and secrecy.

Read More

The men and women who are defending our country, whether in the field or in the Pentagon, deserve our gratitude and respect. But sometimes the U.S. Army does things that are wrong, and sometimes it does things that are dumb.

In the latter category, consider its ham-fisted efforts to protect sensitive military information from disclosure to the enemy. Under the title “Operations Security” (OPSEC), the Army recently published an updated, 79-page, densely packed manual on the subject, replete with instructions like the following:

(a) Identification of critical information – determine what information needs protection.
(b) Analysis of threats – identify the adversaries and how they can collect information.
(c) Analysis of vulnerabilities – analyze what critical information friendly forces are exposing.
(d) Assessment of risk – assess what protective measures should be implemented.
(e) Application of appropriate OPSEC measures – countermeasures that protect critical information.

The OPSEC document itself contains a classification marking of “For Official Use Only” (FOUO) noting that it “contains technical or operational information” and that “Distribution is limited to U.S. Government agencies and their contractors.”

It also bears a “Destruction Notice,” instructing those who possess it to “destroy [it] by any method that will prevent disclosure of contents or reconstruction of the document.”

The trouble is that the OPSEC document is now widely available on the web. Published first by Wired News, it was then replicated by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), the Left-leaning advocacy group which runs a website that is one of the world’s best private repositories of documents pertaining to U.S. security and secrecy.

The Army has now demanded that FAS remove the document from circulation. “You have Army Publications hosted on your website illegally,” wrote Cheryl Clark of the Army Publishing Directorate, “There are only 5 Official Army Publications Sites. You are not one of them, you can link to our publications, but you cannot host them. . . . Please remove this publication immediately or further action will be taken.”

Steven Aftergood, who runs the FAS website, has refused to obey:

Dear Ms. Clark,

I have considered your request that we remove Army publications from the Federation of American Scientists website. For the reasons below, I have decided not to comply.

You indicate that we have posted Army documents “illegally.” That is not true. The posted documents are “works of the United States Government” under 17 U.S.C. 101. Such items cannot be copyrighted, as explained in 17 U.S.C. 105. Nor to my knowledge is there any other law that would prohibit posting of such documents on a public or private website.

You threaten unspecified “further action” if we do not comply with Army regulations governing distribution of records marked “For Official Use Only.” But the Federation of American Scientists, a non-governmental organization, is not a component of the U.S. Army and is not subject to internal Army regulations, including regulations on FOUO documents.

Accordingly, our publications are not illegal nor in violation of any applicable regulation.

I recognize that the Army has a legitimate interest in ensuring that its online publications are authentic and up to date. I have therefore added a disclaimer to our Army doctrine web page, indicating that ours is not an official U.S. Army website. I have also provided direct links to the five official websites.

http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/army/index.html

I believe this addresses the substance of your concerns, if not the details.

Steven Aftergood

What will happen next? I do not know. But Aftergood, who is a thoughtful critic of government secrecy—he and I have debated issues of secrecy and government leaks in the pages of COMMENTARY—would seem to have the law on his side.

If the U.S. Army is serious about operational secrecy, it would do well to keep its secrets truly secret and not let them slip into the hands of the Federation of American Scientists. Trying to recall a secret once it is out only compounds whatever damage has been done. Even before the advent of the Internet, it was impossible to squeeze toothpaste back into the tube.

Read Less

Lost In Space

On January 11, China employed a medium-range ballistic missile to destroy a communications satellite 537 miles above the earth. Hans Kristensen, a specialist on space warfare at the Federation of American Scientists, called the Chinese action a “major foreign-policy blunder.” China, he wrote, “has severely weakened its own status in the push for international limitations on military space activities.”

What could the Chinese have been thinking? The New York Times editorial page had an answer (link requires subscription). Citing unnamed experts, it suggested “that China’s latest test is intended to prod the United States to join serious negotiations” to limit anti-satellite warfare.

Read More

On January 11, China employed a medium-range ballistic missile to destroy a communications satellite 537 miles above the earth. Hans Kristensen, a specialist on space warfare at the Federation of American Scientists, called the Chinese action a “major foreign-policy blunder.” China, he wrote, “has severely weakened its own status in the push for international limitations on military space activities.”

What could the Chinese have been thinking? The New York Times editorial page had an answer (link requires subscription). Citing unnamed experts, it suggested “that China’s latest test is intended to prod the United States to join serious negotiations” to limit anti-satellite warfare.


Perhaps. But perhaps this view is nonsense. Perhaps the Chinese have very good reasons for developing an anti-satellite warfare capability, independently of whether the U.S. participates in arms-control talks or not.

The U.S. currently enjoys immense military superiority over China. Why would it be surprising for the Chinese military to seek a relatively low-cost way to offset American advantages? Investing in anti-satellite warfare–up until January 11, only Russia and the U.S. had workable systems in this arena–would be a quite logical direction in which to proceed.

Michael Pillsbury, a leading analyst of Chinese military affairs, has just produced a comprehensive study of what Chinese military thinkers–he cites some thirty different open-source studies–are saying about such matters.

Of the thirty Chinese proposals, one set would be particularly challenging to US military vulnerabilities in a crisis. In each of their books, Chinese Colonels Li, Jia, and Yuan all advocated covert deployment of a sophisticated anti-satellite weapon system to be used against United States in a surprise manner without warning. Even a small-scale anti-satellite attack in a crisis against 50 US satellites [assuming a mix of targeted military-reconnaissance satellites, navigation satellites, and communication satellites] could have a catastrophic effect not only on U.S. military forces, but on the US civilian economy.

A Chinese effort to acquire a “capacity to disable American intelligence, communications, and navigation satellites and to disrupt U.S. information systems, both in the region and beyond” is what Aaron Friedberg warned us about in a prescient and path-breaking article in Commentary seven years ago.

Monopoly is the American national game of strategy. It was invented in the early 1930′s and takes five minutes to master. Here are the rules.

Go is the Chinese national game of strategy. It was invented more than 2,500 years ago and takes a lifetime to master. Here are the rules.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.