from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
November 21, 2000


Contemporary democracy is not conducive to meaningful policy change, writes George Perkovich in a startling commentary in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. In particular, he says, the prospects for successful nuclear disarmament will be much greater if this policy goal is pursued outside of normal political channels.

"It is no accident that the vast majority of states that decided to abandon nuclear weapons programs in recent decades -- Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Kazakhstan, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, and Ukraine -- did so outside of established democratic processes. Nor was it happenstance that the far-reaching U.S.-Soviet nuclear reductions between 1987 and 1992 were made possible by the one-party leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev and by President George H.W. Bush’s bold, secretive 1991 initiative to take U.S. nuclear bombers off alert and remove tactical nuclear weapons from service."

"The 1991 Bush initiative, which was not vetted by the interagency process or exposed first to public debate, is a good model for how the necessary changes will begin," Mr. Perkovich writes provocatively.

Of course, "Authoritarian government is not the answer. Rather, farsighted changes in nuclear policies will depend on determined experts’ pushing the president to do the necessary executive work and painstaking diplomacy.... The onus is now on security and nuclear-policy experts to make the next U.S. administration jettison counterproductive Cold War nuclear doctrine."

This view seems to be rooted in despair over the vacuousness and viciousness of conventional political discourse. But the idea that the fractious "community" of security policy experts can provide the missing element of leadership seems questionable, to say the least.

George Perkovich is director of the Secure World Program at the W. Alton Jones Foundation, which funds the Federation of American Scientists. His article is not available on line, but information about Foreign Affairs, which is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, may be found here:


Members of the recent Commission on the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) noted the loss of the secrecy that once surrounded the NRO and lamented that today NRO programs are even "analyzed and discussed on the Internet."

"Have you ever heard of the Federation of American Scientists? That is what the commission is upset about," said an official from the Office of the Secretary of Defense in an interview last week with the newsletter Inside the Air Force. He was evidently referring to information about NRO programs developed by John Pike and posted on the FAS web site here:

The official went on to state, however, that the concern over public disclosure of NRO information is "overblown," according to Inside the Air Force:

Meanwhile, the conservative magazine Insight took time off from its regularly scheduled warnings about Communist Chinese perfidy to criticize the website of the U.S. Department of Defense for supposedly downplaying the threat to the United States.

"The DefenseLINK website posts ‘special reports’ on American Indian Heritage, Hispanic Heritage and National Domestic Violence months," as well as "information on tacos, diapers and sexual harassment," writes J. Michael Waller in Insight ("The Embarrassing Pentagon Website," Dec. 11, 2000). But "an Insight search could find no special reports that cogently and comprehensively explain current and potential military threats to the U.S. homeland."

"To get a look through the Internet at foreign military threats and why the United States needs a strong defense, one is better served, ironically, by such left-wing outfits as the Center for Defense Information and the Federation of American Scientists than the main Website of the Pentagon itself." See:


The Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress does not want its taxpayer-funded reports to be made available online -- which is almost a sufficient reason to place them online. An additional reason is that they are often interesting and useful pieces of work that are not otherwise readily available.

Two new CRS reports of note have just been added to the FAS web site (in PDF format).

"Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR): The U-2 Aircraft and Global Hawk UAV Programs," by Richard A. Best, Jr., et al, November 6, 2000:

"Russian Fighter Aircraft Industrial Base: Parallels with the United States?" by Christopher Bolkcom, et al, November 8, 2000:


Secrecy News is sad to note the death of Lars-Erik Nelson, who passed away at age 59 yesterday. A columnist for the New York Daily News, he was known as an independent thinker and a graceful and compelling writer.

Among other things, he distinguished himself as an early critic of the Cox Committee on Chinese espionage. His July 15, 1999 article in the New York Review of Books crystallized a dissenting view of the matter that would ultimately be vindicated.

He wrote about secrecy policy most recently on November 1, in an article ("Congress' Secrecy Bill Lowers Iron Curtain") criticizing the now-vetoed congressional initiative to criminalize disclosures of all classified information. See:


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