from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
August 8, 2001


Public debate over U.S. policy toward China is so skewed by ideological prejudices that "We're almost self-paralyzed," said Michael Pillsbury, a China specialist at the National Defense University.

"We don't have a debate taking place," he said. Instead, "we have potshots being taken at each other's integrity." Mr. Pillsbury spoke August 3 at a hearing of the U.S.-China Security Review Commission.

Among the primary targets of these potshots is the Central Intelligence Agency. The most scathing criticism directed against the CIA today is not about its evasions of accountability, its anachronistic classification policies or its deviation from constitutional norms. Rather, the Agency has become a principal target of the political right because it is supposedly "soft on China."

"CIA reporting on China is biased and slanted toward a benign view of the emerging communist power," writes Bill Gertz in the Washington Times. Mr. Gertz, author of a recent book entitled "The China Threat," has kept up a steady drumbeat of "CIA Bias Updates" in his Washington Times columns.

Last week, in yet another item berating the CIA's insufficiently bellicose view on China, Mr. Gertz threw the worst insult he could think of at Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet. He noted that "Mr. Tenet is a Democratic holdover from the Clinton administration."

In Mr. Pillsbury's assessment, there are two sharply polarized views of China among American national security elites and academics. There is the hawkish view that stresses the Chinese threat, and the benign view that sees China inexorably progressing to democracy and peaceful integration in the international order.

The hawkish group, which refers to itself as the "blue team," warns of imminent catastrophe. Mr. Pillsbury summarized the prescription of the blue team, represented by Mr. Gertz and others, as follows: "Get ready for military conflict, prepare yourself for domestic subversion, protect your highest level of technology from theft, increase your internal security measures, strengthen your armed forces, and beware of the Chinese forming coalitions against the United States."

Adherents of a more pacific view of China, derided by their opponents as the "red team," assume that the forces of modernization and the marketplace will automatically make everything turn out okay. Mr. Pillsbury described their stance this way: "Do not antagonize China, do not overreact to Chinese behavior. All we have to do is trade with them and invest."

Beyond exchanging insults, there is little substantive communication between those who embrace these contrasting views, according to Mr. Pillsbury, and therefore there is little progress toward a more sophisticated understanding of China.

"These two groups make up almost the entire China field with very little middle in between," he said. "Any question you refer to China experts is going to become a victim of this [polarization]."

Public debate over China is further impoverished by a lack of Chinese language skills.

"When nobody reads Chinese very well, among either the red team or the blue team, outsiders have to question the credibility of both groups," Mr. Pillsbury said.

"We have very few people who can read Chinese who work on Chinese security matters," he said. There are "close to none who can actually read a newspaper or an article published by the Chinese military or a Chinese government think tank. We have almost no one in our government who can do that."

As a result, "we rely heavily on translations," particularly those of the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS). But FBIS, Mr. Pillsbury noted, does not translate books, except by special arrangement. It translates very few journals of Chinese government think tanks. And no more than "one or two percent of the Chinese military daily newspaper is ever translated into English."

A fawning portrayal of the blue team, "Blue Team Takes on Red China" by J. Michael Waller, appeared in the Washington Times Insight Magazine on June 4:

Michael Pillsbury's book "China Debates the Future Security Environment," which presents new translations on security policy from some 200 Chinese authors, may be found here:


Hundreds of pages of classified documents concerning nuclear weapons were inadvertently made available to researchers at the National Archives, according to a new Department of Energy (DOE) report to Congress.

Following an examination of approximately 100 million pages of declassified records at the Archives, DOE reviewers found 288 documents containing 840 pages of classified nuclear weapons information.

"The identified documents are in collections belong to the Department of State and the Department of Defense. The documents were inadvertently declassified and made available to the public during the years from 1995 to 2000 by the Department of State, the Department of the Navy, and the National Archives and Records Administration. Three of the documents were subsequently found on the Internet," the report states.

The inadvertent disclosures "could assist potential adversaries" in developing nuclear weapons or delivery systems, according to the report.

But classification experts discounted the problem for two reasons. One is that, for the most part, the technology of first generation nuclear weapons information found in some of the documents has long been in the public domain. The second reason is that DOE classification standards have still not been fully updated since the end of the cold war, so that much innocuous information is still considered "classified."

"I'm not saying they haven't found one or two sensitive documents," said Steven Garfinkel of the federal Information Security Oversight Office. But "in almost all cases," the inadvertently disclosed records are "of no continuing national security sensitivity."

Most of the information "has previously been publicly available, for decades in many cases," Mr. Garfinkel said. In many cases, "this is information about the basing of nuclear warheads or delivery systems in NATO countries, primarily during the 50s and 60s."

"It's absolutely ridiculous that you would spend millions and millions of dollars to track these records down," Mr. Garfinkel said.

A declassifed version of the May 2001 report to Congress was released by the Department of Energy on August 7 and may be found here:


Following a campaign led by a coalition of historians and archivists, the records of the former House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) are being made available to the public.

The newly opened collection includes HUAC records concerning atomic espionage, as well as Committee investigations into the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazis, civil rights and anti-war activists, and diverse other topics dating from 1945 to 1975, when HUAC was abolished.

Further information may be found in an August 8 press release from the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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