from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
December 8, 2000


Yesterday President Clinton signed an executive order implementing legislation to provide compensation for thousands of Department of Energy workers who unwittingly sacrificed their health in building the nation's nuclear arsenal. Government accountability in this delicate matter had long been blocked by official secrecy surrounding nuclear weapons development.

"These individuals, many of whom were neither protected from nor informed of the hazards to which they were exposed, developed occupational illnesses as a result of their exposure to radiation and other hazards unique to nuclear weapons production and testing," according to a White House statement.

In these twilight days of the Clinton Administration, it is worth noting that no previous Administration has done as much to address the adverse impact of the nuclear weapons complex on people and the environment.

"This problem has been exacerbated by the past policy of the Department of Energy (DOE) and its predecessors of encouraging and assisting DOE contractors in opposing the claims of workers who sought those benefits," the Executive Order stated. "This policy has recently been reversed."

Among those who contributed most dramatically to this reversal is Hazel O'Leary, the Secretary of Energy during the first Clinton term. No one has done more -- though there is more to be done -- to open up official records on environment, safety and health issues in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

This transient moment of openness was intolerable to the partisans of the nuclear weapons complex, who vilified O'Leary with an amazing lack of restraint.

Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) distinguished himself by accusing O'Leary last year of "leaking the design of the W-87 warhead" to U.S. News and World Report.

This was -- there is no way to put it politely -- a lie. Weldon lied repeatedly, and with studied indifference to the facts.

Today, O'Leary is long gone. Meanwhile, Rep. Weldon is jockeying to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.


The CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), which collects, translates and publishes news and open source information from around the world, is showing new signs of wear and tear. Its publicly accessible version, the World News Connection, is declining even faster.

Earlier this week, FBIS published a November 27 story from the Palestinian paper Al Hayat al Jedidah reporting allegations that Israeli soldiers were using depleted uranium projectiles against Palestinian targets (FBIS-NES-2000-1127).

The FBIS translator imaginatively rendered the Arabic phrase "yuranyum mafsud" into English as "phlebotomized uranium." There is of course no such thing.

It appears that the FBIS translator was not only unfamiliar with depleted uranium, but was also remarkably deficient in the Arabic language. The Arabic word "mafsud" has a common semitic root (f-s-d) that simply connotes "loss." The "mafsud" construction alludes to something that has been removed, hence "depleted."

What the word could NOT mean in this context is "phlebotomized" -- which refers to "the act or practice of bloodletting as a therapeutic measure." If such a wild mistranslation by FBIS is not a private joke, then it is an embarrassing sign of incompetence.

Longtime consumers of the public version of FBIS cannot help but notice, and lament, the decline of quality in this once treasured product. In the old days, FBIS would carry all manner of otherwise unobtainable primary documentation -- foreign speeches, legislation, reports, everything. Now it is largely comprised of wire service copy, whether from TASS or Xinhua or IRNA, or of articles from a foreign news website that can be accessed without paying exorbitant subscription fees. It's a real loss.

The World News Connection web site, which offers subscriptions to selected FBIS material, is here:

For official users, FBIS has a publicly accessible web site (that warns unauthorized users to exit "immediately") here:

Speaking of embarrassment, Secrecy News inadvertently transmitted an extraneous attachment when emailing yesterday's edition. It is harmless -- not a virus -- and should simply be deleted.


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