from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 1
January 6, 2003


The U.S. government invoked the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951 to impose new secrecy orders on 139 patent applications during fiscal year 2002, thereby blocking their publication. A total of 4,792 secrecy orders remained in effect at the end of the year, according to statistics compiled by the Patent and Trademark Office.

Secrecy orders can be imposed on patent applications at the discretion of government agencies whenever, in their judgment, disclosure of the invention could be "detrimental to national security."

The Invention Secrecy Act is one of two laws that permit the government to prevent publication of privately generated information. (The other law is the Atomic Energy Act.) The constitutionality of such authority, which appears to be at odds with the First Amendment, has never been tested in court.

Of the 139 new secrecy orders issued last year, 37 were imposed on private inventors or businesses who developed their inventions without government funding. Such orders, which are referred to as "John Doe" orders, are the most potentially problematic from a constitutional point of view.

The latest statistics on patent secrecy orders, obtained by FAS under the Freedom of Information Act, may be found here:

Other resources concerning the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951 are available here:


In the latest quarterly survey of declassified records at the National Archives, Department of Energy reviewers reported finding 166 documents containing 422 pages of classified nuclear weapons information that had been inadvertently released. The documents were withdrawn from public access.

"The inadvertently released nuclear weapons design information (RD) detailed in this report concerns the early generations of nuclear weapons that this country developed in the 1950s and 1960s," according to the new DOE report to Congress. "Potential adversaries, emerging proliferant nations and terrorist groups aggressively target U.S. nuclear weapon information."

See the unclassified version of the "Eighth Report on Inadvertent Releases of Restricted Data and Formerly Restricted Data under Executive Order 12958," dated August 2002 and publicly released last week, here:


"In the never-ending sparring match between the government and the news media, no subject produces more friction than the practice of leaking classified information," writes Jack Nelson in a new study.

Nelson, a distinguished journalist and former Los Angeles Times Washington bureau chief, offers a perspective on the recent evolution of official policy towards unauthorized disclosures of classified information in a report published by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

See his report, "U.S. Government Secrecy and the Current Crackdown on Leaks," here:


In a shoddy bit of legislative legerdemain, Congress amended the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) last year (for only the seventh time) in order to excuse U.S. intelligence agencies from complying with requests for information that are submitted by foreign governments or their representatives.

The action was taken without any pretense of deliberation, as no opportunity for hearings or public comment was provided and even the committees that have jurisdiction over FOIA were left out of the loop.

The implications of the new policy were discussed by the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy here:

The new limitation applies only to intelligence agencies (and apparently only affects foreign governments, not foreign individuals). Other agencies will continue to process FOIA requests as before.

On January 2, the State Department said that it "will deliver some ... documents to the Government of Peru shortly" in response to a request from the Peruvian Truth Commission. See:


The scope of Bush Administration secrecy activity was reviewed in a long front-page article in the New York Times on January 3. See "Government Openness at Issue as Bush Holds on to Records," by Adam Clymer:

Historical records declassified and released this month under Britain's 30 year rule are listed and described by the UK Public Record Office here:

The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volume on the Berlin Crisis, 1961-1962, which was published ten years ago, is newly available online 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: