Tag Archives: By Steven Aftergood

Old NSA Records Remain Inaccessible to Researchers

NSA Records Languish at National Archives for Now

     Last year, the National Archives (NARA) acquired a large number of historically valuable National Security Agency records. But they remain inaccessible to researchers, at least for the time being.
By Steven Aftergood
Secrecy News
7-17-17

David Langbart of NARA described the situation at a closed meeting of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee late last year. According to recently published minutes of that meeting:

“The [NSA] records consist of approximately 19,000 folders without any real arrangement. These records mostly consist of technical, analytical, historical, operational, and translation reports and related materials. Most of the records date from the period from the 1940s to the 1960s, but there are also documents from the 1920s and 1930s and even earlier. The NSA reviewed the records for declassification before accessioning and most documents and folder titles remain classified. Langbart concluded that the finding aid prepared by NSA was the only practical way to locate documents of interest for researchers, but it is 557 pages long and is classified.”

The National Archives confirmed that this description remains accurate today.

So not only are these thousands of half-century-old records still classified or otherwise unavailable, but the finding aid that would enable researchers to locate specific documents of interest is itself a classified document.

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US Military Advantage in Cyberspace is Challenged

     The superiority of the US military in cyberspace, which once could be taken for granted, is gradually eroding, says an Army Field Manual published this week.
By Steven Aftergood
Secrecy News
4-14-17

In the past decade, “U.S. forces dominated cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) in Afghanistan and Iraq against enemies and adversaries lacking the technical capabilities to challenge our superiority in cyberspace.”

“However, regional peers have since demonstrated impressive capabilities in a hybrid operational environment that threaten the Army’s dominance in cyberspace and the EMS,” according to the new Field Manual.

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Spy Satellite Agency Modifies Secrecy Policies



National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

     The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has modified its classification policies in favor of heightened secrecy, withholding budget records that were previously considered releasable and redesignating certain unclassified budget information as classified.
By Steven Aftergood
Secrecy News
2-2-17

NRO is the U.S. intelligence agency that builds and operates the nation’s intelligence satellites.

ince 2006, and for most of the past decade, the NRO has released unclassified portions of its budget justification documents in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

But in a January 23, 2017 letter, the NRO said it would no longer release that unclassified budget information, which it now deems classified.

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Spy Satellite Agency Modifies Secrecy Policies



National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

     The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has modified its classification policies in favor of heightened secrecy, withholding budget records that were previously considered releasable and redesignating certain unclassified budget information as classified.
By Steven Aftergood
Secrecy News
2-2-17

NRO is the U.S. intelligence agency that builds and operates the nation’s intelligence satellites.

ince 2006, and for most of the past decade, the NRO has released unclassified portions of its budget justification documents in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

But in a January 23, 2017 letter, the NRO said it would no longer release that unclassified budget information, which it now deems classified.

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Increased Transparency Re Disclosures of Intelligence Records



Increased Transparency Re Disclosures of Intelligence Records

     In the final days and weeks of the Obama Administration, intelligence officials took steps to promote increased transparency and made several noteworthy disclosures of intelligence policy records.
By Steven Aftergood
Secrecy News
1-22-17

On January 9, DNI James Clapper signed a new version of Intelligence Community Directive 208, now titled “Maximizing the Utility of Analytic Products.” The revised directive notably incorporates new instructions to include transparency as a consideration in preparing intelligence analyses.

Thus, one way of “maximizing utility,” the directive said, is to “Demonstrate Transparency”:

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Disclosing Classified Info to the Press — With Permission

Disclosing Classified Info to the Press — With Permission

     Intelligence officials disclosed classified information to members of the press on at least three occasions in 2013, according to a National Security Agency report to Congress that was released last week under the Freedom of Information Act.
By Steven Aftergood
Secrecy News
1-4-17

See Congressional Notification — Authorized Disclosures of Classified Information to Media Personnel, NSA memorandum to the staff director, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, December 13, 2013.

The specific information that NSA gave to the unnamed reporters was not declassified. But the disclosures were not “leaks,” or unauthorized disclosures. They were, instead, authorized disclosures. For their part, the reporters agreed not to disseminate the information further.

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Congress Passes FOIA Improvement Act


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     The House of Representatives yesterday approved the Freedom of Information Act Improvement Act, which had previously been adopted by the Senate. If signed by President Obama, as expected, it will strengthen several provisions of the FOIA and should enhance disclosure of government records.
By Steven Aftergood
Secrecy News
6-14-16

The bill “reaffirms the public’s right to know and puts in place several reforms to stop agencies from slowly eroding the effectiveness of using FOIA to exercise that right,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC).

