from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 94
September 5, 2006

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A landmark 1953 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which affirmed the government's use of the "state secrets" privilege to withhold information is the focus of a new book called "In the Name of National Security" by constitutional scholar Louis Fisher.

The 1953 case, United States v. Reynolds, revolved around a request by three widows for access to an accident report about a military plane crash in which their husbands died in 1948. The government refused to release the requested report.

Confronted by this dispute, Fisher writes, the Supreme Court had at least two valid options. It could have ruled in favor of the widows, granting their claims for damages in full, as lower courts had done. Or it could have subjected the disputed document to in camera review to determine whether withholding was justified on security grounds.

But the Court did neither. Instead, it upheld the government's denial of the document without bothering to review it, establishing an unfortunate precedent that would resound throughout the coming decades up to the present day.

Fisher traces the fateful Reynolds case from its inception throughout the litigation process to its final resolution. And he considers the ramifications of this frequently cited case for current national security policy.

Richly detailed, the new book combines legal scholarship, critical analysis, and even some "Law and Order"-style suspense.

See "In the Name of National Security: Unchecked Presidential Power and the Reynolds Case" by Louis Fisher, University Press of Kansas, September 2006:

I will introduce Louis Fisher at a September 11 event at the Library of Congress, where he will discuss the book and sign copies. Come on by:


By most available measures, official secrecy continued to expand last year, according to a new "Secrecy Report Card" issued by the coalition

"Every administration wants to control information about its policies and practices," observed coalition director Patrice McDermott, "but the current administration has restricted access to information about our government and its policies at unprecedented levels."

See "Secrecy Report Card 2006: Indicators of Secrecy in the Federal Government," a report by, September 2006:

Perhaps as significant as any of the report's findings is the existence of the coalition itself.

"Notwithstanding you," former Information Security Oversight Office director Steven Garfinkel told me in a 1993 interview, "very few people give a tinker's damn about the security classification system."

That is manifestly not the case today. In addition to, which is a broad coalition of politically diverse organizations including FAS and other veteran advocates of greater transparency, there are several other new efforts to confront official secrecy, including the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, the Sunshine in Government Initiative, and Sunshine Week.


Detailed information on U.S. Navy policy regarding declassification of 25 year old documents is presented in a new Navy Instruction.

Along with policy and procedures, the document provides an extensive listing of Navy programs and systems that may be subject to declassification.

The Instruction is marked For Official Use Only. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See "Declassification of 25 Year Old DON Information," OPNAVINST 5513.16B, August 2, 2006 (72 pages in an unnecessarily large 30 MB PDF file):

See, relatedly, "Department of the Navy Classification Guides," OPNAVINST 5513.1F, December 7, 2005:

See also "Limitations on Public Release and Disclosure of Information About Improvised Explosive Device Efforts," Secretary of the Navy, April 2006:


"Engaging the People's Republic of China in a dialogue is perhaps the most dramatic and far reaching decision undertaken by the Nixon administration," as noted in a new volume of the U.S. State Department's official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series devoted to that topic.

The full text of the new FRUS volume on China is available here:

A 1972 NSC memorandum for Henry Kissinger published in the new volume expressed concern about efforts by the Federation of American Scientists and its then-President Jeremy J. Stone to promote scientific exchange with China.

"The Chinese, by encouraging Stone, are effectively undercutting the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the PRC, a group we have recommended to Peking," complained NSC staffer John H. Holdridge in his August 28, 1972 memo to Kissinger (see document 248).


"The emergence of China as a major economic superpower has raised concern among many U.S. policymakers," according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

"Some express concern that China will overtake the United States as the world's largest trade economy in a few years and as the world's largest economy within the next two decades. In this context, China's rise is viewed as America's relative decline."

See "Is China a Threat to the U.S. Economy?" August 10, 2006:

Some other notable new CRS reports include these:

"Israeli-Arab Negotiations: Background, Conflicts, and U.S. Policy," updated August 4, 2006:

"The Public Health and Medical Response to Disasters: Federal Authority and Funding," August 4, 2006:


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

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