[Intelforum] Secrecy News -- 08/22/07
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from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 86
August 22, 2007
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/
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** A GLIMPSE OF THE SILEX URANIUM ENRICHMENT PROCESS
** CIA IG REPORT ON 9/11 DECLASSIFIED BY LAW
** AIR FORCE VIEWS IRREGULAR WARFARE
** DETAILS SOUGHT ON DOMESTIC USE OF SPY SATELLITES
A GLIMPSE OF THE SILEX URANIUM ENRICHMENT PROCESS
A relatively new technology for enriching uranium known as "Separation
of Isotopes by Laser Excitation" or SILEX is described in some fresh
detail in a recent Los Alamos paper.
SILEX, developed in 1992 by Australian scientists, is the rarest of
birds in U.S. classification policy: It is privately generated
information that is nevertheless classified by the U.S. government.
Ordinarily, information must be owned or controlled by the government
in order to be eligible for classification in the first place. But
under the peculiar terms of the Atomic Energy Act, the government may
impose classification on "all" information concerning nuclear weapons
and related matters that has not been previously declassified.
Since the new SILEX technology has never been declassified, it is ipso
facto classified, despite the fact that it was generated by private
(and foreign) researchers. It is the only known case in which the
Atomic Energy Act has been used in this constitutionally questionable
manner. (See Secrecy News, 06/26/01).
Unclassified details of the SILEX process, which uses pulsed lasers to
selectively excite uranium hexafluoride molecules containing
uranium-235, are presented in "Enrichment Separative Capacity for
SILEX" by John L. Lyman, Los Alamos National Laboratory, LA-UR-05-3786
(thanks to WT):
CIA IG REPORT ON 9/11 DECLASSIFIED BY LAW
In compliance with a requirement imposed by Congress, the Central
Intelligence Agency declassified and released the executive summary of
a CIA Inspector General report that was generally critical of CIA
performance prior to September 11, 2001.
>From a secrecy policy point of view, the most interesting thing about
the disclosure is that it was the result of a congressional initiative
undertaken against the wishes of the executive branch.
"While meeting the dictates of the law," said CIA Director Mike Hayden
in an official statement, "I want to make it clear that this
declassification was neither my choice nor my preference."
In theory, the CIA's "choice" or "preference" should be irrelevant to
the declassification process. The President has directed categorically
that "Information shall be declassified as soon as it no longer meets
the standards for classification under this order." (Executive Order
13292, section 3.1). It is clear from the release of the Inspector
General report, which was partially redacted, that it could be
declassified. And therefore it should have been.
But the executive order is not self-enforcing and declassification does
not occur spontaneously. Without some external stimulus it may not
occur at all.
In this case, Congress provided the missing ingredient, thanks to Sen.
Ron Wyden (D-OR), who authored the amendment to the recent legislation
implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
While giving the needed push, Congress did not declassify the document
itself, which is arguably within its power, nor did it define the
precise terms of declassification, stating only that the document
should be "declassified to the maximum extent possible, consistent with
national security" -- as determined by the CIA.
By contrast, a more ambitious and unprecedented declassification action
is the congressional requirement to disclose the amount of the 2007
National Intelligence Program budget, which must be declassified and
released by October 30. No exercise of discretion is permitted.
AIR FORCE VIEWS IRREGULAR WARFARE
In what might be seen as a response to last year's popular Army Field
Manual 3-24 on Counterinsurgency, the U.S. Air Force has issued a new
publication on "Irregular Warfare."
"Irregular warfare (IW) is defined as a violent struggle among state
and nonstate actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant
populations. IW favors indirect approaches, though it may employ the
full range of military and other capabilities to seek asymmetric
approaches in order to erode an adversary's power, influence, and
Though less rigorous and less original than the Army manual, the new
document still contains points of interest.
It notes, for example, that counterinsurgency is not the sum total of
U.S. military objectives. To the contrary, sometimes the U.S. will
side with insurgents: "Various US government organizations are
postured to recruit, organize, train, and advise indigenous guerrilla
or partisan forces," the document observes.
"In some UW [unconventional warfare] operations, the use of US military
aircraft may be inappropriate, tactically or politically. In those
cases, training, advising, and assisting the aviation forces of
insurgent groups, resistance organizations, or third-country nationals
may be the only viable option."
See "Irregular Warfare," Air Force Doctrine Document 2-3, 1 August
DETAILS SOUGHT ON DOMESTIC USE OF SPY SATELLITES
Although Congress is out of session, the news that classified
intelligence satellites may increasingly be used for domestic
surveillance applications did not go unnoticed by congressional
Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), chair of a House Energy and Commerce
subcommittee, last week sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff seeking answers to a series of detailed questions
about the new initiative, which was first reported in the Wall Street
Journal. Among Rep. Markey's questions were these:
Will the public have an opportunity to comment on the development of
appropriate guidelines for domestic use of spy satellites?
What assessments of the legality of the new surveillance program have
been performed? (Please provide copies.)
How does the Department plan to ensure that Americans' privacy and
civil rights are protected once this new surveillance program becomes
A copy of Mr. Markey's August 16 letter is here:
The new surveillance program "has drawn sharp criticism from civil
liberties advocates who say the government is overstepping the use of
military technology for domestic surveillance," wrote Eric Schmitt in
the New York Times. See "Liberties Advocates Fear Abuse of Satellite
Images," August 17:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the
Federation of American Scientists.
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