“The most important reform is the presumption of openness,” according to Rep. Meadows. “Before claiming an exemption [from disclosure under FOIA], agencies must first determine whether they could reasonably foresee an actual harm.”

“The bill would also put a 25-year sunset on exemption 5 of FOIA, the deliberative process exemption,” added Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). “It would modernize FOIA by requiring the Office of Management and Budget to create a central FOIA Web site for requesters to submit their request, making it more efficient and accessible to the public.” …

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‘Fact of’ Nuclear Weapons on Okinawa Declassified

'Fact of' Nuclear Weapons on Okinawa Declassified

     The Department of Defense revealed this week that “The fact that U.S. nuclear weapons were deployed on Okinawa prior to Okinawa’s reversion to Japan on May 15, 1972” has been declassified.

While this is indeed news concerning classification policy, it does not represent new information about Okinawa.

By Steven Aftergood
Secrecy News
2-19-16

According to an existing Wikipedia entry, “Between 1954 and 1972, 19 different types of nuclear weapons were deployed in Okinawa, but with fewer than around 1,000 warheads at any one time” (citing research by Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin and William Burr that was published in 1999 in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists). As often seems to be the case, declassification here followed disclosure, not the other way around.

If there is any revelation in the new DoD announcement, it is that this half-century-old historical information was still considered classified until now. As such, it has been an ongoing obstacle to the public release of records concerning the history of Okinawa and US-Japan relations.

Because this information had been classified as “Formerly Restricted Data” under the Atomic Energy Act rather than by executive order, its declassification required the concurrence of the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and (in this case) the Department of State. Any one of those agencies had the power to veto the decision to declassify, or to stymie it by simply refusing to participate.

Instead, the information was declassified as a result of a new procedure adopted by the Obama Administration to coordinate the review of nuclear weapons-related historical material that is no longer sensitive but that has remained classified under the Atomic Energy Act by default. The new procedure had been recommended by a 2012 report from the Public Interest Declassification Board, and was adopted by the White House-led Classification Reform Committee. […]

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Department of Defense Confronts Climate Change

Department of Defense Confronts Climate Change

By Steven Aftergood
Secrecy News
1-19-16

     The Department of Defense is organizing itself to address the effects of climate change on the U.S. military, some of which are already being felt.

“The DoD must be able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of climate change in order to maintain an effective and efficient U.S. military,” according to a Pentagon directive that was issued last week. See Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience, DoD Directive 4715.21, January 14, 2016.

Among other things, the new directive requires the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate on “risks, potential impacts, considerations, vulnerabilities, and effects [on defense intelligence programs] of altered operating environments related to climate change and environmental monitoring.”

“The Department of Defense sees climate change as a present security threat, not strictly a long-term risk,” DoD said last year in a report to Congress.

“We are already observing the impacts of climate change in shocks and stressors to vulnerable nations and communities, including in the United States, and in the Arctic, Middle East, Africa, Asia, and South America…. Although DoD and the Combatant Commands cannot prepare for every risk and situation, the Department is beginning to include the implications of a changing climate in its frameworks for managing operational and strategic risks prudently.” See National Security Implications of Climate-Related Risks and a Changing Climate, DoD report to Congress, July 2015. […]

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House Poised to Pass FOIA Amendments

FOIA

By Steven Aftergood
Secrecy News
1-11-16

     The House of Representatives is expected to approve a new package of amendments to the Freedom of Information Act this week, in a bill known as the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2015.

The sponsors of the bill said it “would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to increase transparency and accountability in government, and improve access to government records for citizens. It amends FOIA to provide for more disclosure of records, through both proactive disclosure and limitations on the use of exemptions. [It] also encourages enhanced agency compliance with statutory requirements and improves the FOIA process for both agencies and requesters.”

The bill would codify a presumption of openness, limit the application of the exemption for deliberative records, facilitate electronic submission of FOIA requests, strengthen the Office of Government Information Services (the FOIA ombudsman), mandate Inspector General reviews of FOIA processing, and several other steps. Detailed justification for the bill is provided in a January 7 report from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The bill was subsequently modified by the House Intelligence Committee to affirm that its provisions would not require the disclosure of properly classified information or of information that “would adversely affect intelligence sources and methods” that are protected. The term “adversely affect” is not defined but is clearly intended to limit disclosure.

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