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Inside the Ring
Question of the Day
Executive order update
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, has asked senior Pentagon officials to make final comments on the revised presidential order on classified information.
Gen. Clapper stated in a Sept. 7 memorandum to senior officials that the Pentagon is leading governmentwide efforts to revise Executive Order (EO) 12958 as part of a presidential task force. The goal of the revision is "transparency and open government," he stated.
Gen. Clapper will make clear in a letter to White House National Security Adviser James L. Jones that the Pentagon supports the final draft of the new order but remains "adamantly opposed to any EO changes that would significantly increase security and administrative costs without clear associated gains," according to a draft obtained by Inside the Ring.
Gen. Clapper also will oppose the order if it "would have the effect of impairing our wartime mission; not significantly contribute to the president's objective; displace agency head authorities; or not be realistically executable."
The Pentagon's biggest worry, the draft letter states, is the creation of the new National Declassification Center, which will require both people and money to implement.
The final draft of the new order is 34 pages long and was circulated earlier this month with a Sept. 14 deadline for any suggested changes. "It is unlikely that anything other than CRITICAL comments will be considered," Gen. Clapper stated in a cover memo.
The final draft contains an added sentence stating that "protecting information critical to our nation's security and demonstrating our commitment to open government through accurate and accountable application of classified standards and routine, secure and effective declassification are equally important priorities."
Another key added provision in the final version is the new policy stating that "if there is significant doubt about the need to classify information, it shall not be classified."
The new order will keep the three current classification levels, top-secret, secret and confidential, and will direct information classifiers that if there are doubts, data should be classified at the lowest level.
Categories of information that will be classified include military plans, weapons systems or operations; foreign government information; intelligence activities, intelligence sources or methods, cryptology; foreign relations or foreign activities including confidential sources; scientific, technological or economic matters relating to national security; U.S. data on safeguarding nuclear materials or facilities; "vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to the national security," and data on weapons of mass destruction.
The order also calls for information to be declassified after 10 years unless it is very sensitive, and then it should be released after 25 years.
Information also cannot be classified if it will hide crimes, inefficiency or administrative errors or "prevent embarrassment to a person, organization or agency." No classification can be made if it restrains competition or prevents or delays the release of information not requiring national security protection, according to the draft order.
The order will give the director of national intelligence new authority to block the release of information by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel.
Plans call for the declassification center to be constructed over the next three years, with the first records to be moved into the facility by November 2012.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on development of the new order.
Pakistan nuclear network
New evidence surfaced this week on the covert nuclear supplier network headed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, confirming that China supplied nuclear-weapons technology to Pakistan and that North Korea bought some for its nuclear program.
The details were contained in a handwritten 2007 letter from Mr. Khan, which was obtained by journalist Simon Henderson. In the letter, first reported by the London Sunday Times magazine, Mr. Khan makes clear he was acting on behalf of the Pakistani government and that he was not acting as a rogue agent in his proliferation activities.
The four-page letter was sent to Mr. Khan's Dutch wife and dated Dec. 10, 2004. It was acquired by Mr. Henderson in 2007 and is the first primary-source document on the nuclear-supplier network that U.S. intelligence officials have said supplied nuclear weapons know-how to Libya, Iran and North Korea.
On China, Mr. Khan stated in the letter that "we put up a centrifuge plant at Hanzhong, [China] ... The Chinese gave us drawings of the nuclear weapon, gave us 50 kg of enriched uranium, gave us 10 tons of UF6 (natural) and 5 tons of UF6 (3 percent)." UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, a gas that is spun in centrifuges to make highly enriched uranium.
The comments help to explain how U.S. officials who took part in dismantling Libya's nuclear program after 2003 discovered Chinese-language documents on how to design a nuclear warhead for a missile. The documents obtained in Libya remain classified and stored at a U.S. nuclear facility, according to officials at the State and Energy departments.
Asked about the report, Chinese Embassy spokesman Wang Baodong said China has mechanisms designed to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. "Nuclear-related laws and regulations are particularly strict," he said.
