Wednesday, September 29, 2010

For Truth Seekers, A Must Read Book....

From Secrecy News:


By censoring Anthony Shaffer's new book "Operation Dark Heart" even though uncensored review copies are already available in the public domain, the Department of Defense has produced a genuinely unique product: a revealing snapshot of the way that the Obama Administration classifies national security information in 2010.

With both versions before them (excerpts), readers can see for themselves exactly what the Pentagon classifiers wanted to withhold, and can judge for themselves whether the secrecy they tried to impose can be justified on valid national security grounds. In the majority of instances, the results of such an inspection seem disappointing, if not very surprising, and they tend to confirm the most skeptical view of the operation of the classification system.

The most commonly repeated "redaction" in Operation Dark Heart is the author's cover name, "Christopher Stryker," that he used while serving in Afghanistan. Probably the second most common redactions are references to the National Security Agency, its heaquarters location at Fort Meade, Maryland, the familiar abbreviation SIGINT (referring to "signals intelligence"), and offhand remarks like "Guys on phones were always great sources of intel," which is blacked out on the bottom of page 56.

Also frequently redacted are mentions of the term TAREX or "Target Exploitation," referring to intelligence collection gathered at a sensitive site, and all references to low-profile organizations such as the Air Force Special Activities Center and the Joint Special Operations Command, as well as to foreign intelligence partners such as New Zealand. Task Force 121 gets renamed Task Force 1099. The code name Copper Green, referring to an "enhanced" interrogation program, is deleted.

Perhaps 10% of the redacted passages do have some conceivable security sensitivity, including the identity of the CIA chief of station in Kabul, who has been renamed "Jacob Walker" in the new version, and a physical description of the location and appearance of the CIA station itself, which has been censored.

Many other redactions are extremely tenuous. The name of character actor Ned Beatty is not properly classified in any known universe, yet it has been blacked out on page 15 of the book. (It still appears intact in the Index.)

In short, the book embodies the practice of national security classification as it exists in the United States today. It does not exactly command respect.

A few selected pages from the original and the censored versions of Operation Dark Heart have been posted side-by-side for easy comparison here (pdf).

The New York Times reported on the Pentagon's dubious handling of the book in "Secrets in Plain Sight in Censored Book's Reprint" by Scott Shane, September 18.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Our Own Terrorism....

From Secrecy News:


An apparent spike in Islamist terrorist plots by American citizens and residents is examined in another new report (pdf) from the Congressional Research Service.

"This report describes homegrown violent jihadists and the plots and attacks that have occurred since 9/11." The report uses the term "jihadist" to refer to "radicalized individuals using Islam as an ideological and/or religious justification for their belief in the establishment of a global caliphate."

The 128-page report describes the radicalization process and the responses of government and law enforcement agencies. An appendix provides details about each post-9/11 incident of "homegrown jihadist terrorist plots and attacks" while a second appendix describes engagement and partnership activities by federal agencies with Muslim-American communities. See "American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat," September 20, 2010.

Other new reports from CRS include the following (both pdf).

"The Mexican Economy After the Global Financial Crisis," September 9, 2010.

"Deflation: Economic Significance, Current Risk, and Policy Responses," August 30, 2010.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Rule of Law Should Come First....

From Secrecy News:


The inherent tension between the state secrets privilege and the rule of law reached the breaking point last week when an appeals court dismissed the claims of several persons who said they were illegally transported and tortured through a CIA "extraordinary rendition" program. They would not be permitted to litigate their case, the court decided, because to do so would place "state secrets" at risk.

"This case presents a painful conflict between human rights and national security," the 9th circuit court of appeals noted in its September 8 opinion (pdf) in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, and by a 6-5 majority the judges determined that security considerations would take precedence.

"We have thoroughly and critically reviewed the government's public and classified declarations and are convinced that at least some of the matters it seeks to protect from disclosure in this litigation are valid state secrets, 'which, in the interest of national security, should not be divulged'," according to the majority opinion.

At the same time, the majority acknowledged, "Denial of a judicial forum based on the state secrets doctrine poses concerns at both individual and structural levels. For the individual plaintiffs in this action, our decision forecloses at least one set of judicial remedies, and deprives them of the opportunity to prove their alleged mistreatment and obtain damages. At a structural level, terminating the case eliminates further judicial review in this civil litigation, one important check on alleged abuse by government officials and putative contractors."

For these reasons, "Dismissal at the pleading stage" as in this case "is a drastic result and should not be readily granted." Yet grant it the court did.

But the majority seemed conflicted and apologetic about its own ruling. It ordered the government to pay the parties' costs, and it devoted several speculative paragraphs to identifying potential "non-judicial remedies" that might be available to the plaintiffs. Perhaps Congress could investigate the matter, the court weakly noted, or maybe pass legislation on behalf of the plaintiffs.

And just because the court ruled against the plaintiffs, the majority suggested, that "does not preclude the government from honoring the fundamental principles of justice" and providing reparations to the plaintiffs anyway.

But these suggestions range from "impractical" to "absurd," five dissenting judges wrote. "Permitting the executive to police its own errors and determine the remedy dispensed would not only deprive the judiciary of its role, but also deprive Plaintiffs of a fair assessment of their claims by a neutral arbiter."

Attorney General Eric Holder's September 23, 2009 policy statement on the state secrets privilege did hold out the possibility of seeking Inspector General review of allegations of misconduct whose adjudication was blocked by the use of the state secrets privilege:

"If the Attorney General concludes that it would be proper to defend invocation of the privilege in a case, and that invocation of the privilege would preclude adjudication of particular claims, but that the case raises credible allegations of government wrongdoing, the Department will refer those allegations to the Inspector General of the appropriate department or agency for further investigation...." (section 4C).

Given the court's extended discussion of non-judicial remedies, this case would seem to be a fitting subject for an Inspector General investigation under the 2009 Justice Department policy. But it could not immediately be learned if the Department has made such a referral to an agency Inspector General in this or any other state secrets case.

"The state secrets doctrine is a judicial construct without foundation in the Constitution, yet its application often trumps what we ordinarily consider to be due process of law," the five dissenting judges wrote. "This case now presents a classic illustration."


Friday, September 17, 2010

Selection of Unusual Books On the Way....



Author of the memoir A Slippery Year, Melanie Gideon's debut novel WIFE 22, about a woman amidst a midlife crisis who agrees to anonymously participate in a survey about marital happiness only to experience a reawakening through the power of confession -- told through a story that unfolds via Facebook statuses, Google searches, questionnaires and first-person narrative, satirizing our obsession with the internet and the ease with which we can reveal things to strangers but not to those we love, to Jennifer Hershey for Ballantine, by Elizabeth Sheinkman at Curtis Brown UK (NA).
Film rights optioned to Working Title. Dutch rights to Bruna.

Aatish Taseer's A TREMOR IN THE EARTH, a family saga about India, Pakistan, and a young man straddling these two worlds as he attempts to make his way in an environment full of toxicity and moral danger, to Mitzi Angel at Faber, for publication in Fall 2011, by Anna Stein on behalf of Andrew Kidd at Aitken Alexander Associates (NA).

Princeton undergraduate writing award-winner and New School MFA graduate Julie Sarkissian's THIS IS HOW TO FIND ME, in which a mentally disabled girl is sent to live on a farm where she discovers the dark secrets of her caretakers, befriends a pregnant teen whose baby is taken after its birth, and ultimately, with the help of a talking chicken, embarks on a brave, captivating journey to reunite mother and child, to Sarah Knight at Simon & Schuster, by Judy Heiblum at Sterling Lord Literistic (World).


Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Bob Graham's THE KEY TO THE KINGDOM, a topical and provocative debut political thriller, to Roger Cooper at Vanguard Press, for publication in Spring 2011, by Ed Victor at Ed Victor Ltd. (NA).


Author of A COMPLICATED KINDNESS Miriam Toews's SMALL BIRD, BEATING HEART, the story of a nineteen-year old who, with her thirteen-year old sister, is forced to flee their punishing Mennonite community in rural Mexico, and SWING LOW: A LIFE, about manic-depression that reads like a novel, to Terry Karten at Harper, for publication in Fall 2011, by Sarah Chalfant at The Wylie Agency (US).

Author of Governor General's Award-winning THE LAW OF DREAMS Peter Behrens's CALLING ME THROUGH THUNDER, which follows a man and his family during the first half of the twentieth century, as he leaves behind abject poverty to become a North American railroad magnate; about the pressure of history on a family over time, how the generations layer and reflect back on one another with both love and incomprehension, to Deb Garrison at Pantheon, by Sarah Burnes at The Gernert Company (US).
Canadian rights to Sarah MacLachlan at House of Anasi.

Winner of the Somerset Maugham Prize for White is for Witching Helen Oyeyemi's MR FOX, reinventing the titular "Bluebeard"-like English fairy tale in nine variations on a twisted love story about a novelist and his frustrated muse, to Megan Lynch at Riverhead Books, by Jin Auh at The Wylie Agency (US).


Former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and honorary president of Oxfam and president of the International Commission of Jurists, Mary Robinson's EVERYBODY MATTERS, sharing the story of her lifelong fight for the voiceless around the world, to George Gibson at Bloomsbury, for publication in Fall 2012, by Lynn Franklin of Lynn Franklin Associates (NA).

UK/Commonwealth and Ireland rights to Rowena Webb at Hodder and Stoughton and Breda Purdue of Hachette Ireland, by Mary Clemmey in cooperation with Lynn Franklin Associates.

Tim Parks's TEACH US TO SIT STILL, about his transformative journey through a debilitating medical condition that eluded diagnosis or conventional treatment, ultimately finding relief through a self-awareness, Buddhist meditation and a process of "emptying the head," with detours into the realms of literature, art, religion and philosophy, to Colin Dickerman at Rodale, by Henry Dunow at Dunow, Carlson & Lerner on behalf of Antony Harwood (NA).


THE TRANSFORMERS VAULT, covering more than 25 years of the Transformers Universe history, from the toys to the animated series, live-action movies, comics, and collectable merchandise, and feature never-before-seen images and inside information, to Eric Klopfer at Abrams, for publication in Spring 2011, by becker&mayer!

Chief legal analyst for NBC News and MSNBC and founder of the Abrams Media Network, Dan Abrams's MAN DOWN: Proof Beyond A Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else, to Jennifer Levesque at Abrams Image, for publication in May 2011, by Laura Dail at Laura Dail Literary Agency
(World English).


Duke University distinguished professor Adrian Bejan and columnist J. Peder Zane's THE CONSTRUCTAL LAW OF DESIGN IN NATURE, an examination of the universality of design in nature providing a broader understanding of evolution that unites the animate and inanimate through the Constructal Law, a first principle of physics that describes the natural tendency of all systems to generate configurations that evolve to flow more easily over time, to Melissa Danaczko at Doubleday, by Tina Bennett at Janklow & Nesbit (NA).


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Pentagon to Press.....Work With Us...

From Secrecy News....

from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 71
September 7, 2010

Secrecy News Blog:



The Department of Defense last week increased its efforts to require that Department contacts with the media be monitored and approved by DoD public affairs officials.

"I am asking the heads of the Military Services, the Joint Staff and the Combatant Commands to reinforce to all of their employees to work closely and effectively with their public affairs offices to ensure full situational awareness," wrote Douglas B. Wilson, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs in a September 2 memorandum (pdf).

The latest Pentagon move follows up on a July 2 memo (pdf) from Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, who stated that the DoD Office of Public Affairs "is the sole release authority for official DoD information to news media in Washington, and ... all media activities must be coordinated through appropriate public affairs channels. This policy is all too often ignored," he complained.

"We have far too many people talking to the media outside of channels, sometimes providing information which is simply incorrect, out of proper context, unauthorized, or uninformed...," Secretary Gates wrote.

Both memoranda assert prohibitions on unauthorized disclosures of classified information as well as on unclassified but sensitive or predecisional information.

As a practical matter, the degree of control over DoD contacts with the media sought by the Pentagon may be impossible to achieve. The Department is too large (with millions of employees), too decentralized (with thousands of locations) and, perhaps, too open (with hundreds of reporters holding building permits at the Pentagon alone) to allow rigorous monitoring or "coordination" of more than a fraction of all external contacts and communications.

And though it may not be convenient for Pentagon officials to say so, almost everyone understands that freedom of the press means something more, and something different, than reproducing authorized government releases. Unauthorized disclosures -- even incomplete or partially inaccurate ones -- often serve a valuable public policy function, at least when they do not trespass on legitimate secrets, because they enable reporters and others to develop an independent account of events and to generate a more complete public record. When the short-term institutional interests of the Pentagon or other U.S. government agencies lead them to overclassify or otherwise impede public access to information, unauthorized and "uncoordinated" disclosures help to fill the void.


Last year, the number of "original classification decisions" -- or new national security secrets -- actually declined by almost ten percent from the year before.

This and other empirical measures of government secrecy were compiled in a new Secrecy Report Card (pdf) that was issued today by, a coalition of public interest advocacy organizations. The Report Card presented data on classification and declassification activity, classification costs, Freedom of Information Act requests, Presidential signing statements, assertions of the state secrets privilege, and other aspects of official secrecy.

While new classification activity slowed last year, the Report Card noted, so too did declassification, with 8% fewer pages declassified in 2009 than in 2008. A National Declassification Center that was established in December 2009 is supposed to sharply increase the number of pages declassified in the coming months and years.

Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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