[Intelforum] Secrecy News -- 11/03/06 (IF)
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from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 115
November 3, 2006
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/
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** NY TIMES STORY LEADS TO SHUTDOWN OF IRAQI DOCUMENT SITE
** CLASSIFIED BUDGETS AND CONGRESSIONAL CORRUPTION
NY TIMES STORY LEADS TO SHUTDOWN OF IRAQI DOCUMENT SITE
The U.S. Government suspended public access to an online database
of captured Iraqi documents after the New York Times presented
claims from some nuclear experts that the documents included
sensitive nuclear weapons design information.
The documents had already been reviewed and cleared for public
release, but the experts consulted by the Times said they should
not have been disclosed.
See "U.S. Web Archive Is Said to Reveal a Nuclear Primer" by
William J. Broad, New York Times, November 3:
Everyone agrees that proliferation-sensitive data should be
protected. The Federation of American Scientists does not
publish detailed blueprints of functional nuclear weapons, for
example, though such records can be found in the public domain.
But in Secrecy News' estimation, the New York Times story failed
to include an appropriate note of skepticism about the
significance of the disclosures.
According to the Times, experts say that the Iraqi documents
"constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb."
This is a trope that has surfaced repeatedly for decades, from the
publication of the Smyth Report in 1946 and the Los Alamos Primer
some years later to the Progressive Case in 1979 and even the
declassification of inertial confinement fusion in the 1990s,
each of which supposedly compromised the secret of the Bomb.
While it is no doubt true, as former Energy Department
classification official A. Bryan Siebert told the Times, that
there are still nuclear weapons secrets, the basics of nuclear
weapons construction have long been publicly available. And in
case anyone hasn't noticed, proliferation of actual nuclear
weapons has been proceeding apace in North Korea, Iran and
elsewhere, with or without captured Iraqi documents.
William Broad is the best of reporters and his stories pack a
punch even when they are not on the front page of the New York
But he also has a penchant for telling and retelling a
sensational, counterintuitive story that the government is
failing to protect sensitive national security secrets.
A January 13, 2002, front page story by Mr. Broad reported that
the government was selling declassified documents describing the
production of biological weapons. That story, like the one
today, also referred to the documents in question as "cookbooks"
for weapons of mass destruction, a cliched term that grossly
exaggerates their significance and utility, in Secrecy News'
The earlier story prompted the removal of many thousands of
declassified documents from public access, which was probably
prudent. But it also triggered a continuing expansion of
official controls on unclassified information, culminating in a
March 19, 2002, memorandum from White House chief of staff Andrew
Card on "White House Guidance on Safeguarding WMD Information and
Sensitive Homeland Security Documents." One has to expect that
the latest story will aggravate the problem.
The current Administration is not known for reckless disclosure of
sensitive data, to put it mildly. The Times and its reporters
know this. But today's story does not account for the
government's supposed departure from its normal stinginess with
information and its move towards indiscriminate revelation of
precious nuclear secrets, if that's what happened. Having been
publicly scolded by the Times for this little experiment in
public disclosure, officials are now even less likely to defy
well-founded expectations of secrecy.
Last week, coincidentally, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
published a proposal to export some 15 kilograms of highly
enriched uranium (93% U-235) to Canada, thereby perpetuating
international traffic in actual bomb-grade materials.
The proposal was not reported in the New York Times.
CLASSIFIED BUDGETS AND CONGRESSIONAL CORRUPTION
Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nevada) helped to direct millions of dollars
of classified contracts to one of his major campaign
contributors, according to an astonishing account in the Wall
Street Journal. ("Congressman's Favors for Friend Include Help
in Secret Budget," by John R. Wilke, Wall Street Journal,
November 1, sub. req'd.).
Coming in the wake of the bribery scandal involving Rep. Randy
"Duke" Cunningham (R-CA), the latest report underscores the
potential for corruption in classified defense and intelligence
Yet Congressional leaders have stubbornly resisted efforts to
reduce budget secrecy.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal followed up on this aspect of the
Gibbons story in a report yesterday.
See " Experts critical of secret defense budgeting system" by
Aaron Sadler, Las Vegas Review-Journal, November 2:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the
Federation of American Scientists.
The Secrecy News Blog is at:
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