from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 111
November 6, 2002


United States policy towards Vietnam in 1968, including the Johnson Administration's fruitless effort to negotiate an end to the war, is documented in the latest volume of the State Department's official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, published on November 1.

The issue of whether or not the FRUS volume could acknowledge covert funding for a grass-roots political party to support South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu was decided favorably by an interagency High Level Panel and the relevant documentation was released "with some excisions," according to the Preface by Historian of the State Department Marc J. Susser.

About one tenth of one percent of the historical records originally proposed for publication in the new volume were not declassified, but no documents were withheld in full.

The full text of "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume VI, Vietnam, January-August 1968" is now available here:


The British philosopher and utilitarian Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was also an early proponent of "the safety of publicity" and a critic of "the inutility of secresy," particularly as it pertains to foreign policy.

"Secresy in the operations of the foreign department in England ought not to be endured, being altogether useless, and equally repugnant to the interests of liberty and peace," he wrote in his Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace.

"Under the present system of secresy, ministers have... every seduction to lead them into misconduct; while they have no check to keep them out of it."

"The principle which throws a veil of secresy over the proceedings of the foreign department of the cabinet is pernicious in the highest degree, pregnant with mischiefs superior to everything to which the most perfect absence of all concealment could possibly give rise."

The text of Bentham's Plan, first published in 1843, may be found here (thanks to AK in Bologna):


Presidential signing statements, issued when the President signs new legislation into law, are increasingly becoming a vehicle for the assertion of executive branch prerogatives.

President Bush has been routinely putting Congress on notice that he regards many mandated new requirements as no more than "advisory" since they are trumped by the Administration's understanding of its intrinsic authorities.

Any new requirement involving the disclosure of information to Congress or the public, in particular, is likely to be deflected as follows:

This and several similar evasions of congressional action can be found, for example, in the November 4 signing statement accompanying the "21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act":


A new National Academy of Sciences report calls for increased research and development into so-called non-lethal weapons that are intended to disable or incapacitate persons without killing them. See:

Non-lethal weapons have long been seen in some quarters as an attractive option, since they would offer new alternatives short of lethal force for crowd control, peacekeeping and other unconventional military missions.

Critics have argued that non-lethal weapons are a misnomer, since they could easily have lethal consequences, as the use of fentanyl gas in a crowded Moscow theater illustrated horribly last week. Moreover, they could have the unintended consequence of lowering the threshold for violent conflict. And in some cases, particularly when it comes to chemical and biological agents, they could threaten the stability of international agreements.

The Sunshine Project is a public interest group that has been in the forefront of challenging the current non-lethal weapon program. The group has assembled a significant collection of source documents and related resources on its web site here:

"Basic political, legal, and strategic questions about the utility of non-lethal weapons remain unanswered-sometimes even unasked," according to "The Soft Kill Fallacy," a now somewhat dated article from the Sept/Oct 1994 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:


A document purporting to be the last will and testament of Osama bin Laden was published two weeks ago in London in the Arabic newspaper Al-Majallah.

The document, whose authenticity has not been proved, is sometimes pathetic, occasionally ridiculous.

The author laments his cause's reversal of fortune, the faithlessness of his co-religionists, and the heathen ways of his enemies, and leavens his remarks with defiance and peculiar ethical injunctions:

See the published excerpts from the "will," translated by the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service, here:


Not particularly related to secrecy, but remarkable nevertheless is the case of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, a pioneering 19th century Viennese gynecologist who ultimately saved the lives of countless infants and mothers through his discovery of one of the major causes of infant mortality.

Specifically, Semmelweis figured out that the midwives' dirty fingernails and other poor hygienic practices could cause fatal infections.

Yet Semmelweis "found it impossible to propagate his discovery in Vienna because doctors with political influence who were opposed to his findings saw to it that he was excluded from positions where he might implement those findings, and professionally discredited him.

"Semmelweis died in a mental institution some fifteen years after his life-saving discovery, unable to cope with the ridicule that had been heaped upon him and his life's work." (A. Janik and S. Toulmin, "Wittgenstein's Vienna," p. 35)

A capsule biography of Semmelweis (in German) may be found here:


In the aftermath of a dispiriting electoral season, it doesn't hurt to be reminded that "You are not the prisoners of impersonal forces," as historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. said in a 1994 commencement address "In Defense of Politics."

"Politics is an exacting discipline, calling for hard thought, for innovation, for irony, for vision, for daring. Moreover, politics is great fun."

See Schlesinger's "In Defense of Politics," newly republished on, here:


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

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