from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
February 6, 2001


President George W. Bush's first published comment on national security classification policy comes in a January 31 letter to Congress that restates the exemption of the classified facility at Groom Lake, Nevada from certain environmental disclosure requirements:

"Information concerning activities at the operating location near Groom Lake has been properly determined to be classified and its disclosure would be harmful to national security. Continued protection of this information is, therefore, in the paramount interest of the United States," President Bush wrote. See:


The Department of Defense has published a new "Space Technology Guide" that responds to a legislative requirement "to identify the technologies needed ... to take full advantage of use of space for national security purposes."

The Guide covers the familiar gamut of "enabling technologies" for national security space activities from propulsion to communications to materials, and so forth. With one exception.

Unlike practically every other survey of military space technologies over the past few decades, the new Guide conspicuously omits any mention of space nuclear power. Space nuclear reactors have long been on the military's wish list because they would offer an exceptionally high power to mass ratio in a compact, survivable form. Just what you need to drive your orbital weapons platform.

But for that reason, they have also been a lightning rod for public concern and criticism. In 1988, a proposal for a ban on nuclear reactors in Earth orbit was developed by the Los Angeles-based Committee to Bridge the Gap and advanced as an arms control measure by U.S. and Russian scientists, including the Federation of American Scientists. Other forms of nuclear power for civilian space exploration have also been opposed by anti-nuclear activists.

A Pentagon spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for an explanation of the omission of space nuclear power from the latest planning documents.

The U.S. launched one 500 Watt space nuclear reactor in 1965. Dozens of reactors were deployed in orbit by the former Soviet Union between 1967 and 1988. The last major U.S. space nuclear reactor development program, known as the SP-100, was canceled nearly a decade ago.

The new DoD Space Technology Guide is posted here:


The New York Times re-reported the development and subsequent disintegration of the Wen Ho Lee case in a two-part series that although unusually long does not include much substantively new information.

The Times acknowledges in passing that its initial coverage of the case in 1999 had been the subject of criticism, but the paper still does not seem fully cognizant of its role as a protagonist in the aborted espionage case against the Los Alamos scientist.

Thus, readers are told that the limited evidence of Chinese nuclear espionage "was distorted and amplified as it bounced from intelligence analysts to criminal investigators to elected officials ... in the echo chamber of Washington...." To a first approximation, however, this "echo chamber" was nothing other than the New York Times itself, which uncritically reported and implicitly validated the most alarmist views of the case.

On the other hand, the Times does note that publication of its original story "upended the F.B.I.'s strategy, forcing agents to rush into a confrontation interview with Dr. Lee before they were ready...."

Despite its prodigious reporting and re-reporting, incidentally, the new Times series perpetuates at least one factual error by stating that prior to the Wen Ho Lee case, "No one had ever been prosecuted under those [Atomic Energy Act] statutes, according to court testimony." This seems to be based on a statement by FBI agent Messemer that he was unaware of any prosecutions involving violations of the Atomic Energy Act. But in fact, at least one civilian was prosecuted under the Atomic Energy Act in 1965. One military officer was court-martialed under the Act in 1959.

The two-part New York Times series on Wen Ho Lee is posted here:

Wen Ho Lee's attorneys protested unattributed remarks made to the Washington Post about the status of the case, including a Post story last Sunday that prosecutors were considering a request for further interrogation of Dr. Lee.

"Not only are the leaks false," attorney Mark Holscher told the Albuquerque Tribune, "but it is a violation of federal criminal law for anonymous government officials to make such leaks."

"We remain troubled," said attorney Brian Sun in an Associated Press report, "that the government is seemingly continuing its pattern of selected, fragmented leaks, which are highly susceptible to speculative inferences and unfounded conjecture."


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