FAS Roundup: July 23, 2012

New online debate series, history of Soviet biological weapons program, India’s nuclear arsenal and much more.

FAS Launches New Online Feature: “Up for Debate”

FAS launched its new online debate series, “Up for Debate.” Every two weeks, the feature will highlight a new science and security issue to be discussed by experts and leaders from academia, government and policy. In the first debate, Dr. Mark Raizen from the University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Francis Slakey from the American Physical Society debate the benefits and risks of laser isotope separation. Is the promise of tapping into the rare isotopes of the elements worth risking the threat of nuclear proliferation?

“Up For Debate” welcomes your suggestions for questions and experts. Please email your ideas for debates, as well as individuals whose insights you’d like to read to [email protected].

To view the debate and learn more about the Up for Debate series click here.


From the Blogs

  • The History of the Soviet Biological Weapons Program: In 1972, the United States, the Soviet Union and other nations signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention that was supposed to ban biological weapons.  At that very time, however, the Soviet Union was embarking on a massive expansion of its offensive biological weapons program, which began in the 1920s and continued under the Russian Federation at least into the 1990s. Steven Aftergood writes about the new encyclopedic work,  “The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History” by Milton Leitenberg and Raymond A. Zilinskas, which tells the story of the Soviet biological weapons program.
  • New Army Doctrine Seeks to Minimize Civilian Casualties: Both as a matter of humanitarian principle and as sound military strategy, U.S. military forces should strive to minimize civilian casualties in military operations, according to new U.S. Army doctrine published on Wednesday obtained by Secrecy News. “In their efforts to defeat enemies, Army units and their partners must ensure that they are not creating even more adversaries in the process,” the new publication states.

  • Not Just a Bigger Boom: Nuclear explosives are forever linked with nuclear weapons- with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with nuclear winter and the crew of the Lucky Dragon (a fishing boat caught by the fallout from America’s first thermonuclear test), and with our Cold War fears of nuclear extinction. In a new post on the ScienceWonk blog, Dr. Y examines non-nuclear explosives.
  • Declassification Advances, But Will Miss Goal: The latest report from the National Declassification Center features notable improvements in interagency collaboration in declassifying records, along with increased efficiency and steadily growing productivity.  Even so, the declassification program will almost certainly miss its presidentially-mandated goal of eliminating the backlog of 25 year old records awaiting declassification by December 2013.
  • ISCAP to Provide Increased Disclosure of Its Decisions: The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) is preparing to provide improved public notification of its declassification and disclosure decisions. The ISCAP, among its other duties, considers and rules on appeals from the public to declassify records that agencies have refused to release. The Panel, which was established by executive order in 1995, has actually succeeded beyond all reasonable expectations, declassifying information in the majority of cases presented to it.
  • Punishing Leaks of Classified Information: The first new legislative initiative to combat leaks of classified information is a bill called the Deterring Public Disclosure of Covert Actions Act of 2012, which was introduced on July 10 by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). “This act will ensure that those who disclose or talk about covert actions by the United States will no longer be eligible for Federal Government security clearance. It is novel. It is very simple. If you talk about covert actions you will have your clearance revoked and you will never get another one,” Sen. Burr said. Steven Aftergood writes that the most peculiar thing about the new legislation is that it appears to validate the spurious notion of an “authorized leak.”
  • Publishing Scientific Papers with Potential Security Risks: The recent controversy over publication of scientific papers concerning the transmissibility of bird flu virus was reviewed in a new report by the Congressional Research Service. The report cautiously elucidates the relevant policy implications and considers the responses available to Congress.
  • New Pentagon Statement on Leak Policy: Following a closed House Armed Services Committee hearing on leaks held on July 19, the Department of Defense issued a statement outlining its multi-pronged effort to deter, detect and punish unauthorized disclosures of classified information. Several of the steps announced have previously been described and implemented, such as new guidance on protection of classified information and physical restrictions on use of portable media to download classified data.  Other measures involve new tracking and reporting mechanisms, and the ongoing implementation of an “insider threat” detection program.



  • Indian Nuclear Forces, 2012: In a new edition of the Nuclear Notebook, Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project, and Dr. Robert S. Norris, senior fellow for Nuclear Policy, write in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists regarding India’s nuclear arsenal. India is estimated to have produced approximately 520 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, sufficient for 100 to 130 nuclear warheads; however, not all of the material has been converted into warheads. Based on available information, Kristensen and Norris estimate that India currently has 80 to 100 nuclear warheads for its emerging Triad of air-, land-, and sea-based nuclear-capable delivery vehicles.


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