SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
October 29, 2001

BUSH REVIEW OF SECRECY POLICY BEGINS

The Bush Administration has established an interagency group to prepare changes to the Clinton Administration's 1995 executive order 12958 which governs national security classification and declassification policy.

The Executive Order Drafting Subcommittee held its first meeting on August 9. Since then, eight member agencies have proposed changes to 24 of the 34 sections in the Clinton Order, according to a report in an internal Energy Department newsletter.

"As can be expected, there were more proposed changes to Section 3.4, Automatic Declassification, than to any other section," the newsletter noted. That section dictates that most classified records be automatically declassified when they become 25 years old.

"There is a general recognition that there need to be some changes made," said Laura L.S. Kimberly, associate director for policy at the Information Security Oversight Office and chair of the new E.O. Drafting Subcommittee.

But "we're in the very, very beginning stages of this," said Ms. Kimberly. She indicated that there would be an opportunity for public comment on any substantial changes that are ultimately proposed.

"There's fewer changes than you might have thought," an official from another agency told Secrecy News. "I don't think it's a 180 degree change; it's more of a refinement. I think the things you care most about will remain intact."

The official also offered an explanation for why the proposed changes, which he declined to describe, are less far-reaching than they might have been.

"A lot of people who would have resisted or opposed declassification in the past are now running their own little declassification empires [as a result of the Clinton order]," he said. "And they are in no hurry to dismantle them."

The text of the news item about the pending revisions to the executive order from the Energy Department newsletter Communique is posted here:


STATUS OF DOD DECLASSIFICATION REPORTED

Declassification of historically valuable records in the Department of Defense is proceeding in an orderly fashion, according to a recent report to Congress.

While most defense agencies were on track to complete the review of 25 year old records prior to automatic declassification, extensions were said to be required for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Joint Forces Command.

Politically, the most significant feature of the report is that it does not solicit congressional intervention in the declassification process or request legislative relief from existing requirements. Accordingly, the FY 2002 Defense Authorization Act is silent on declassification policy for the first time in several years.

The February 2001 report to Congress was obtained last week under the Freedom of Information Act. It is posted here:


DJINN ENERGY

A leading Pakistani nuclear scientist who was questioned by the Pakistani government last week concerning his ties to the Taliban is known as a proponent of "Islamic science," a weird hybrid of scientific terminology and Islamic lore.

Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood is a pioneer in the development of nuclear technology in Pakistan. But in 1980, as a senior director of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, he "recommended that djinns [or genies], being fiery creatures, ought to be tapped as a free source of energy. By this means, a final solution to Pakistan's energy problems would be found."

This episode was recounted by Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy in his enlightening book "Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality" (Zed Books, 1991).

In a Wall Street Journal article on Islamic science (13 September 1988), Dr. Mehmood noted that King Solomon had harnessed energy from djinns. "I think that if we develop our souls we can develop communications with them," he said.

While the notion of "djinn energy" is ridiculous -- even in Pakistan there are no djinn engines -- ridicule is beside the point. A more important point is that influential figures in the Islamic world are devoted to a view of reality that cannot be readily reconciled with conventional Western thought. This is a "translation" problem that cannot be solved with dictionaries.

The detention of Bashiruddin Mehmood, which is expected to be temporary, was reported in the Pakistan Observer in Islamabad on October 25. See "Nuclear Scientists Picked [Up] By Agencies":

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Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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