from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 19
March 11, 2002


News reports describing classified U.S. nuclear weapons policy guidance have revived debate about the Bush Administration's view of nuclear weapons as an instrument of war, as well as raising questions about the role of secrecy in nuclear policy.

The classified Nuclear Posture Review reportedly named seven countries -- Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and Syria -- as potential nuclear targets in U.S. contingency planning. It further asserted the need for new nuclear weapons that would be tailored for use in destroying underground bunkers.

The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was mandated by Congress, which directed that its report to Congress be delivered "in unclassified and classified forms, as necessary." It was evidently the intent of Congress that the broad policy issues involved in the structuring of U.S. nuclear forces should be the subject of public debate.

Nevertheless, no unclassified NPR report was delivered. (A declassified foreword was released at a Pentagon briefing on January 9.)

Now, however, disclosure of the contents of the classified report serves to compensate for the Pentagon's noncompliance, and to facilitate the public debate over nuclear policy that Congress had envisioned.

The classified Nuclear Posture Review report is still not generally available in the public domain. But it was described by William Arkin in the Los Angeles Times on March 10:

The story was elaborated by Michael Gordon in the New York Times on March 10 and 11:

In response to the new disclosures, officials had to become publicly engaged on the rudiments of U.S. nuclear policy. The classified NPR, they insisted, simply represented prudent policy planning.

"It's not an operational plan," said Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers. "It's a policy document. And it simply states our deterrence posture, of which nuclear weapons are a part."

"The whole discussion here is about deterrence," Gen. Myers said on CNN. "Why we have a military, why we have nuclear forces is all about deterrence."

But this fails to explain why, if the NPR is a policy document and not an operational plan, it has been necessary for the public to depend on leaks of a classified report in order to have "the whole discussion."

More than that: If deterrence is in fact the object of U.S. nuclear policy, then a modicum of disclosure is logically required.

As Dr. Strangelove memorably explained to the Soviet ambassador: "The whole point of the doomsday machine... is lost... if you keep it a secret!"


U.S. government planning for the consequences of a nuclear war began early in the nuclear age. One such emergency planning document has now been published under the title "The Doomsday Scenario," edited and annotated by L. Douglas Keeney (Motorbooks International, 2002).

The slim volume reprints a 1958 edition of the Pentagon's "Emergency Plans Book," which described in grim detail a catastrophic nuclear attack scenario and the obstacles to reconstituting civilized life.

Originally classified Secret, the document was declassified in 1998 and made publicly available in the National Archives, where the author obtained a copy. Remarkably, however, the document was subsequently removed from public access. This was apparently a result of the 1998-99 Kyl/Lott amendments that required re-review of declassified documents in order to search for inadvertent disclosures of sensitive nuclear weapons data.

There are no such inadvertent disclosures in this volume. But the government's withdrawal of the document from the Archives gives the book much of its cachet, and has provided an excellent marketing opportunity for the author.

The book was enthusiastically reviewed in Salon Magazine on February 7:

The book's foreword, by Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists publisher Stephen I. Schwartz, links the emergency preparedness efforts of the early Cold War to the continuity of government plans that were activated on September 11.


The Pentagon's recently aborted Office of Strategic Influence, which was intended to generate foreign propaganda favorable to U.S. interests, has numerous parallels and precursors in the U.S. intelligence community and other branches of government.

During the Cold War, these activities included officially deniable sponsorship of foreign media outlets as well as overtly targeted "message" campaigns.

"Every effort shall be made to avoid public awareness of the relationship between the various ostensibly non-governmental broadcasting stations and the U.S. Government," according to a newly declassified sentence from the 1961 National Security Action Memorandum No. 63.

The Kennedy Administration's interest in this kind of "Information Policy" is extensively documented in "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, volume XXV," published by the State Department last week.

In one peculiar episode, for example, the Administration put its best minds to work devising a response to the Soviet propaganda theme of "peaceful coexistence."

"We have needed a single, simple countertheme if we are to do the job," wrote Secretary of State Dean Rusk and US Information Agency Director Edward R. Murrow in a rather lame 1961 memo to the President. "After a long study of the possible alternatives, we have concluded that 'peaceful world community' is the most effective phrase we can find."

Special assistant to the President Arthur M. Schlesinger demurred. "I am informed," he wrote, "that the phrase 'peaceful world community' presents tricky problems in translation. In many languages, it will come out, when translated, very close to 'peaceful coexistence.' In Russian, I understand, the words for 'peaceful' and 'world' are identical, which would make our proposed slogan very clumsy indeed (mirnoye mirnoye obschchestvo). Also 'community' is hard to render; in many languages, it will come out as 'village' or, if transliterated, will be hard to distinguish from 'communism'."

In the end, the President himself stepped in to provide the elusive catchphrase. "He has expressed the conflict as being between the 'world of free choice and free cooperation' and 'the world of coercion'," National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy informed Rusk and Murrow. "The President has requested that immediate steps be taken to give this formulation the widespread currency and usage that would make it an effective countertheme to the Soviet formula." And so the Cold War was won.

The new FRUS volume also documents the reorganization of military intelligence during the early 1960s, including the establishment of the National Reconnaissance Program and the new Defense Intelligence Agency.

Regrettably, the State Department yielded to unwarranted CIA pressure to maintain the classification of forty year old intelligence budget and personnel data.

The full text of the new volume is available online here:

The State Department also released the first of its FRUS volumes from the Nixon Administration last week. That volume, devoted to Foreign Economic Policy and International Monetary Policy, appears to be of more specialized interest. It is available here:


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

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