Inside the Ring

Question of the Day

What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

View results

New executive order

The Obama administration is putting the finishing touches on an executive order on classified information that will create a new National Declassification Center to review and release government secrets.

The order will update Executive Order 12958 when signed by the president next month. The order will seek to create “a uniform system for classifying, safeguarding and declassifying national security information, including information relating to defense against transnational terrorism,” according to a copy of the draft order.

“Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government,” the draft order states. “Also, our Nation’s progress depends on the free flow of information and fully embracing the responsibility to provide information both within the government and to the American people.”

The newest feature of the order’s policy will be the creation of the National Declassification Center within the National Archives and Records Administration for declassifying records.

The order states that protecting information is “critical to our nation’s security and demonstrating our commitment to open government through precise, accurate, and accountable application of classification standards and routine, secure and effective declassification are equally important priorities.”

The order also will create a “secure capability” for receiving information, allegations or complaints regarding “over-classification, or incorrect classification.”

It also calls for limiting the government’s ultra-secret Special Access Programs (SAPs), stating that they can be created only by the secretaries of State, Defense, Energy and Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence, or their main deputies, who must “keep the number of these programs at an absolute minimum” and only to counter an “exceptional” vulnerability or threat to specific information.

A copy of the draft order was obtained by Inside the Ring.

A Pentagon list of comments on the draft order states that the Defense Department “is adamantly opposed to any changes that would significantly increase costs without associated gains and impair our wartime mission.” The Pentagon also said it cannot meet the requirement to “immediately” set up the declassification center because of personnel issues.

The tone of the new order is oriented toward making it easier to declassify some of the millions of pages of classified data now held throughout government, which is costly to maintain.

The order states that “if there is significant doubt about the need to classify information, it shall not be classified.”

The order will keep the current three levels of classification, namely “Top Secret,” “Secret” and “Confidential.”

Information that will be classified falls into several categories, including military plans, weapons systems, or operations; foreign government information; intelligence activities, intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology; foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources; scientific, technological, or economic matters relating to the national security; U.S. government programs for safeguarding nuclear materials or facilities; vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism; or the development, production, or use of weapons of mass destruction.

Most information will remain classified for 25 years when it can be automatically released, with the exception of confidential human source data. And classified data can be reclassified for longer periods. However, the new order states that “no information may remain classified indefinitely.”

Spokesmen for the White House National Security Council and the Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.

New submarine

The only new weapon system authorized by this year’s fiscal 2010 Defense Authorization bill is a new class of strategic ballistic missile submarines, dubbed the SSBN-X.

According to a defense source familiar with internal deliberations on weapons systems, Obama administration budget officials were anxious about adding the nearly $700 million for the new strategic submarine because it runs counter to the president’s strategy of seeking the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, as outlined in a speech the president gave in Prague earlier this year.

The SSBN-X money is the first sign in pending law that the administration’s nuclear free world is not likely until after 2029, when the new missile submarine will be deployed.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called the new submarine “a little-noticed initiative” in his speech in Chicago on July 16 that focused mainly on the hotly debated issue of whether to produce more than 187 advanced F-22 jets. The SSBN-X is needed to “sustain and continually improve our specialized strategic deterrent to ensure that our allies’ security is always protected against nuclear-armed adversaries,” he said.

The real reason for the new submarine funds is more prosaic, according to the source who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information.

Development of the new submarine class, the first of which will not be built until 2029, is being slightly speeded up because it will be needed not just for the U.S. Navy, but it will also be adapted for use by Britain as a replacement for its four aging Vanguard-class missile submarines.

The British government announced in 2006 that it would spend $32.9 billion to modernize its nuclear arsenal with up to three new missile submarines that can launch Trident nuclear missiles.

The new class of the Navy’s boomer, as missile submarines are called, is expected to cost between $3.3 billion and $6.3 billion per submarine, and they will replaced the 14 Ohio-class nuclear missile submarines.

F-22 Debate

With the Senate’s rejection on Tuesday of an additional $1.75 billion in funding for more F-22 jets beyond the 187 already authorized, the debate now moves to the closed-door House Senate conference likely to be held in September.

The House version of the fiscal 2010 defense authorization contains $369 million for parts and a commitment to build 12 more F-22s. The two versions of the bill must be reconciled in conference, and President Obama has threatened to veto a bill that contains funding for F-22s.

During Senate debate on the F-22, several senators quoted Mr. Gates as the authoritative voice against the advanced warplane. Mr. Gates said in a speech in Chicago this week on the F-22 that “if we can’t get this right, what on Earth can we get right?”

A day earlier he said, “What I have not heard is a substantive reason for adding more aircraft in terms of our strategic needs.”

Proponents of the F-22 contacted Inside the Ring to say that Mr. Gates must have missed the June 9 letter to Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican and key Senate advocate for the jet, from Air Force Gen. John D.W. Corley, commander of Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va.

“At Air Combat Command we have held the need for 381 F-22 to deliver a tailored package of air superiority to our combatant commanders and provide a potent, globally arrayed, asymmetric deterrent against potential adversaries,” Gen. Corley stated.

“In my opinion, a fleet of 187 F-22s puts execution of our current national military strategy at high risk in the near to mid-term,” he stated.

The four-star general said the F-22 is a “critical enabler of air dominance” and “plays a vital role and indispensable role in ensuring joint freedom of action for all forces, and underpins our ability to dissuade and deter.”

Jakarta terrorism

The British private security analysis firm Stirling Assynt has identified a new feature of Islamist terror: Using terrorists posing as couples who checked in to the Jakarta hotels prior to the simultaneous bomb blasts.

The bombing is believed by U.S. officials to have been the work of the al Qaeda-affiliated Jemaah Islamiyah. Coordinated bombings went off at Jakarta’s JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels July 17, killing seven people and injuring 53. Reports from Jakarta say intelligence officials suspect Noordin Mohammed Top, a wanted Southeast Asian terrorist, was behind the bombings.

Justin Crump, head of terrorism and country risk assessments for Stirling, said the new method of attack was more significant than who carried it out.

“The tactic of checking in to the hotel in order to assemble the bomb(s), make final preparations and detailed reconnaissance is a worrying development,” Mr. Crump said in an e-mail.

At first it was thought the bombers may have checked in as a male-female couple, however, Mr. Crump said later a female bomber was ruled out and the terrorists had checked in as “Noordin A” and “Noordin B,” references to the suspected mastermind Noordin Top.

Mr. Crump said that the idea of using couples remains a possibility and that the Noordin references represent a “gutsy” move by the perpetrators.

Using cover as a couple would “further lower suspicion” because “this approach circumvents all the ‘classic’ signs of a suicide bomber and would be very hard to defend against,” he said.

Mr. Crump noted that the new terrorist tactics in Jakarta have sparked interest among other terrorists.

“Although we also expect more combined firearms and bomb attacks, as in Mumbai, Kabul and Peshawar, this opens up a new avenue of attack,” he said in the e-mail analysis.

Mr. Crump could not be reached for further comment on his analysis, and a spokesman for Stirling Assynt had no comment.

About the Author

Bill Gertz INSIDE THE RING

Bill Gertz is geopolitics editor and a national security and investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. Gertz also writes a weekly column ...

Latest Stories

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks