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DoD Science Board Urges Expanded Global Monitoring for Counterproliferation Purposes (New Excuse to Expand Dragnet)

In Archive, DoD, NSA, Surveillance on January 24, 2014 at 8:41 AM


Steven Aftergood/SecrecyNews:

While others speak of curbing intelligence surveillance activities, the Defense Science Board argues in a new report that the U.S. government should expand and accelerate global monitoring for purposes of detecting nuclear proliferation as “a top national security objective.”

Intelligence techniques and technologies that are used to combat terrorism should also be harnessed to address the threat of proliferation, said the new DSB report, entitled “Assessment of Nuclear Monitoring and Verification Technologies,” January 2014.

“The advances in persistent surveillance, automated tracking, rapid analyses of large and multi-source data sets, and open source analyses to support conventional warfighting and counterterrorism have not yet been exploited by the nuclear monitoring community…. New intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) technologies, demonstrated in recent conflicts, offer significant promise for monitoring undesirable nuclear activity throughout the free world.”

The National Security Agency, among others, has pointed the way, the report suggested. A newly integrated global awareness system for counterproliferation should “build on lessons and experiences of successful national security capabilities, such as… NSA’s counterterrorism capabilities….”

“The ‘big data’ technologies for extracting meaning from vast quantities of data that are being developed commercially in the information technology (IT) industry, and for other purposes in DoD and the IC, need to be extended and applied to nuclear monitoring.”

In particular, “Exploiting the cyber domain should certainly be a big part of any nuclear monitoring effort. Both passive, depending on what is sent voluntarily, and active sources should be considered. Data gathered from the cyber domain establishes a rich and exploitable source for determining activities of individuals, groups and organizations needed to participate in either the procurement or development of a nuclear device…. Many of the new technology advances in data exfiltration, covert implantation, etc., hold promise for successful multi-INT collection and exploitation in non-permissive environments.”

“Monitoring for proliferation should be a top national security objective — and one that the nation is not yet organized or fully equipped to address.”

At the same time, the DSB report emphasized the need for increased openness and transparency, both to strengthen international confidence and stability and to simplify the challenge of global monitoring of proliferation. (As used by the DSB — and the USG — the term transparency in this context seems to mean the exchange of data among interested governments, and does not necessarily imply release of information to the public.)

The DSB authors recommend “a comprehensive, sustained, policy-based diplomatic approach coordinated across the U.S. Government and with other nations devoted expressly to advance the cause of openness and transparency writ large…. This situation should be addressed with the highest priority.”

“The Task Force envisions a multi-year effort, which can pay large dividends in terms of a universal transparency that would improve strategic and tactical stability against nuclear war among all nuclear weapons states, as well as achieve enhanced confidence building for nonproliferation efforts.”

“All parties would benefit from the national security stability that would ensue from having transparent knowledge of the numbers/types of other nations’ nuclear arsenals, while each nation in turn makes the knowledge of their own SNM [special nuclear material] and/or nuclear weapons inventories available to the others.”

(The report does not mention the case of Israel, whose policy of nuclear opacity — not transparency — is supported at least tacitly by the U.S. government.)

“The Task Force does believe that the times are now propitious to move forward on a path to develop universal transparency regimes that can simultaneously fulfill these goals and requirements through an international process for achieving universal knowledge of nuclear weapon inventories and SNM inventories, and that the U.S. should lead in such an effort.”

“Indeed, the U.S. has already declassified the size of its current nuclear arsenal.”

Unfortunately, that last assertion is not correct.  In May 2010, the U.S. government did declassify the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal as of September 2009.  (At that time, there were 5,113 warheads.) But if you ask how big the arsenal is today, it turns out that the answer is once again classified. The Federation of American Scientists has petitioned the Department of Energy to revise that judgment in favor of public disclosure.

The new DSB report contains several other incidental observations of interest.

  • To date, the U.S. has entered into roughly 25 agreements on nuclear cooperation with other countries (known as 123 Agreements).
  • Of the nearly 1,000 active satellites in earth orbit, there are 200 engaged in earth observation.
  • Some non-governmental analysis of commercial satellite imagery is of poor quality and “may introduce additional noise into U.S. and international monitoring systems. Some experts are concerned that bad data and bad analysis could increasingly tarnish or mask more reliable data…. There have already been major analytical errors made by untrained imagery analysts who have published openly.”
  • The efficient analysis of big data can be undermined by the “transmission latency” (or delayed transfer) of data stored in a cloud-based architecture. Therefore, the DSB says that when it comes to nuclear monitoring, “the analytics need to stay near the data.” Similar concerns concerning prompt access are said to arise in the context of NSA analysis of telephony metadata.


I find their claims that the threat of non-state actions is brand new, now, in 2014.

In short, for the first time since the early decades of the nuclear era, the nation needs to be equally concerned about both “vertical” proliferation (the increase in capabilities of existing  nuclear states) and “horizontal” proliferation (an increase in the number of states and non‐ state actors possessing or attempting to possess nuclear weapons).

After all, the threat of non-state proliferation had been identified before 9/11, and it served as the rationale for a lot of what we have done since then. Has DSB been asleep for the last 15 years?

Moreover, counterproliferation has been built into the dragnet from the start, and was explicitly carved out in the 2008 FISA Amendments Act. It’s fairly safe to presume that counterproliferation has always been one of the certifications under which FAA operates. It’s already part of the dragnet.

Finally, some of the novel kinds of proliferation that are likely of greatest concern — Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and friends — already should fall under the aegis of counterterrorism spying anyway.

Is there a reason DSB is calling to expand a dragnet for CP purposes when the dragnet supposedly already includes it?

Siobhan Gorman/WSJ:

President Obama cited countering weapons of mass destruction as one of the key reasons why the NSA would collect communications “in bulk,” along with counterterrorism and other techniques.

If the Defense Science Board’s recommendations are adopted, a stepped-up effort at monitoring nuclear activities could further stoke debate over U.S. surveillance practices. The efforts would be undertaken by U.S. intelligence agencies, along with the Pentagon, Energy Department and Department of Homeland Security.

In contrast to the current NSA surveillance debate, the report doesn’t address privacy concerns, noted Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists and highlighted the report in his newsletter Tuesday. “The Defense Science Board doesn’t mention privacy. It’s not even on their radar,” said Mr. Aftergood, an advocate of government openness.

Defense Science Board recommendations aren’t binding, but usually are extensive undertakings that are given serious consideration. Work on the new report began in 2010.

Pentagon officials are “thoroughly reviewing” the report, said Defense Department spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea, who declined to comment on the specific recommendations.

NSA officials deferred comment to the Office of Director of National Intelligence. Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, said, “It’s too soon to offer specific reactions or forecast future initiatives.”

  1. […] DoD Science Board Urges Expanded Global Monitoring for Counterproliferation Purposes (New Excuse to … […]


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