FRINFORMSUM 5/1/2014: Modest Nuclear Stockpile Drop, Cybersecurity Issues, a Corrupt DHS Inspector General, and Much More.
The United States nuclear stockpile has decreased by 309 warheads –a modest dent by any standard– since the beginning of the Obama administration. The recently declassified April 29, 2014, “Fact Sheet: Transparency in the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile” also revealed that 1,204 warheads were dismantled -separated into their individual parts before the warhead’s components are destroyed and rendered militarily useless- during that same time period. The declassification coincides with the opening of the third Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty preparatory committee, for which the US must demonstrate it is pursuing “negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date.” A timely Chatham House report coinciding with the committee meeting catalogs 13 nuclear “close calls” since 1962 –including the 1983 War Scare–, and concludes that the risk of an accidental nuclear launch is increasing.
The White House, while denying it had any prior knowledge of the Heartbleed bug, provided a rare glimpse earlier this week into its decision-making process when weighing whether to reveal cybersecurity flaws. The White House published a list of at least nine questions it asks when determining whether or not to disclose “the discovery of major flaws in computer security,” including how integral the vulnerable system is to the US economy, and could the vulnerability be taken advantage of for a short period of time before the government discloses it? While the FBI does not use undisclosed internet vulnerabilities, known as zero-day exploits, it does “conduct extensive counter counterespionage, secretly watching the hackers of other nations as they attack U.S. computer networks… Some of those investigations can go on for years, which means U.S. law enforcement may leave global users of the Internet vulnerable for lengthy periods.”
Despite growing cybersecurity concerns, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is seriously hampered hiring cybersecurity experts because of its especially rigid bureaucracy, a cultural aversion to many cyber experts who might “have pink hair and tattoos,” and its refusal to hire people without degrees.
A recent Senate Homeland Security and Government Operations Committee report found that the acting DHS inspector general from 2011 through 2013, Charles K. Edwards, “altered and delayed investigations at the request of senior administration officials, compromising his independent role as an inspector general.” In one example, Edwards ordered changes to a March 2012 report about Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Secure Communities program at the request of DHS general counsel John Sandweg. While the report was on Edwards’ desk by March 1, he didn’t release it until March 27–after the ICE director had testified about the controversial program before the House.
Dr. Sondra Crosby testified that Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, currently on trial at Guantanamo for orchestrating the October 2000 USS Cole bombing, was tortured physically, mentally, and sexually. Crosby, a Boston University medical school professor and member of Physicians for Human Rights, testified that al Nashiri “suffers from anal-rectal complaints, difficulty defecating, hemorrhoids, pain in sitting for a long time.” The issue on trial is that Guantanamo medical staff did not adequately treat al Nashiri’s trauma, though the implication –which was carefully avoided in Crosby’s testimony– is that al Nashiri likely suffered the physical, mental, and sexual trauma during the four years he was a CIA captive before being delivered to Guantanamo.
The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, convinced the Senate Intelligence Committee to cut drone transparency requirements from the bill authorizing intelligence operations for FY 2014. The provision would have required the president to publicly disclose the number of combatants and non-combatants killed by drone attacks in an annual report. Clapper assured members of the committee by letter, however, that the DNI was seeking its own ways to make the drone program more transparent. Earlier this year the Senate also blocked an effort by the Obama administration to move the lethal drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon, where it would ostensibly have been more transparent.
In a baffling response to a FOIA request, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence “is attempting to conceal unclassified information about the structure and function of U.S. intelligence agencies, including the leading role of the Central Intelligence Agency in collecting human intelligence.” Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News reported this week that ODNI issued a heavily redacted version of its Intelligence Community Directive 304 on “Human Intelligence” in response to a FOIA request, even though “the current version of the Directive — without any redactions — is also available in the public domain, despite the attempt to suppress it.”
An increasing number of federal magistrate judges are refusing the government’s requests “for cellphone and other sensitive personal data, declaring the demands overly broad and at odds with basic constitutional rights.” The Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure has led one judge, D.C. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola, to call a request for the entire contents of a suspect’s e-mail account “repugnant” to the Constitution. In another case, Facciola demanded a more focused search and insisted that authorities delete collected data “that prove unrelated to a current investigation rather than keep them on file for unspecified future use,” writing, “[f]or the sixth time this Court must be clear: if the government seizes data it knows is outside the scope of the warrant, it must either destroy the data or return it. It cannot simply keep it.”
Elsewhere in the Courts, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rejected Verizon’s legal challenge to the National Security Agency’s dragnet surveillance practices. In the decision, FISC was dismissive of a December ruling by District Judge Richard J. Leon that the NSA program was likely unconstitutional. It was also reported this week that while the number of federal surveillance requests was down slightly to 1,655 in 2013, FISC –for the fourth year in a row– turned down none of them.
Department of Justice Office of Information Policy (OIP) director Melanie Pustay traveled to China last month to discuss China’s Regulations on Open Government Information. Pustay was the delegate of choice because OIP’s core mission is, theoretically, to encourage “federal agency compliance with the FOIA” in the US, and during the workshop she “emphasized the significance of good customer service and communication with requesters when implementing any access law.” Earlier this year, the Archive submitted a FOIA request to OIP for all correspondences between Pustay’s office and the Senate Judiciary Committee for the full list of FOIA cases the DOJ chose not to defend, which was discussed during the March 11, 2014, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, ‘Government and Freedom of Information: Reinvigorating the Freedom of Information Act for the Digital Age.’ During the hearing, Senator Chuck Grassley requested this full list of cases from OIP Director Pustay, who said her office would “certainly” provide it (around 1’07’30 mark). OIP denied our request, saying that it has yet to respond to the senator.
Finally this week, our #tbt document pick –inspired by the State Department’s recent easing of the restrictions allowing the Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors to make foreign public diplomacy program material (i.e. propaganda) available to US requesters– is the Pentagon’s October 2003 Iraq War propaganda “roadmap.” The secret Pentagon “roadmap,” declassified thanks to an Archive FOIA request in 2006, calls for “boundaries” between “information operations” abroad and at home but provides no actual limits as long as US doesn’t “target” Americans.