from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2016, Issue No. 47
May 31, 2016
Secrecy News Blog: http://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/
- UPDATED NUCLEAR STOCKPILE FIGURES DECLASSIFIED
- FOUR COLD WAR COVERT ACTIONS TO BE DISCLOSED
- CONGRESS ISN'T HELPING TO "REBUILD" CRS
UPDATED NUCLEAR STOCKPILE FIGURES DECLASSIFIED
The size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile as of September 30, 2015 -- 4,571 weapons -- and the number of U.S. nuclear weapons that were dismantled in FY 2015 -- 109 of them -- were declassified and disclosed last week.
The latest figures came as a disappointment to arms control and disarmament advocates who favor sharp reductions in global nuclear inventories.
The new numbers "show that the Obama administration has reduced the U.S. stockpile less than any other post-Cold War administration, and that the number of warheads dismantled in 2015 was lowest since President Obama took office," wrote Hans M. Kristensen in the FAS Strategic Security blog.
But precisely because the new disclosure casts an unflattering light on the Obama Administration, it also represents a triumph of transparency. Since it is at odds with the Administration's own declared agenda, the release enables the press and the public to exact a measure of accountability.
"The new figures [...] underscored the striking gap between Mr. Obama's soaring vision of a world without nuclear arms, which he laid out during the first months of his presidency, and the tough geopolitical and bureaucratic realities of actually getting rid of those weapons," wrote William J. Broad in the New York Times on May 26.
"Obama calls for end to nuclear weapons, but U.S. disarmament is slowest since 1980," as a Washington Post headline put it on May 27.
News stories credited the Department of Defense for the "annual public release" of the stockpile information. But it is a bit more complicated than that.
The nuclear stockpile size was classified as "Formerly Restricted Data" (FRD) under the Atomic Energy Act. As such, it had to be cooperatively declassified by both the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. And the declassification of FRD does not occur regularly or spontaneously.
"It is not the policy of the DoD/DOE to release such numbers automatically," said Andrew Weston-Dawkes, the director of the DOE Office of Classification. Instead, consideration is given to declassification of specific information as it is requested. In this case, release of the 2015 stockpile figures was requested by the Federation of American Scientists in an October 2015 petition.
"The declassification of stockpile numbers was a direct result of your request for the information," Dr. Weston-Dawkes wrote in an email. "Your request was reviewed by the DoD-FRD working group and in turn approved by the DoD and the DOE."
Until the Obama Administration declassified it for the first time in 2010, the current size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal had never been officially made public. (Historical stockpile numbers up to 1961 were released in the 1990s.)
Columnists and commentators are in the habit of mocking President Obama's promise that his would be the most transparent Administration in history. But when it comes to nuclear stockpile information, that promise has been fulfilled.
FOUR COLD WAR COVERT ACTIONS TO BE DISCLOSED
The Central Intelligence Agency said that it will disclose four previously unacknowledged Cold War covert actions. The four have not yet been publicly identified, but they will be addressed in forthcoming editions of the U.S. State Department's official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series.
"In 2015 [CIA] agreed to acknowledge four covert actions that will be documented in future volumes (of FRUS)," according to a new annual report from the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation for calendar year 2015.
CIA spokesperson Ryan Trapani declined to say what those four covert actions are.
"CA [covert action] programs are not officially declassified until done so by FRUS, so you have to wait for its formal announcement," Mr. Trapani said by email.
The FRUS series has been a significant driver of the national security declassification program, particularly since a 1991 statute required that FRUS must present a "thorough, accurate, and reliable" documentary history of U.S. foreign relations -- which necessarily includes information that was classified at the time -- within 30 years of the events in question.
The State Department has never yet complied with that 30 year deadline, but the new Advisory Committee report indicates the situation is improving. "It is likely that HO [the State Department Office of the Historian] will finally meet its statutory thirty-year timeline as it publishes more volumes in the Reagan administration series over the next few years."
The Committee report was complimentary towards the CIA, citing "the very positive relationship HO has developed with CIA over the past several years [which] has paid dividends. CIA consistently reviews both specific documents and compiled volumes in a timely manner...."
"Nevertheless, the frequent reliance on covert actions in the Reagan and subsequent administrations will doubtless require lengthy declassification processes that will inevitably delay publication of a significant number of volumes beyond the 30-year target," the report said.
One specific area of disappointment is the failure to release the long-deferred FRUS volume on the 1953 coup in Iran.
"Owing to the currently volatile relationship between the United States and Iran..., the State Department continues to withhold its approval for publishing the eagerly anticipated retrospective volume on Iran 1953," the Committee report noted.
The status of the Iran volume is expected to be on the agenda of the upcoming meeting of the State Department Advisory Committee on June 6.
CONGRESS ISN'T HELPING TO "REBUILD" CRS
Most public controversy concerning the Congressional Research Service revolves around the question of whether Congress should authorize CRS to make its reports publicly available, or whether unauthorized access to CRS reports is a satisfactory alternative.
But a more urgent question is whether CRS itself will survive as a center of intellectual and analytical vitality. Already many of its most deeply knowledgeable and experienced specialists have been lost to retirement or attrition. And recurring budget shortfalls are taking a toll, say congressional supporters.
"According to CRS, recent funding levels have led to a loss of 13 percent of its purchasing power since 2010. The $1 million increase [proposed in the House version of the FY2017 Legislative Appropriations Act] will not even cover mandatory pay for CRS' current staff," wrote Reps. Nita Lowey and Debbie Wasserman Schultz in dissenting views attached to the House Appropriations Committee report on the FY 2017 bill.
"CRS's [FY2017] budget request sought to rebuild the agency. They asked for two defense policy staff, five health policy staff, three education policy staff, two budget/appropriations staff, four technology policy staff, and two data management and analysis staff. None of those staff would be funded under the current bill, depriving Congress of a non-biased analysis of these critical policy areas," Reps. Lowey and Wasserman Schultz wrote.
New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service last week included the following.
OSHA Rule Makes Workplace Injury and Illness Data Publicly Available, CRS Legal Sidebar, May 25, 2016:
Status of the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa: Overview and Issues for Congress, May 25, 2016:
Navy Lasers, Railgun, and Hypervelocity Projectile: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 25, 2016:
Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 26, 2016:
Fact Sheet: FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) DOD Reform Proposals, May 25, 2016:
Navy Irregular Warfare and Counterterrorism Operations: Background and Issues for Congress, updated May 25, 2016:
Taliban Leadership Succession, CRS Insight, May 26, 2016:
Who is a "Veteran"? -- Basic Eligibility for Veterans' Benefits, updated May 25, 2016:
Military Funeral Honors for Veterans, May 25, 2016:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
The Secrecy News blog is at:
To SUBSCRIBE to Secrecy News, go to:
To UNSUBSCRIBE, go to:
OR email your request to [email protected]
Secrecy News is archived at:SUPPORT the FAS Project on Government Secrecy with a donation here: