Associated PressWASHINGTON (AP) - The government's aggressive push five years ago to declassify historic papers led to about 1,000 documents containing nuclear weapons secrets to be mistakenly declassified, the Clinton administration told Congress.
January 22, 2000
Secret Nuke Documents Made PublicBy H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press Writer
While the nuclear weapons documents were inadvertently opened to researchers, only one of the files - on nuclear weapons deployment in foreign countries in the 1950s - was actually examined by any outsiders before the mistakes were discovered, the Department of Energy said in a report.
The papers were among millions of pages that were declassified between 1995 and 1998 under an executive order from President Clinton directing federal agencies to lift the veil of secrecy from documents that are more than 25 years old.
The openness campaign was widely applauded as an effort to reverse decades of secrecy about the nuclear weapons programs at the old Atomic Energy Commission and about a variety of events from the Vietnam War and UFO research to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
The declassification effort is expected to cover about a billion pages before it is completed in a few years.
The classified report sent to Congress just before Christmas details the findings of a DOE audit of some 948,000 pages of nuclear weapons related documents that had been part of the three-year declassification effort.
During the review, auditors found that 14,890 pages containing secret weapons information were mistakenly declassified and made available for public view at the National Archives, according to an unclassified summary of the report.
The material covers "about 1,000 documents," many of which originated in the old Atomic Energy Commission but had been transferred to other agencies and declassified there, said a DOE official, who spoke on condition of not being identified further.
Although none was declassified by the Energy Department, the mistakes were found in DOE audits of the declassification process required by a law passed by Congress in 1998.
Included among the 14,890 pages was information on nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s and 1960s "that provided insight ... in weapons design technology" as well as yields on specific weapon and their deployment and storage, according to the unclassified summary.
In a letter accompanying the report, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson cited "the gravity of these inadvertent releases" and said he was increasing the number of auditors and expanding training programs for those conducting declassification at the other agencies.
While the documents contained information that was in some cases 30 to 40 years old, the report said it still could be useful to someone seeking to build a crude nuclear device.
Such information, because it is technically less sophisticated, "can provide useful design parameters to emerging (nuclear) proliferant nations and to terrorist groups," the department said.
The documents were erroneously declassified for a variety of reasons, the DOE official said. In some cases, reviewers were not adequately trained and did not recognize the material. In other cases, documents dating back decades were misfiled or incorrectly labeled.
Steven Aftergood, who directs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said that while the government should pursue "a vigorous and successful declassification program, nobody wants to see sensitive nuclear weapons information disclosed."
He said the fact that DOE is conducting audits that discovered the declassification mistakes "suggests the DOE is finding a balance which will allow declassification to proceed without risking unintentional disclosure."
Aftergood's organization obtained a copy of the unclassified portions of the DOE report to Congress and made it available.
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press.