from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 72
August 5, 2002


Publication of a controversial scientific paper that described the synthesis of an infectious polio virus from mail order components has prompted several members of Congress to introduce a resolution expressing "serious concern" about the paper, which appeared July 11 in Science Magazine online, and calling for tighter controls on the publication of certain scientific research.

The resolution, introduced by Rep. Dave Weldon and seven others on July 26, would urge the scientific community to ensure that information that may be used by terrorists is not made widely available.

It would further call upon the executive branch to reexamine its classification policies in light of the recent polio virus paper, which was funded by DARPA.

"The executive branch should examine all policies, including national security directives, relevant to the classification or publication of federally funded research to ensure that, although the free exchange of information is encouraged, information that could be useful in the development of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons is not made accessible to terrorists or countries of proliferation concern," according to the draft resolution.

See the text of House Resolution 514 here:

The relevant "national security directive" is National Security Decision Directive 189, which declared that "It is the policy of this Administration that, to the maximum extent possible, the products of fundamental research remain unrestricted." That 1985 directive remains in effect. See:

Although the House resolution arguably overstated the significance of the Science paper as a blueprint for manufacturing other viruses, it noted correctly that "the principle that the article demonstrated could have been demonstrated by using a harmless bacterial virus."

In other words, the paper was intended to be provocative. And now it has provoked.

The House resolution, and other consequences of the polio virus paper, are discussed in a news story and an exchange of letters in the August 2 issue of Science Magazine.

In response to penetrating criticism of the paper's publication from Stanford researcher Steven M. Block, Science editor Donald Kennedy defended the decision to publish.

"Sticking one's head in the sand and hoping that unpleasant realities will go away has never been a fruitful approach to science or to public policy," he wrote.


The National Academy of Sciences has newly published online a 1991 report on "Estimating the Size of the Soviet Economy." This concerns an old dispute about the widely criticized methodology used by the Central Intelligence Agency to assess Soviet economic strength in the late cold war years.

The text of the report is posted here:


Sen. Richard Shelby, the uncompromising foe of any and all leaks of classified information, may be a suspect in the leaking of classified communications intercepts to the press, according to U.S. News and World Report.

His staff rejected that allegation as "silly."

Sen. Shelby was seen talking to a CNN reporter shortly before CNN broadcast its story about the secret intercepts, said the U.S. News Washington Whispers column this week. That CNN story triggered an ongoing hunt for congressional leakers. See:


The nature of the public's legal claim of access to government information was the subject of a brief but interesting analysis in last Friday's federal court ruling which directed the government to disclose the names of most September 11 detainees.

"It has long been recognized that the public has a First Amendment right of access to criminal proceedings, civil proceedings, and to 'receive information and ideas' pertaining to the conduct of public affairs. [...] This right derives from the core purpose of the First Amendment, which is to ensure 'freedom of communication on matters relating to the functioning of government'," wrote Judge Gladys Kessler.

"However, the First Amendment is not coterminous with FOIA, and it does not 'mandate a right of access' to all 'government information'."

Accordingly, Judge Kessler granted most of the information about detainees that was requested under FOIA but did not grant access requested on First Amendment grounds to dates and locations of the detainees' arrest (pp. 41-44). See the August 2 ruling here:

The Department of Justice promptly issued a statement criticizing the new ruling which, it said, "impedes one of the most important federal law enforcement investigations in history, harms our efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the heinous attacks of September 11, and increases the risk of future terrorist threats to our nation." See:

The phrase "The Right to Know" was coined by Associated Press executive editor Kent Cooper, according to a New York Times editorial on January 23, 1945 (as noted by author Harold L. Cross in his 1953 book "The Public's Right to Know," p. xi).


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

To SUBSCRIBE to Secrecy News, send an email message to [email protected] with "subscribe" (without quotes) in the body of the message.

To UNSUBSCRIBE, send a blank email message to [email protected].

OR email your request to [email protected]

Secrecy News is archived at: