from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
February 27, 2001


"The risks to sensitive business information and advanced technologies have dramatically increased in the post-Cold War era as foreign governments -- both former adversaries and allies -- have shifted their espionage resources away from military and political targets to commerce."

That is one finding of the latest unclassified Annual Report to Congress on Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage, prepared by the National Counterintelligence Center (NACIC) and published on Friday.

Previous editions of the Report refrained from naming the countries that conduct economic espionage against the U.S. "Because of the ramifications to US foreign policy as well as the sensitivity of source information, the specific identities of countries are included in the classified report only," the first unclassified Annual Report said in 1995.

But the new Report, citing the results of an industry survey, drops the pretense and for the first time officially names the worst offenders: China, Japan, Israel, France, Korea, Taiwan, and India.

A copy of the Report is posted here:

Trade secrets and military technologies obviously deserve appropriate protection, but it seems equally obvious that the consequences of espionage have been dramatically overstated.

So many officials have cried "wolf" (or "crown jewels" or "vital secrets" or "extremely grave") over the years that a more skeptical public understanding of the threat from espionage is gradually developing in response.

James Surowiecki, writing in The New Yorker (February 19 & 26, 2001) observed that "A spate of hysterical books and articles in the early nineteen-nineties depicted an innocent America being sapped of its secrets by wily corporate pirates in Europe and Asia. Of course, now that the economies of Europe and Japan are languishing, that story line doesn't hold up as well."

Fundamentally, the role of "secrets" has been overestimated, both in commercial enterprise and national security.

"A successful business rarely depends on some equation locked away in a vault," Surowiecki wrote. "In the popular imagination, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Coke rule the world because of their coveted secret formulas, but without their distribution networks and branding powers they wouldn't be much bigger than Old Country Buffet. If Popeye's knew the Colonel's 'original recipe,' would it really be able to sell that much more fried chicken?"

Likewise, one might add, the national security of the United States depends infinitely more on our constitutionally-based political system, our economy, and our military infrastructure than it does on any "secret" that could be written down on a piece of paper and handed over to an adversary.


The CIA last week published its semi-annual "Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January Through 30 June 2000."

The Report largely reiterates the findings of past unclassified editions, such as this: "We assess that North Korea has produced enough plutonium for at least one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons."

A copy is posted here:


The Cuban government announced that next month it will declassify "new information on the Bay of Pigs, known in Cuba as Playa Girón."

"The declassification of documents on the US-led mercenary invasion in 1961 will coincide with an international conference entitled 'Girón, 40 years later', set for 20 March to 25 March here in Havana," according to a February 24/25 announcement on Radio Havana.

"Cuban Council of State official José Ramón Fernandez told journalists in Havana that the aim of the conference is to clarify all aspects of the Bay of Pigs invasion, including the events leading up to the invasion, as well as its effect on the U.S.-Cuba relations."

"The conference in the Cuban capital will be the first time that actual participants on both sides will meet together to discuss the issue," the Radio Havana report said.

See the Radio Habana Cuba web site here:


To subscribe to Secrecy News, send email to [email protected] with this command in the body of the message:
      subscribe secrecy_news [your email address]
To unsubscribe, send email to [email protected] with this command in the body of the message:
      unsubscribe secrecy_news [your email address]
Secrecy News is archived at: