from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 37
April 19, 2005


The Bush Administration's use of the state secrets privilege to block a lawsuit brought by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds will be challenged at an appellate court hearing in Washington, DC this week.

The state secrets privilege, among the most powerful instruments of official secrecy, may be invoked to prevent disclosure "of any information that, if disclosed, would adversely affect national security," as described in a 1983 court decision.

Last year, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the privilege in response to Ms. Edmonds' lawsuit, resulting in its dismissal. Ms. Edmonds, represented by the ACLU, is appealing to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to reinstate her case.

In advance of oral arguments on April 21, the ACLU will hold a press briefing on April 20 to discuss the issues raised by the case. See:

Coincidentally, the state secrets privilege is the subject of an extended analysis in the latest issue of Political Science Quarterly.

In a valuable addition to the literature, William G. Weaver and Robert M. Pallitto explore the murky origins of the privilege, its uses and abuses.

"Use of the state secrets privilege in courts has grown significantly over the last twenty-five years," they note. And with only four technical exceptions, the assertion of the privilege has consistently been accepted by the courts.

"Other than the scarce exception, the privilege is invariably fatal to efforts to gain access to covered documents. It is hardly surprising that such an effective tool would tempt presidents to use it with increasing frequency and in a variety of circumstances," the authors write.

"State Secrets and Executive Power" by William G. Weaver and Robert M. Pallitto, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 120, No. 1, Spring 2005, pp. 85-112, is not freely available online. But a copy may be purchased through the PSQ web site here:


In reporting on the dismissal of charges against most members of the so-called "UK Poison Cell" last week, several major news outlets cited the insistent claim of lead prosecutor Nigel Sweeney that the poison recipes found in a defendant's possession were "scientifically viable and potentially deadly."

But upon review, what is most striking about the "recipes" is their primitive character and the occasionally laughable ignorance of their malevolent authors.

Translations of several of the recipes are critically discussed by George Smith of here:


A three-part series of Congressional Research Service reports considers the challenges of border and transportation security and the options available for addressing them.

"Border and Transportation Security: The Complexity of the Challenge," March 29, 2005:

"Border and Transportation Security: Selected Programs and Policies," March 29, 2005:

"Border and Transportation Security: Possible New Directions and Policy Options,: March 29, 2005:


A U.S. Senator's passing reference at a March 1 hearing to a relative of his who had been a CIA station chief 40 years ago triggered a frantic and ultimately futile official effort to scrub the relative's name from the hearing record, Congressional Quarterly reports.

See "What's in a Name? That's Classified, Even 40 Years Later" by John M. Donnelly, Congressional Quarterly, April 18, 2005:


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

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