CIA Blocks Book on Chinese Nuclear Weapons

04.04.07 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

An eagerly awaited book on the history of the Chinese nuclear weapons program will not be published due to objections from the Central Intelligence Agency, which said it contains classified information.

A federal court last week ruled (pdf) that the CIA was within its rights to block disclosure of 23 sections of a manuscript by former Los Alamos intelligence specialist Danny B. Stillman, who had brought a lawsuit asserting his First Amendment right to publish the volume.

During the 1990s, Mr. Stillman traveled to China nine times, including six trips that took place after his retirement in 1993. He visited nuclear weapons facilities and “engaged in extensive discussions with Chinese scientists, government officials, and nuclear weapons designers,” resulting in a 506-page manuscript entitled “Inside China’s Nuclear Weapons Program.”

Since he was a Los Alamos employee prior to retirement, and maintained a security clearance thereafter, he submitted his manuscript to the government for pre-publication review, as required by the non-disclosure agreements that he had signed.

His book was written for publication and did not include classified information, in the author’s judgment.

Significantly, the Department of Energy, which has principal classification authority over nuclear weapons design data, concurred. After initial resistance, DOE gave its approval for publication of the entire volume.

But the Central Intelligence Agency, DIA and DoD were opposed.

In a March 30 ruling, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the DC District Court wrote that the non-disclosure agreements signed by Mr. Stillman contain “incredibly broad language” with regard to protection of classified information.

And upon review, the Court said it was persuaded that “the government has properly classified the twenty-three passages in Stillman’s manuscript.”

Since those passages constitute about 15% of the total manuscript and include some of the most interesting and valuable information that he gathered in his travels to China, the author said he would not publish the remainder.