SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 97
November 5, 2003

DECLASSIFICATION AND CHINESE NUCLEAR FORCES

The subjective, often arbitrary character of national security classification policy can be clearly discerned from the handling of two Freedom of Information Act requests for a 1984 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimate concerning Chinese nuclear weapons systems.

Last month, the DIA released a declassified version of its 1984 China estimate to Hans M. Kristensen, a consultant with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Nuclear Program. See a copy here:

A few years ago, however, the National Security Archive had requested the very same document which it published here in declassified form:

To Mr. Kristensen's surprise, he found significant differences between the two versions of the document. "The new release reclassifies seven entire paragraphs" that were previously disclosed, he noted, as well as a few other brief passages.

At the same time, "notwithstanding these excessive and unnecessary withholdings, the new version also declassifies previously withheld information" such as an estimate of the 1984 inventory of Chinese nuclear weapons.

Mr. Kristensen said he plans to appeal the denial of the requested material on grounds that much of it has previously been declassified and released under proper authority.

Current information on Chinese nuclear forces may be found in the NRDC Nuclear Notebook in the November/December 2003 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

The same issue of the Bulletin also features a remarkable article on the "many ways U.S. government agencies thwart the Freedom of Information Act" by Jeffrey T. Richelson of the National Security Archive:


REPORTERS COMMITTEE ON THE "SECRET" SUPREME COURT CASE

The Supreme Court yesterday directed the government to respond to a petition from a "Middle Eastern man" identified only as M.K.B. who is seeking review of the extraordinary secrecy surrounding his case (SN, 11/04/03).

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press had filed an amicus brief on November 3 urging the Court to intervene in the matter.

"This case is perhaps the most egregious recent example of an alarming trend toward excessive secrecy in the federal courts, particularly in cases that bear even a tangential connection to the events of Sept. 11, 2001," the Reporters Committee brief stated. See a copy here:

"M.K.B." is none other than South Florida resident Mohamed K. Bellahouel, reported Dan Christensen of the Miami Daily Business Review, who has provided the most in-depth media coverage of this unusual case beginning last March.

His latest story, "Plea for Openness," November 5, appears here:


MEXICO AND GUATEMALA

Mexico's ambivalent posture toward the violent conflict in neighboring Guatemala that extended over three decades is documented and analyzed by Kate Doyle of the National Security Archive based on newly declassified documents.

See "Mexico's Southern Front: Guatemala and the Search for Security," November 2:


NEW CRS REPORTS

Thanks to the U.S. State Department, but no thanks to the U.S. Congress, several new reports of the Congressional Research Service have lately entered the public domain.

New CRS reports of note include:

"Computer Attack and Cyber Terrorism: Vulnerabilities and Policy Issues for Congress," by Clay Wilson, October 17:

"Africa's Great Lakes Region: Current Conditions in Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda," by Ted Dagne and Maureen Farrell, October 28:

"Islamic Religious Schools, Madrasas: Background," by Febe Armanios, October 29:


CONGRESS BOTCHES PUBLIC ACCESS TO CRS

What was Congress thinking when it moved to terminate public access to a database of Congressional Research Services reports? Apparently, it thought it was doing Members a favor.

Under the new policy, Members will be able to select the particular CRS reports they wish to offer on their web sites and to provide links to those specific reports, which will be automatically updated.

This arrangement "maintains the direct relationship between Members and their constituents by enabling Members to learn directly of constituent concerns, and by providing constituents with information that Members personally deem useful," according to a September 10 letter from the House Committee on House Administration.

"This modified approach also preserves the principle of selective dissemination and avoids legal and institutional dangers posed by wholesale publication of CRS products," the letter stated. See (thanks to MJR):

But selective dissemination is a problem, not a principle. And the "legal and institutional dangers" of wholesale publication are a CRS fantasy that is refuted by the counterexample of the General Accounting Office. The GAO, another congressional agency, makes virtually all of its reports directly available to the public without adverse consequences.

Two months after the House Committee announcement, few if any congressional web sites have adopted the new "approach." Instead, members of the public are turning elsewhere for access to CRS products.

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

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