Pentagon Reverts to Nuclear Stockpile Secrecy

07.01.13 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In May 2010, the Department of Defense disclosed that the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal consisted of 5,113 warheads (as of September 30, 2009).

This was a disclosure of great significance, the Pentagon explained:  “Increasing the transparency of global nuclear stockpiles is important to non-proliferation efforts, and to pursuing follow-on reductions after the ratification and entry into force of the New START Treaty,” the Department of Defense said then.

The disclosure was also an unprecedented breakthrough in secrecy reform.  Never before had the U.S. government revealed the current size of its nuclear arsenal.  The Obama Administration’s promise to be “the most transparent Administration ever” is often viewed ironically in view of the perceived prevalence of overclassification. But when it comes to nuclear stockpile secrecy (and at least a few other important topics), that promise was fulfilled quite literally.

For all of those reasons, it was dispiriting to learn that the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal today is once again classified.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists for a copy of records indicating the current size of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, the Pentagon said that the requested information was exempt from disclosure because it is classified under the Atomic Energy Act.

We have appealed the denial, citing the arguments made by a “Senior Defense Official” at a Pentagon press briefing in 2010 to justify the Department’s declassification of the stockpile size through September 2009.

“The objective is to show through our transparency a model that we hope that others will follow. And we think it’s going to have benefits for both nonproliferation and for our future work in arms control,” the Senior Defense Official said then.

We have also asked the Department of Energy to initiate its own declassification of the stockpile size, invoking a federal regulation (10 C.F.R. 1045.20) which allows members of the public to propose declassification of information classified under the Atomic Energy Act.

According to an unofficial estimate by Hans Kristensen and Robert S. Norris of the Federation of American Scientists, the current number of warheads in the U.S. arsenal is approximately 4,650.