The new report "sounds ridiculous, and it's not the first time that we read similar baseless stories," Mr. Wang said.
The letter reveals that North Korea paid $3 million to Mr. Khan for nuclear technology. Mr. Khan stated that a retired Pakistani general "took $3 million, through me, from the N. Koreans, and [the general] asked me to give some drawings and machines" to the North Koreans.
Mr. Khan was placed under house arrest in Pakistan in February 2004 and was released recently.
Attempts to reach the Pakistani Embassy in Washington for comment were not successful. Neither were attempts to reach the spokesman at the Iranian and North Korean U.N. missions in New York.
Mr. Henderson said in an interview that the letter confirms the Chinese, North Korean and Iranian connections to the network.
However, more important is that it reveals "Khan wasn't a rogue agent; he was doing things at the instruction and with the cooperation of successive governments," he said.
Mr. Khan's ties to Islamabad also were revealed in the increase in his government pension in 2007, Mr. Henderson said.
Disclosure of the letter "changes the accepted narrative of what Pakistan is all about and should force a re-examination of how we work with them on the challenge of al Qaeda and extremists in Pakistan," Mr. Henderson said.
State Department spokesman Ian C. Kelly, commenting on the letter, told reporters on Tuesday that Mr. Khan "remains a risk for proliferation."
Richard Fisher Jr., a researcher at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the Khan letter makes clear that "it is now both strategically and morally essential that the United States make clear to China that it is militarily, materially and morally responsible for any primary or secondary nuclear attack that is carried out with Chinese-Pakistani nuclear weapons."
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"A future Pakistan government or potential Pakistan-Taliban nuclear attack must also be viewed as a Chinese nuclear attack," he said. "There is no other way to make clear to China that it has committed a crime against humanity by its utterly irresponsible proliferation of nuclear weapons to Pakistan."
A senior Obama administration official said the United States is not worried about Israel taking unilateral military action against Iran's nuclear facilities and triggering a major Middle East conflict.
"We are working very closely with the Israelis on this issue," the senior official said. "We have a regular dialogue. I think as a result of this dialogue, we have come to a better place in terms of how imminent this threat is. We have better agreement on that."
Iran's nuclear threat is taken seriously by the Obama administration, said the official, who asked not to be named because he was discussing sensitive diplomatic communication.
"But we also [are] working on a dual path of dialogue to see where that goes, and by the way, the time frame for that to show itself for what it is, is not open ended," the senior official said.
If the administration concludes that Iran is "not being completely sincere about having a meaningful dialogue on this particular issue" and that there are needed "adjustments about how the nuclear program is progressing," the senior official said, "There are other steps that can be taken by the global community, and the more we get global unity on this, from Europe, from the Middle East, from us, from the Russians and the Chinese, then the more the effect of those measures could actually result in a change of behavior."
Pressed on how worried the administration is about an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran, the senior official said: "I think we have a very, very close working relationship with the Israelis and that we will continue to have adequate safeguards on the future of our collective action. It is going to be much better that we stay together on this than if we drift apart."
Swine flu warfare
The White House has launched a new campaign against germs and viruses by deploying hand sanitizers in the executive mansion. The most important dispenser is set up just inside the West Wing doorway leading to President Obama's Oval Office.
Inside the Ring noticed the sanitizer dispenser in use before the president's meeting with a large group of people who were being honored as employers who have supported the military's National Guard and Reserve. They met with Mr. Obama on Friday.
The employers were the main recipients of the 2009 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award who were honored for supporting deployed troops who were employees.
The sanitizers - one also was installed in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room adjacent to the West Wing - appear to be part of the administration's war against swine flu.
One of the president's most frequent official duties is to meet a stream of visitors, and the visits almost always entail a handshake.
A White House spokesman had no immediate comment on the sanitizers.
Reid Cherlin, a White House spokesman, confirmed that the dispensers were an anti-flu measure. "They had Purell around last year during flu season as well," he said.
About the Author
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 ...
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