from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 46
May 29, 2003


Increased transparency concerning nuclear weapons inventories can help to verify negotiated limits on nuclear stockpiles, to defuse international tensions, and to strengthen controls on nuclear materials, arms control experts say.

Such transparency is the subject of an impressive new volume published this month by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and Oxford University Press.

Transparency means the disclosure of information, often previously secret, in the service of openness and accountability.

"Transparency is complex in both concept and practice. It is multidimensional, it is not always a good thing, and transparency measures have to be orderly, honest and widely adopted if they are to win the confidence and support of states," writes William Walker in an introductory chapter.

The political and technological implications of the issue are fleshed out with admirable rigor throughout the 276 page book.

Transparency is "fundamentally a servant of international law and of the attempt by states to adopt common norms and rules of behavior in their mutual interest. It has little meaning or utility outside that framework."

In fact, the authors scrupulously note that under adverse circumstances, nuclear transparency could diminish deterrence or lead to the disclosure of weapons design information and further proliferation.

Yet while the prospects for immediate progress in strengthening nuclear transparency "appear poor," concludes editor Nicholas Zarimpas, "greater transparency in the management of nuclear warheads and materials would genuinely contribute to the strengthening of international security, the reduction of nuclear-related threats and the enhancement of predictability in inter-state relations."

The book is "Transparency in Nuclear Warheads and Materials: The Political and Technical Dimensions," edited by Nicholas Zarimpas, SIPRI and Oxford University Press, 2003. See:


The Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency published a new report to explain and justify their conclusion that several mobile trailer-based production facilities captured in Iraq were intended to produce biological weapons.

The report was posted on the CIA web site on May 28 and a copy is posted here:

Among other things, the public release of the report was evidently a bid to enhance the government's disputed credibility on the subject of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

"It's very important to recognize that programs that we had said existed do exist; that the kind of equipment that we had said existed does exist," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher at a May 28 briefing.

Not everyone was persuaded.

"Because the United States has such a vested interest in proving the existence of WMD in Iraq, the report's findings cannot be trusted without independent confirmation," said David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security in a press release. "A credible independent inspection of the trailers is critical before these trailers are indeed determined to be mobile biological warfare production plants." See:


Despite a blunt determination by the National Academy of Sciences last year that the accuracy of polygraph testing is "insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening," the Department of Defense is preparing to increase, not decrease, reliance on the polygraph.

A provision in the House version of the 2004 defense authorization act "would remove existing limits on the number of polygraph examinations that the Department of Defense may administer," according to a House Armed Services Committee report.

The new provision would also eliminate the regular annual report on the DoD polygraph program, which is one of the only public windows into the field. Instead of a public report, the Secretary of Defense would be obliged to make information on polygraph testing "available to the congressional defense committees." See the provision language here:

"The foreseeable result of this proposed policy change is that thousands of additional DoD employees and contractors may be subjected to the pseudoscientific ritual of polygraph screening, especially those in information technology positions," said polygraph critic George W. Maschke of

In another vivid illustration of the political boundaries of acceptable science advice to government, the Department of Energy is preserving its polygraph program unaltered by the National Academy of Sciences review.

See "Labs to keep giving polygraph tests," by Andrea Widener, Contra Costa Times, May 28:


The United Kingdom Public Record Office last week released a new tranche of declassified Security Service (MI5) files that are described here:

Hundreds of Albert Einstein's scientific manuscripts, essays and diaries, some previously unpublished, are now available in an online archive here:


An entire government agency is devoted to space exploration, "but no comparable exploratory effort has been directed towards the Earth's interior, where equally fascinating scientific issues are waiting to be investigated," writes physicist David J. Stevenson.

So in an imaginative article published in Nature magazine May 15, he sketches out a proposal to send a probe into the Earth's core. Up to now, the deepest drill hole has extended 12 kilometers down on the Kola Peninsula in Russia. But Stevenson wants to go all the way.

No, it has nothing to do with secrecy (don't email me). But the proposal itself is instructive and enlightening.

The annotated text of "A Modest Proposal: Mission to Earth's Core" by David J. Stevenson may be found here:

The annotations include one small error regarding the technology of space nuclear power.


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

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