from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 14
February 13, 2003


The ongoing debate over how to balance the openness that is essential to scientific research against national security concerns about creating new vulnerabilities is comprehensively described in a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.

"A fundamental trade-off between scientific progress and security concerns is the crux of the policy debate," writes CRS consultant Dana A. Shea.

"The scientific enterprise is based upon open and full exchange of information.... On the other hand, this very openness provides potential enemies with information that may allow them to harm U.S. interests."

"This report presents recent examples of scientific research results whose publication raised concern.... Past and present information control mechanisms are discussed.... Recent policy actions regarding dissemination of federal information and federally funded research results are outlined...."

The new 27 page report does not exactly advance the debate over how to proceed -- that is not CRS' role -- but it does a good job of explaining recent developments, identifying the most significant points of contention, and laying out the available policy options. The footnotes helpfully identify most of the important documentary sources and news reports.

See "Balancing Scientific Publication and National Security Concerns: Issues for Congress," by Dana A. Shea, January 10, 2003, here:


Official secrecy marred the government's response to the anthrax attacks of 2001 and generated needless panic and confusion among members of the public, according to a report published by the Century Foundation today.

"This case study explores how government agencies rationed bioterrorism information during the anthrax crisis of late 2001, how the press reported the news, how the public responded, and what these events portend," wrote science writer Patricia Thomas, author of the new study.

She also sounded a cautionary note for the future. "More recent actions of the Bush administration have made thoughtful journalists increasingly worried that tight government control of health and science news may disrupt the flow of timely, accurate information about scientific research and personal health to readers and viewers."

See "The Anthrax Attacks" by Patricia Thomas here:

The report was sponsored by the Century Foundation's "Working Group on the Public's Need to Know in a Post-9/11 Era" which is described here:


Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) ruminated angrily yesterday on the implications of the conflict between the General Accounting Office and Vice President Cheney over access to records of the Vice President's Energy Task Force.

In December, a court ruled that the congressional investigating agency lacked the standing to sue for access to the Vice President's records. Recently, the GAO announced that it would not challenge the ruling.

"When GAO decided not to appeal the District Court decision in Walker v. Cheney, it made a fateful decision," Rep. Waxman said.

"In the Comptroller General's words, GAO will now require 'an affirmative statement of support from at least one full committee with jurisdiction over any records they seek to access prior to any future court action by GAO.' Translated, what this means is that GAO will bring future actions to enforce its rights to documents only with the blessings of the majority party in Congress."

"This is a fundamental shift in our system of checks and balances."

"For all practical purposes, the Bush administration is now immune from effective oversight by the Congress," said Rep. Waxman.

In other words, and stated a bit more moderately, the ability of this or any future Administration to resist unwanted GAO investigations has now been considerably strengthened. Which is to say, existing checks and balances on executive authority have been significantly weakened.

See Rep. Waxman's February 12 comments on "Cheney Task Force Records and GAO Authority" here:


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

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