from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 13
February 20, 2002


The Pentagon triggered a flurry of controversy with the disclosure that it had established an Office of Strategic Influence last October to exploit foreign media outlets, the Internet, and other avenues to shape public perception abroad in a way advantageous to the United States.

While tactical deception and psychological operations are conventional military tools, the new Office aroused concern because of its proposed use of the news media to actively disseminate false information and the associated potential for corrupting public discourse.

Ironically, the Pentagon proposal to conduct clandestine propaganda activities instantly became the subject of international news and commentary. Government officials stressed that the proposal had not been finally approved.

The existence of the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence was first reported in Intelligence Online (14-27 February), published in Paris, and in the New York Times on February 19. See "Pentagon Readies Efforts to Sway Sentiment Abroad":

The new initiative builds on a substantial foundation of Pentagon interest in psychological operations [PSYOP], which are defined as:

"...products and/or actions that induce or reinforce the attitudes, opinions, and emotions of selected foreign target governments, organizations, groups, and individuals to create a behavior that supports U.S. national policy objectives and the theater combatant commander's intentions at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels."

"The prompt and effective use of PSYOP in military operations can avert crises, end wars, and save lives," according to the Pentagon's Defense Science Board (DSB). "A relatively small investment over time can reap huge rewards for the United States and its allies, both diplomatically and militarily."

See the May 2000 DSB report on "The Creation and Dissemination of All Forms of Information in Support of Psychological Operations (PSYOP) in Time of Military Conflict":

The Pentagon program also has a precursor in President Clinton's 1999 International Public Information program, prescribed by Presidential Decision Directive 68. See:

The new Office of Strategic Influence is headed by Air Force Brig. General Simon P. Worden, a personable and in many respects admirable figure who has a record of pursuing ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful projects.

"Worden is an excellent choice to head a foreign disinformation office because of his experience with disinformation in the US," quipped one of Worden's former bureaucratic foes.

He cited Worden's advocacy role in several programs that had failed to realize their declared potential: "the Russian TOPAZ space nuclear reactor fiasco; the DC-X, which led to the U.S. spending billions on an impossible single-stage-to-orbit concept; and ballistic missile defense."


Under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, the government is authorized to impose a "secrecy order" on a patent application whenever it finds that disclosure of the patent would be "detrimental to the national security." In an extraordinary and possibly unconstitutional limitation on First Amendment freedom, the inventor is prohibited by law from disclosing his invention.

At the end of last year (FY01), there were 4,736 such secrecy orders in effect, according to statistics compiled by the Patent and Trademark Office that were released under the Freedom of Information Act this week.

Most of these were renewals of secrecy orders that originated in past years, but there were 83 new orders during 2001. Of these, more than half (44) were imposed on private inventors or businesses who were not government contractors. Because the government has no property interest in such inventions, these so-called "John Doe" secrecy orders raise the most substantial concerns about constitutionality.

The new invention secrecy statistics are tabulated here:

In one 1980 lawsuit, an inventor sued the government for damages resulting from the imposition of a secrecy order on his invention.

The inventor argued that because of the secrecy order: he was unable to obtain needed loans for the development of his invention; he lost prospective users because he could not demonstrate the invention; and he lost substantial attorneys' fees attempting to have the secrecy order rescinded.

The court ruled that all of these losses were subject to compensation. (Constant v. United States, 617 F.2d 239 (Ct. Cl. 1980)).

A 1997 law review article by Sabing H. Lee concluded that "Many secrecy orders issued during peacetime would be found unconstitutional because such orders do not possess the requisite direct, immediate, and irreparable danger to national security."

A link to this law review article and other resources concerning the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951 may be found here:


The total number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests reached a record annual high in 2000, according to a new summary analysis from the Department of Justice.

"The total number of Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act access requests received by all federal departments and agencies during fiscal year 2000 was 2,235,201, which marks the first time that the two million request level has been exceeded. This figure is more than 13-1/2% greater than the number of requests received during fiscal year 1999."

FOIA expenditures set a corresponding new record.

"For fiscal year 2000, the total cost of all FOIA-related activities for all federal departments and agencies, as reported in their annual FOIA reports, was $253,049,516.37, which is first time that this reported figure has passed the quarter-billion-dollar level."

See the Justice Department's January 31 "Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for Fiscal Year 2000":

An independent analysis of the "State of Freedom of Information" based on prior year data was published last July by the National Security Archive and is available here:


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

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