from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
February 1, 2001


The Department of Energy has published a new edition of "Restricted Data Declassification Decisions, 1946 to the Present," an exhaustive 140 page record of declassification activity that includes several items concerning atomic energy and nuclear weapons that were declassified over the past year.

"This document should be of interest and utility to historical researchers and individuals who are interested in information security," it states.

It is evident that an enormous amount of detailed information on nuclear science and technology has been declassified over the years. Beyond tabulating these declassification actions, the report itself provides some historical insights. Thus, "[It is a] fact that the DOE made a substantial investment in the past to develop a pure fusion weapon. [However,] the U.S. does not have and is not developing a pure fusion weapon.... No credible design for a pure fusion weapon resulted from the DOE investment."

Some of the newly reported declassifications include:

DOE notes that the pace of declassification has slowed and it projects that "the reduced frequency of new declassifications will continue in the future."

The January 1, 2001 report, with new declassifications highlighted in red, is posted here:


The U.S. public has a "strong view that the government classifies too much information," according to an analysis of survey data collected for the Defense Department over the past several years. "Public skepticism towards the magnitude of government secrecy is substantial."

This was one finding of a unique study on "Trends in Public Attitudes Towards Government Security Programs, An Analysis of General Social Survey Data, 1994-1998" performed by the Security Research Center (SRC) of the Defense Security Service.

The SRC analysis identified strong public support for protecting national security information, especially information on technology having military applications, diplomatic initiatives, military operations, domestic counter-terrorism and the intelligence budget. At the same time, it found a consistent majority view that too much information is classified.

This unusual study of public perceptions was undertaken because "our ability to maintain and enhance security programs in part depends upon the public's willingness to endorse appropriate measures to neutralize security risks and upon the importance and priority the electorate gives to safeguarding national security information," the SRC study says. "In theory, it is ultimately the people to whom the government is accountable for its policies."

The analysis also found that the public views espionage as a very serious crime that deserves severe punishment. On the other hand, a clear majority (62.3%) held that an official who leaks sensitive information to the press should not be imprisoned but only reprimanded (19.7%) or fired (42.6%). This view tends to vindicate President Clinton's veto of legislation last year that would have made leaking a felony subject to a jail term.

While the SRC study makes interesting reading, there is something incongruous about the whole effort because actual security policies and public attitudes are so loosely coupled: In practice, it doesn't matter a great deal what the public thinks and there is no effective mechanism for factoring public views into the policy formulation process. The Security Policy Advisory Board was created to provide a "non-governmental," "public interest" view on security policy -- but its members are retired government security officials, including its chairman, Air Force General Larry Welch.

The SRC analysis of public attitudes also lacks any methodological self-criticism, although it seems obvious that public responses would be shaped significantly by the formulation of the questions and of the answers that are presented for selection.

The study was prepared in 1999, based on survey data collected in 1994, 1996, and 1998. It was written by Lynn F. Fischer of the SRC in Monterey, California. Mr. Fischer said that he is still awaiting new survey data from 2000 and anticipates preparation of an updated study of public attitudes towards government security programs later this year.

The SRC study may be found here:


The report of the U.S. Commission on National Security, co-chaired by former senators Warren B. Rudman and Gary Hart, has been described as the most radical proposal for national security reform and institutional re-design since the National Security Act of 1947.

So it is remarkable to discover that its far-reaching proposals do not extend to the U.S. intelligence community.

While some may have thought that efforts to reform U.S. intelligence had stalled or misfired, it turns out that they were successful all along, according to the Rudman Commission.

"The basic structure of the U.S. intelligence community does not require change," the Commission believes. "The community has implemented many of the recommendations for reform made by other studies."

The only thing required now is "change" of another sort, and a lot of it. The Commission "urges an overall increase in the [national intelligence] budget.... There is no escaping the need for an increase in overall resources for the intelligence community."

Senator Rudman received the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal from Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet last month. (SN, 1/11/01)

Among some other surprising conclusions, the Commission found that "the inadequacies of our systems of research and education pose a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine."

This is not a statement that is calculated to please military contractors or their representatives in Congress. On the other hand, the Commission's conception of "education" is about as narrow as it could be. It does not refer to education for freedom and citizenship, but to a kind of vocational training that is needed to service the national security machine.

[The previous statement is an unfair characterization of the Commission's views on education. A careful reader (RB) pointed to the following passage on page 39 of the report: "Education is the foundation of American's future. Quality education in the humanities and social sciences is essential....but education in science, mathematics, and engineering has special relevance...." (Note added 2/9/01)]

A copy of the Commission report, entitled "Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change" and released on January 31, is posted here (as a large 1.6 MB PDF file):


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