from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 109
December 17, 2003


The Bush Administration has advocated, and Congress recently approved, the repeal of a 1994 ban on U.S. research and development on new, low-yield nuclear weapons, setting the stage for pursuit of a new generation of such weapons.

"The Administration had sought to remove this restriction because of the chilling effect it has had on nuclear weapons research and development," wrote Linton F. Brooks, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration in a December 5 memo.

Now the Bush Administration is encouraging weapon designers at the national laboratories to "engage fully... to examine advanced [nuclear] concepts that could contribute to our nation's security."

"We must take advantage of this opportunity to ensure that we close any gaps that may have opened this past decade in our understanding of the possible military applications of atomic energy," Brooks wrote to lab directors.

"We are now free to explore a range of technical options that could strengthen our ability to deter, or respond to new or emerging threats without any concern that some ideas could inadvertently violate a vague and arbitrary limitation," he wrote.

A copy of the Brooks memo was obtained by the Los Alamos Study Group, and posted here:

It was first reported in "Bush Presses Lab Nuke Research" by Ian Hoffman, Oakland Tribune, December 11:

A detailed Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on "Nuclear Weapon Initiatives: Low-Yield R&D, Advanced Concepts, Earth Penetrators, Test Readiness" was newly updated on December 11.

The U.S. Congress does not believe that the American public should have direct access to CRS reports like this one, and has taken steps to impede such access. A copy is nevertheless posted here:


Documents recovered from a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan suggest that al Qaida terrorists are making a diligent effort to collect scientific data related to the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. Yet scientists do not generally recognize or appreciate the potential for misuse of their work, according to an opinion column in Science magazine.

"Skepticism of the existence, breadth, and severity of the threat posed by would-be bioweaponeers is compounded by the failure to find clear evidence of biological weapons in Iraq," wrote James B. Petro of the Joint Military Intelligence College, and D.A. Relman.

"Also, some even question the extent to which open-source scientific material contributes to the threat."

But "documents recovered from an al Qaida training camp in Afghanistan in 2001 have shed light on procedures and methodologies used by al Qaida in its efforts to establish a biological warfare program," the authors write.

They conclude with a call for greater awareness of the problem and for guidelines governing the publication of potentially dangerous dual-use research, a proposal recently advanced by the National Academies of Science.

See "Understanding Threats to Scientific Openness" by James B. Petro and David A. Relman, Science, December 12, vol. 302, no. 5652, p. 1898 (subscribers only):

The Congressional Research Service explored related topics in its report "'Sensitive But Unclassified' and Other Federal Security Controls on Scientific and Technical Information: History and Current Controversy," last updated July 2.

Congress would prefer that Americans remain ignorant of this and other CRS documents. But a copy is posted here:


The declassification of historical records on U.S. foreign policy is bogged down and in some cases is moving backwards, as declassified records are removed from public access.

That is the picture that emerges from the minutes of the September 2003 meeting of the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, published this week.

Thus, several years worth of the State Department's declassified "central files" have been removed from the stacks at the National Archives and "made unavailable to researchers," pending re-review.

Eleven volumes of the official Foreign Relations of the United States series are held up at the Central Intelligence Agency, which has exceeded its 180 day review deadline.

The issue of sensitive "foreign government information," which is nearly inseparable from the history of foreign policy, is generating new complications. The government of Japan hired a private firm to determine which documents with Japanese information are available at the National Archives, according to the minutes.

A copy of the September 2003 minutes of the State Department advisory committee is posted here:

The State Department has scheduled a conference on "The United States, the Middle East, and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War," featuring an eclectic set of international participants, to be held in Washington on January 12-13. See the preliminary program here:


When Secretary of State Powell underwent surgery earlier this week, Deputy Secretary of State Armitage was able to exercise Departmental authority delegated to him on the Secretary's behalf. "He's allowed to act on any matters that are within the purview of the Secretary," a Department spokesman explained yesterday.

Forty-some years ago, there was a rather more extraordinary delegation of executive authority.

President Eisenhower, it seems, once sent "classified letters... to ten private citizens throughout the country giving them authority over various parts of the economy and total society in the event of the declaration of a national emergency."

So wrote presidential assistant Frederick G. Dutton in a 1961 letter to national security adviser McGeorge Bundy, recommending that this authority be terminated. See:

(Thanks to AT and P.J. Drongowski.)

The Congressional Research Service has prepared several reports on emergency preparedness and continuity of operations in the three branches of government, as previously noted. Does Congress want Americans to be able to freely access these documents? No. Still, they are available here:


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

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