from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 101
October 15, 2002


Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are under orders from the Department of Energy to evade public inquiries concerning Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the threat of catastrophic terrorism, and related issues.

"Respond with 'no comment' to all requests from the news media or other non-governmental organizations," instructed Livermore Lab Director Michael R. Anastasio in a September 13 memorandum to the Lab's Associate Directors.

Even official requests for information from members of Congress, their staffs, or other executive branch agencies are to be deflected for "coordination" with the Department of Energy Office of Intelligence.

"Many Laboratory employees are known by name or personally to reporters, consultants, and Congressional staffers and thus may receive direct inquiries," Dr. Anastasio wrote. "Please caution your employees to be vigilant in referring all such inquiries... and to be rigorous in refraining from comment even in 'informal' or 'confidential' situations."

The practical effect of the clampdown is to exclude Livermore scientists from "uncoordinated" participation in unclassified public discussion and debate over Iraqi nuclear weapons. (They are of course already precluded from disclosing classified information.)

Yet the importance of such expert participation in public debate was illustrated by the recent dispute over the significance of Iraqi efforts to acquire 60,000 "high strength aluminum tubes." In an October 7 speech, President Bush cited the attempted Iraqi purchase of the aluminum tubes as "evidence ... that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." That assertion is rejected by many DOE scientists and other experts, who argue that the tubes could have other, non-nuclear applications.

The text of the Anastasio memo, which was first reported by Dan Stober in the September 25 San Jose Mercury News, is posted here:


"Some scientists are running into a major post-Sept. 11 stumbling block: Federal restrictions have eliminated access to information vital to their studies."

See "Researchers Stymied by Block on Government Documents" by Rachel Kipp, Associated Press, October 15:


"Openness, transparency, and the unfettered flow of information have always been the allies of freedom and democracy," said Sen. Ron Wyden last week. "Over time, nothing erodes oppression and intolerance like the widespread dissemination of knowledge and ideas."

Yet several countries persist in blocking unrestricted access by their citizens to information on the Internet.

Sen. Wyden and Sen. Jon Kyl therefore introduced a bill "to combat state-sponsored Internet jamming and persecution of Internet users." The new bill, which matches similar legislation introduced in the House by Reps. Christopher Cox and Tom Lantos, was introduced on October 10. See the sponsors' introductory statements here:


Secrecy News reported imprecisely on October 11 that the 1979 injunction against publication of Howard Morland's Progressive Magazine article on the H-Bomb "was the first time that the U.S. government ever imposed prior restraint on a U.S. publication."

In US v. Progressive (467 F. Supp. 990 (W.D. Wis. 1979)), the court did issue what it termed "the first... prior restraint against a publication in this fashion in the history of this country."

However, there were a number of previous attempts at prior restraint, including most famously the temporary restraining order imposed on the New York Times for two weeks in 1971 blocking publication of the Pentagon Papers. (Thanks to KC.)

Until US v. Progressive, most cases of prior restraint that came before a court were eventually overturned, as with the Pentagon Papers. In the Progressive case, the prior restraint that was imposed by the court was mooted by the publication elsewhere of similar material and so the highly unusual decision was never tested on appeal.

For an introduction to prior restraint see, for example:


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

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