SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 47
May 3, 2007

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LOS ALAMOS BLOCKS RESEARCHER ACCESS TO ARCHIVES

Los Alamos National Laboratory will no longer permit historians and other researchers to have access to its archival records because Los Alamos National Security (LANS), the private contractor that now operates the Lab, says it has "no policy in place" that would allow such access.

"Policies that had previously applied to the University of California relating to the disclosure of information directly to you are no longer applicable," wrote Judy Archuleta of the Los Alamos Information Practices Office to Alex Wellerstein, a graduate student at Harvard.

Mr. Wellerstein had sought copies of Lab records on the history of nuclear secrecy policy and he had been led to believe that access to such material would be granted, in accordance with past practice.

"Because LANS is a private company, the policies that applied [previously] are no longer in place," she said.

"No policy is presently in place that authorizes the direct disclosure of the information you seek," she wrote.

Instead, Mr. Wellerstein was told that he should pursue his research through the Freedom of Information Act.

"The FOIA process, however cumbersome, currently provides the only means of accessing our records," wrote Roger A. Meade, the Los Alamos Archivist/Historian on April 17.

But FOIA requests are poorly suited to archival research since they can easily take years to process and must specify in advance the records that are sought.

In effect, when it comes to historical or other public research, the Los Alamos archives are closed for business.

It's "terrible news" for scholars, said Hugh Gusterson, an anthropologist who has studied the culture of the nuclear weapons labs.


OSCE REPORT ON ACCESS TO INFORMATION

Government secrecy and public access policies in dozens of countries from Albania to Uzbekistan were described in a major new report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The report surveyed freedom of information (FOI) laws, national security classification policies, penalties for unauthorized disclosures of information, and provisions for protecting journalists' sources.

There is good news and bad news, the report says.

"The FOI trend in the OSCE participating States is positive. Out of 56 OSCE participating States, 45 started their 'Copernican revolution' in favour of the public's right to know, by adopting national laws on access to information."

"Unfortunately, many countries retained the right to classify a too wide array of information as 'state secrets'. In fact, the majority of the OSCE participating States have not yet adjusted their rules of classification to the FOI principles, that is, they disregard the primacy of the public's right to know."

The report offers some comparative analysis and proposes a series of "best practices" in promoting public access to government information.

"There should be sanctions for those who deliberately and improperly designate information as secret or maintain excessive secrecy," the report advises.

See the summary report, entitled "Access to information by the media in the OSCE region: trends and recommendations," Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, 30 April 2007:

The underlying country reports (423 pages) are available here:


FEDERAL ID PLAN THREATENS PRIVACY, SAY JPL SCIENTISTS

A Bush Administration plan to require a standardized identification system for federal employees poses "severe threats to the privacy rights of scientists and others," employees at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) wrote to Congress last week.

In August 2004, President Bush issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 12, "Policy for a Common Identification Standard for Federal Employees and Contractors," which was intended to enhance security by establishing a mandatory, verifiable, and standardized identification system for government personnel.

But the implementation of the Directive is doing more than that, the JPL scientists told Congress.

"We and our colleagues have found that this order, which is merely intended to establish a common standard of identification for access to federal facilities, is being used to gather extensive personal information about employees, including fingerprints, racial, ethnic, financial and medical information."

"Rigorous proof [of identification] does not require intrusion into the personal lives of federal employees," they wrote on April 26.

Aside from civil liberties concerns, they added, the collection of personal data under HSPD-12 has "a very negative impact on our ability to recruit the very best scientific and engineering talent to address our nation's complex technical needs."

"In the face of such intrusions talented researchers are inclined to take positions elsewhere, where the employers have a modicum of respect for the Constitution."

The four JPL scientists addressed their request for relief to Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Mich.) since "the four of us, like the two of you, hold doctorates in the physical sciences."


COURT URGED TO ASSESS STATE SECRET CLAIMS

When the government asserts the state secrets privilege in the course of litigation, the judiciary must independently evaluate the purported secret that is at issue and should not simply defer to the executive branch, several public interest groups argued in an amicus curiae brief this week.

The brief, to which the FAS Project on Government Secrecy signed on, was filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a state secrets case involving alleged domestic intelligence surveillance (Hepting v. USA, and related cases).

"The government's extreme reading of the [state secrets] privilege would thwart government accountability, denying a forum for legitimate claims of government wrongdoing and undermining independent judicial review of executive action," the brief stated.

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

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