from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
November 15, 2000


The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) has drafted a new security classification guide that would sharply increase the secrecy of many aspects of the troubled national missile defense program. If approved, the new classification guide would entail many millions of dollars of new security costs, and could severely limit public oversight of the controversial program.

"Many things now unclassified will become Secret and things now classified as Secret will become Top Secret," according to a defense contractor who has reviewed the draft "BMDO National Missile Defense Security Classification Guide," dated October 2000.

"The estimate for complying at the company I work for is around $1 million for increased security equipment for the building and for computers. And my company is a small player in the NMD [National Missile Defense] program. Not only will it cost a lot, it will be very difficult for the government to investigate and grant TS [Top Secret] clearances to all the people who will need them," the contractor official said.

Of particular note, the new draft guide dictates that the dates of interceptor flight tests, which have been unclassified until now, would become classified. "I had been told previously that interceptor flight test dates would become Confidential," the contractor official said. "The new class guide makes the date Secret."

"It also makes TS many areas which have been criticized in the past, such as the ability of the system to discriminate real warheads from decoys and debris. Once these issues are TS, the government is essentially relieved of the responsibility to respond to criticism," the contractor said.

"These changes are questionable on two counts," he said. "The first is that TS is almost always reserved for operational military systems, where weaknesses should not be public knowledge. The NMD program is not operational, and should still be subject to scrutiny. The second is that some of the classifications are precisely to avoid scrutiny. Media coverage of the last NMD test was probably the cause of this recent classification," he speculated.

"The NMD program has areas with serious shortcomings. It is unfortunate that many of the technical criticisms are not very accurate. This is mainly because the critics are not in the program and thus canít know the real weaknesses. If the classification guide goes into effect, the critics will be locked out for good and will become little better than conspiracy theorists," the contractor said.

Lt. Col. Rick Lehner, a BMDO spokesman, defended the need to increase secrecy. "As you move closer toward a production design, then you have to upgrade things that might have been unclassified, because you might be dealing with the final design," Col. Lehner told Secrecy News.

But why would interceptor flight test dates suddenly become Secret? "I asked General Nance about that," said Col. Lehner, referring to Major General Willie B. Nance, Jr., the National Missile Defense program executive officer. "He said that he has made no final determination about whether flight test dates will be classified."

"BMDO has always said, It needs to be unclassified unless you can convince me otherwise," Col. Lehner said. "You need a compelling reason for classification."

The new draft security classification guide will not be finalized for a month or more, according to Col. Lehner. "Itís a work in progress."


"President Bill Clinton has done more than any other president to lift the veil of secrecy that shrouds much of the United States' cold war history," wrote Eli J. Lake in a United Press International story yesterday. "But with his successor in doubt, so is the future of Clinton's policy of national security sunshine."



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