The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence weighed in on major encryption legislation yesterday, unanimously adopting amendments to control exports of encryption software and ensure various forms of government access to encrypted data.
"The fact is that America and the American high-tech industry are the 800-pound gorillas in the global marketplace," Chairman Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) said after the vote. "We have an obligation to use that leverage and that dominance to make sure that the world's terrorists, drug dealers, weapons merchants and child pornographers can be stopped in their tracks."
Goss's committee was the fourth House panel to mark up the measure, approving an amendment sought by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to ensure that law enforcement agencies can obtain court orders to gain access to encrypted information.
The committee also approved a provision authorizing the president to control--and deny--encryption exports on national security grounds. And it adopted language authorizing funding to improve the capabilities of law enforcement and intelligence agencies in countering the spread of increasingly powerful encryption software.
All of those provisions are considerably more restrictive than versions of the bill marked up by the Commerce, International Relations and Judiciary committees.
With software companies arguing that export controls are costing them market share and privacy activists opposing law enforcement access to encrypted data, Goss said his committee's vote made clear that "we are not about to subjugate our national security or the safety of the American people to the constantly changing whims of the marketplace."
In his recent explanation and apology to the Chinese about NATO's mistaken bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade May 7, Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering outlined "basic failures" in targeting techniques, database maintenance and the targeting review process. But he laid almost none of the blame on what to many observers seemed like the most obvious failure: a U.S. military map that didn't show the embassy's correct location.
"There has been much press coverage of the fact that the U.S. and NATO relied on out-of-date maps to check targets," Pickering told the Chinese last month, according to a recently released text of his remarks. "In fact, since any physical map can quickly become out of date, the key question is one of accurate databases."
As for why the intelligence databases weren't up to date, Pickering had a ready answer: "In general, diplomatic facilities have been given relatively little attention in our efforts to update our databases because such facilities are not targets. . . . The correct location of the Chinese Embassy was not known to targeteers or NATO commanders because we were not, in fact, looking for it."
Jeff Richardson, director of communications at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and his bosses at the Department of Energy's public affairs office didn't care much for a recent item about how Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's June 21-22 security stand-down at the nation's weapons laboratories cost taxpayers $15 million in lost work and left Livermore employees twiddling their thumbs for much of the exercise.
Richardson, no relation to the Cabinet secretary, didn't quibble with the facts but said he thought the event clearly succeeded in getting across the message that security and counterintelligence have become major priorities in Washington.
"Telling people to stop their work--that gets their attention," Richardson said. "They say, 'Something must be up here.' Even if they did nothing else, they realized--this is a serious issue."
The stand-down, Richardson said, was designed to bring the outside world into what is ordinarily a heavily guarded, closed society. Employees were directed to read recent government reports and view congressional testimony on what has been one of the year's hottest topics inside the Beltway--China's espionage and apparent theft of U.S. thermonuclear secrets.
While security and counterintelligence at Livermore are both far better than anyone would realize from listening to the Washington rhetoric, Richardson said, scientists at the lab have to take the threat seriously.
"That was our goal--to try to get individuals to understand their role in this," Richardson said.
Vernon Loeb's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org