from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 34
April 23, 2003


The more one learns about the widespread looting of Iraqi museums and libraries two weeks ago, the more appalling it seems.

"Not since the Spanish conquistadors ravaged the Aztec and Inca cultures has so much been lost so quickly," wrote Andrew Lawler in Science. ("Ten Millenia of Culture Pilfered Amid Baghdad Chaos," April 18.)

"Long after Saddam Hussein is forgotten, long after the oil is gone, people will remember this destruction of the world's greatest archive of the human past," said archeologist John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art.

Those who stole antiquities for profit at least paid them the boring compliment of acknowledging their financial worth. But how can one understand those who destroyed such artifacts and set fire to manuscripts, annihilating a precious part of their own heritage?

There is evidently a deeply rooted impulse to attack precisely those institutions that are the repositories of history and the foundations of culture and civilization. It does not make sense; it tends to destroy the very possibility of "sense."

In case anyone thought that such nihilistic impulses were limited to remote geographical regions and cultures, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently announced a need for new regulations to deal with threatening behavior directed towards U.S. government archives.

An April 18 Federal Register notice reported an "increased number of email and telephone threats received in NARA facilities." See:


Official efforts to restrict the public dissemination of information would be a lot more efficient if only they didn't depend on human beings to carry them out, a defect for which one may be thankful at a time when public access to government information faces new constraints.

As happens with some regularity, an April 2002 Defense Department document concerning a database of toxic chemical release information that was not supposed to be publicly disclosed nevertheless found its way onto the world wide web.

The document is clearly marked for limited distribution and is said to be subject to the Arms Export Control Act. It further states on the title page that violation of these restrictions on dissemination is "subject to severe criminal penalties."

"Destroy [this document] by any method that will prevent disclosure of contents or reconstruction of the document."

Yet the document itself -- "Toxics Release Inventory Data Delivery System: System Documentation" -- was posted on the web by a Defense Department contractor here (thanks to JP):

Shrinking public access to toxic chemical inventory data is the subject of "Balancing security of plants with the public's right to know" by Jennifer Lin and Adam Fifield, Philadelphia Inquirer, April 21:


The 1954 overthrow of the government of Guatemala in a CIA-led coup will be the subject of a U.S. State Department conference next month entitled "The United States, Guatemala, and Latin America: New Perspectives on the 1954 Coup." That episode served in some ways as the template for a whole series of cold war covert actions.

The State Department has just published the schedule of the May 15-16 conference, linked from here:


The Security Service of Ukraine (Sluzhba Bespeky Ukrayiny or SBU) this week posted an archive of declassified documents concerning the nuclear power plants at Chernobyl and the accident that occurred there on April 26, 1986.

The 121 documents, published in Ukrainian, detail construction flaws that were identified by the KGB long before the 1986 accident and provide contemporary accounts of the accident itself. The Chernobyl site remains a disaster area and a public health hazard.

Soviet secrecy concerning the Chernobyl accident is one of the factors that precipitated Gorbachev's glasnost campaign and arguably helped lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The April 21 SBU release announcing publication of the declassified documents is here (thanks to my mom Lilla Aftergood for some translation assistance):

The documents themselves are posted here:


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

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