from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 96
November 4, 2003


Bush Administration rhetoric on national security policy has long been characterized by an unusual woolliness of expression and an underlying conceptual confusion. Familiar examples range from the "axis of evil" that is not an axis at all to the President's explanation that terrorists are attacking us because they "hate freedom." This is not helpful.

Likewise, U.S. national security policy has been led astray by the notion of a "war on terrorism," argued former national security Zbigniew Brzezinski in a thoughtful speech last week.

The "war on terrorism" is a poor and misleading formulation because it is an abstraction, he said. Its misplaced concreteness obscures the nature of the enemy rather than clarifying it.

"Terrorism is a technique for killing people. That doesn't tell us who the enemy is. It's as if we said that World War II was not against the Nazis but against blitzkrieg," Brzezinski said.

By framing national security policy as a generic response to "terrorism," Brzezinski suggested, the Administration has made it harder to distinguish among different kinds of terrorist threats, to weigh the capabilities of particular terrorist organizations, to devise countervailing strategies and to allocate resources where they would be most likely to improve security.

The associated domestic security policies, he might have added, including classification and other information control practices, are increasingly out of step with real-world threats.

See the text of Brzezinski' speech, presented October 28 at a conference on "New American Strategies for Security and Peace," here:

"Iraq is the central front in the war on Terror," said national security advisor Condoleezza Rice in an October 31 speech that actually capitalized "Terror," as if it were the name of the enemy. Her speech embodied both the abstraction and the blurring of distinctions that Brzezinski criticized. See:


The trial of Thomas C. Butler, the distinguished infectious disease specialist charged with mishandling lethal biological agents and dozens of other charges, began yesterday. If convicted, he would spend the rest of his life in jail.

Almost all independent observers believe the government is prosecuting the case with an unduly heavy hand.

"As Dr. Butler's trial begins this week in Lubbock, Texas, responsible scientists will not remain silent," said several Nobel laureates in a statement issued yesterday.

"This respected colleague has been subjected to unfair and disproportionate treatment and the case is having a negative impact on the future of research in this crucial national security-related field," wrote Peter Agre (Chemistry, 2003), Sidney Altman (Chemistry, 1989), Robert Curl (Chemistry, 1996) and Torsten Wiesel (Medicine, 1981).

"We urge that all efforts be made immediately by both the prosecution and the defense to arrive at a mutually acceptable plea bargain that does not include prison time."

See the Nobel laureates' statement on the Butler case here:


In one of the stranger artifacts of the post-9/11 legal environment, the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to review a lower court ruling in a case that remains almost entirely secret.

The very existence of the case was never supposed to have become public. The name of the plaintiff in the case (a "Middle Eastern man"), the identity of the defendants, the alleged offense, the case number, every court filing and every court ruling -- were all sealed from public view. Only a few minor details were inadvertently disclosed due to a clerical error by an appeals court clerk.

The legitimacy of this nearly absolute secrecy has been challenged in a heavily censored petition to the Supreme Court, filed last June and still pending.

"The Court should grant [the petition], not only to preserve and protect the public's common-law and First Amendment rights to know, but also to reinforce those rights in a time of increased national suspicion about the free flow of information and debate," wrote public defender Kathleen M. Williams.

A copy of the redacted petition for writ of certiorari in the case M.K.B. v. Warden, et al, is posted here:

The background to this peculiar case was elucidated by Warren Richey in "Secret 9/11 Case Before High Court," Christian Science Monitor, October 30:


Two weeks ago, Congress abruptly terminated the limited public access that had existed for several years to the official database of reports prepared by the Congressional Research Service (Secrecy News, 10/28/03).

Now, with his trademark resourcefulness and ingenuity, Russ Kick of has given back much of what Congress had taken away.

Hundreds of recent CRS reports, copied from the now inaccessible database, have been posted here:

Meanwhile, dozens of public interest groups from around the country are petitioning members of Congress to support continued public access to the CRS database.

"We urge you to work with CRS to restore at least the same level of access to CRS reports that your web site has provided in the past," the organizations wrote to Rep. Christopher Shays and Rep. Mark Green in a November 3 letter organized by the American Library Association.

See a copy of the letter here:


A revised edition of a monumental government-funded study on the theory and practice of national security classification has been approved for release and published.

"Security Classification of Information, Volume 1: Introduction, History and Adverse Impacts" by Arvin S. Quist, originally published in 1989, has been updated and supplemented with additional historical background on the development of classification policy over the past century and more.

It was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear and National Security Information. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

The 156 page study encompasses the Atomic Energy Act-based system for classifying nuclear weapons secrets as well as the executive order-based procedures for classifying other kinds of national security information.

Following the work of scholars such as Harold Relyea of the Congressional Research Service, for example, and that of the 1997 Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy (the Moynihan Commission), among others, the Quist study both illuminates the historical roots of national security secrecy and recounts its evolution over the years.

However, the revised study, which was largely completed in August 2001, does not address the tumultuous changes in government information policy following September 11.

The new edition of "Security Classification of Information, Volume 1" is dated September 2002. But it was only recently cleared by the Department of Energy for public release, and the first copy was in fact released last week.

The full text is posted here, with kind permission of the author:

Volume 2 of the Quist study, published in 1993, is also available on the FAS web site. The projected volumes 3 and 4 were never completed.


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

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