from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 88
October 14, 2003


The case of Thomas C. Butler, the renowned infectious disease specialist at Texas Tech University who was charged with smuggling plague bacteria and numerous other violations of law, continues to puzzle and perplex observers.

The case has alarmed leaders of the scientific community and others who view the government's aggressive pursuit of Butler as far out of proportion to the offenses he is alleged to have committed.

"It's of grave concern that in a free society, such an Alfred Hitchcockian situation could emerge," said Peter Agre, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Dr. Agre noted that he has "known and admired" Dr. Butler since he was a medical student.

Further details about the case, including information about how to contribute to the Thomas Butler Legal Defense Fund, may be found here:

Coverage of the case has lately been muted by a gag order imposed at the government's request.

On September 12, Judge Sam R. Cummings of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas granted a government motion to prohibit "extrajudicial statements" by the "parties, their counsel, or their agents."

The specific rationale for silencing the parties could not be determined. But at least one major interview with Butler, obtained prior to the gag order, may soon be published.


Last week the Department of Defense moved to block public access to a DoD web site containing hundreds of unclassified directives that define and prescribe Pentagon procedures (SN, 10/08/03).

But with astonishing instincts, Russ Kick, proprietor of the web site, had recently taken the trouble to make a copy of the entire site. Now he has reposted the suppressed site and all of its contents here:

In the short term, this is a superlative solution to the Pentagon's silly secrecy. In the long term, however, it is less satisfactory because it cannot reflect updates and revisions to the frequently altered system of directives.

Fortunately, the Defense Department has no legal right to withhold this information.

Under the 1996 Electronic Freedom of Information Act, explained information policy expert Robert Gellman, DoD would be obliged to publish such directives online if it received multiple requests for them under FOIA.

In fact, added Michael Tankersley of Public Citizen, the Department may well be "obligated to make most of these materials available on the Internet even if it has not received a request" under the amended FOIA [see 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(2)(B) and (C)].

"You're not wrong," a Pentagon official said today, when we explained our intention to request a soft copy of the full contents of the suppressed web site under the FOIA every month unless and until public access to the site is restored.

A growing (though not unanimous) body of opinion in the Pentagon now considers that blocking public access to the web site on DoD directives was a mistake, the official indicated.

"We're working to get it back up," he said.


Last month the White House Office of Management and Budget published its 2003 Report to Congress on Combating Terrorism, describing the various agency counterterrorism programs and budgets.

"The report is widely considered to be the most authoritative source of information on Executive Branch spending, program initiatives, and priority terrorism-related areas for FY2002 through FY2004," according to the Congressional Research Service.

See the 2003 Report to Congress on Combating Terrorism here:


The anticipated timing of launches of classified spy satellites is not commonly disclosed, and has sometimes been actively withheld.

But a projected launch schedule for military space missions, including those of the National Reconnaissance Office, which is responsible for launching U.S. spy satellites, has recently been provided in unclassified form by the NRO.

The NRO Working Manifest for FY 2003-2006 categorizes the future launches by date, launch facility, and launch vehicle. See:

It was excerpted from a larger NRO briefing that provides some additional details here:


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

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