from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 100
October 11, 2002


The sometimes delicate relationship between scientific research and national security was the subject of a hearing yesterday before the House Science Committee.

"The war on terrorism will be won in the laboratory just as much as on the battlefield," according to Committee chairman Sherwood L. Boehlert. But "if the laboratory is a theater of war, then what are its rules of engagement? War demands secrecy; science thrives on openness. How can a free society balance those competing demands?"

The hearing focused in particular on the proposed new category of "sensitive but unclassified" information, and on the treatment of foreign students and faculty.

"Sensitive but unclassified" information -- also recently designated "sensitive homeland security information" -- has been controversial because it has no clear definition, and therefore seems to invite the arbitrary withholding of information.

Most of the witnesses at the hearing objected to the indeterminate character of the new category, which is neither fish nor fowl (nor meat nor dairy). The prevailing sentiment was that classified information should be classified, and unclassified information should simply be unclassified.

But White House science advisor John H. Marburger testified that the "sensitive" category is not new and does not signify any shift in government information policy.

"The designation Sensitive Homeland Security Information (SHSI) does not refer to some new category of information; rather it is the type of information that the government holds today which is not routinely released to the general public, such as law enforcement data and critical computer security threats or vulnerabilities. The vast majority of government information is and will remain publicly accessible," Dr. Marburger said.

In a significant public commitment, he added that "The [SHSI] designation would be implemented under existing law and policy, and complements and does not supercede existing mechanisms for classification and declassification of government information."

The prepared testimony from the October 10 hearing on "Conducting Research During the War on Terrorism: Balancing Openness and Security" is posted here:

The proceedings of a somewhat related workshop on "Secrecy and Knowledge Production," held at Cornell University in 1999, may be found here (see Occasional Paper 1999.23):


Scholars, government officials, and citizen activists gathered at an international workshop in Geneva, Switzerland last week to consider the theory and practice of intelligence oversight in democratic societies, including the obstacles to effective oversight in both new and mature democracies.

The workshop yielded an interesting assortment of published papers, which notably provide new information about intelligence agencies in several Eastern European countries.

The papers and other information about the conference, which was sponsored by the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, may be found here:

Information on the intelligence services of dozens of countries may be found here:


The Congressional Research Service has recently updated several reports of current interest, including the following.

"Iraq: U.S. Efforts to Change the Regime," by Kenneth Katzman, updated October 3:

"Iraq: Divergent Views on Military Action," by Alfred B. Prados, updated October 3:

"Intelligence to Counter Terrorism: Issues for Congress," by Richard A. Best, Jr., February 21:

"Critical Infrastructure Information Disclosure and Homeland Security," by John D. Moteff and Gina Marie Stevens, updated August 31:


The first time that the U.S. government ever imposed prior restraint on a U.S. publication was in 1979 when it sought to block publication of Howard Morland's 1979 Progressive Magazine article on "The H-Bomb Secret."

The Morland article became the subject of a landmark lawsuit (United States of America v. The Progressive) that raised challenging questions about the role of nuclear secrecy, the limits of government accountability, and the requirements of the First Amendment. The case also divided the scientific community. (The Federation of American Scientists opposed publication of the article, which eventually appeared in the November 1979 issue of The Progressive.)

Now, over two decades later, some of the central points of contention have been declassified and disclosed in the form of a 1979 exchange of correspondence between the eminent Hans Bethe, who opposed publication of the Morland article, and Livermore physicist Ray E. Kidder, who favored it.

The 1979 Bethe-Kidder correspondence, with an introduction by Howard Morland, is posted here:


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

To SUBSCRIBE to Secrecy News, send an email message to with "subscribe" (without quotes) in the body of the message.

To UNSUBSCRIBE, send a blank email message to

OR email your request to

Secrecy News is archived at: