from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 13
February 2, 2006

Secrecy News Blog:


A major new report from the National Research Council warns of future biological threats and urges increased attention to mechanisms for prevention, detection, mitigation and response to the destructive use of biological agents.

But secrecy is not one of those mechanisms, the report says.

"In general, restrictive regulations and the imposition of constraints on the flow of information are not likely to reduce the risks that advances in the life sciences will be utilized with malevolent intent in the future."

"In fact, they will make it more difficult for civil society to protect itself against such threats and ultimately are likely to weaken national and human security."

"The Committee endorses and affirms policies and practices that, to the maximum extent possible, promote the free and open exchange of information in the life sciences," the report's first recommendation states.

The report contains some valuable extended discussion of information policy in the context of biosecurity (esp. pp. 163-171).

See this January 31 news release for "Globalization, Biosecurity, and the Future of the Life Sciences."


The government failed to preserve certain official email messages generated by the Office of the Vice President and the Executive Office of the President in 2003 as required by law, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald revealed in a January 23 letter.

The contents and quantity of the missing email are unknown.

In another letter dated January 9, Mr. Fitzgerald also disclosed that his Office has received redacted versions of the President's Daily Brief ("a very discrete amount of material relating to PDBs") concerning Valerie Plame Wilson or Amb. Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger. Mr. Libby's attorney had requested all copies of the President's Daily Brief "in its entirety" from May 2003 through March 2004.

These and several other interesting nuggets emerged in correspondence between the Special Prosecutor and attorneys for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former aide to Vice President Cheney who is being prosecuted for perjury in connection with the CIA Plame leak investigation.

While it has apparently proved feasible to declassify portions of PDBs from 2 or 3 years ago, the Central Intelligence Agency still insists that 40 year old PDBs regarding the Vietnam War cannot possibly be declassified. That dispute is the subject of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by UC Davis Professor Larry Berman. For background on the case see this National Security Archive update.


"The preeminent position that the United States has enjoyed in the life sciences has been dependent upon the flow of foreign scientific talent to its shores," the National Research Council said in its new report on biosecurity (p. 159).

But onerous visa requirements and so-called "deemed export" restrictions on scientific communications could erode the contribution of foreign scientists to U.S. preeminence, the report warned.

A newly updated survey of foreign scientists and engineers and associated policy questions has been prepared by the Congressional Research Service. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See "Foreign Science and Engineering Presence in U.S. Institutions and the Labor Force," Congressional Research Service, updated January 3, 2006.


A new report from the Congressional Research Service takes a detailed look at proposals to significantly restructure the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

The proposals, offered by a DOE Task Force, include closure and consolidation of various facilities and production of a newly designed Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW).

"Some express concern that Task Force recommendations may be at odds with U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy," insofar as they envision the indefinite preservation of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, the CRS report observes.

See "Nuclear Weapons Complex Reconfiguration: Analysis of an Energy Department Task Force Report," updated February 1, 2006.


The possibility that Freedom of Information Act requesters can recover attorneys' fees in FOIA lawsuits makes it easier to find attorneys to represent requesters on a contingency or pro bono basis.

Conversely, when new restrictions on the award of attorneys fees are put in place, as they have been in recent years, the availability of pro bono attorneys in FOIA cases has seemed to shrink accordingly.

FOIA reform legislation introduced last year by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) would restore the previous standard which permitted recovery of attorneys' fees whenever a requester's lawsuit resulted in an agency decision to release the requested record.

The larger question of attorneys' fees generally (not specifically in the FOIA context) is treated at length in a new report from the Congressional Research Service. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See "Awards of Attorneys' Fees by Federal Courts and Federal Agencies," updated January 24, 2006.


Jeffrey Lewis of ArmsControlWonk has obtained a copy of the latest IAEA brief on Iran's nuclear program, "Developments in the Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Agency Verification of Iran's Suspension of Enrichment-related and Reprocessing Activities."

The amateur satellite watchers who monitor the orbiting network of classified reconnaissance satellites are profiled by Patrick Radden Keefe in "I Spy," Wired Magazine, February 2006.


Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev nominated the crew of the ill-fated Soviet nuclear submarine K-19, which suffered a loss of coolant accident on July 4, 1961, for a Nobel Peace Prize this week.

"Through the courage of the heroic sailors, a reactor explosion and a consequent environmental catastrophe in the ocean were averted," Mr. Gorbachev wrote.

"An explosion on board the K-19 could have been taken for a military provocation or even an attempt to launch a nuclear strike on the North American coast. An immediate response by the United States could have triggered a Third World War," he wrote.

He noted that all information about the 1961 accident was kept secret in the USSR until 1990.

See "Gorbachev Proposes Soviet Sub Crew for Nobel Peace Prize," Interfax News Agency, translated by the DNI Open Source Center, Feburary 1, 2006.

Mr. Gorbachev's statement (in Russian) is available here.

The K-19 incident was recently the subject of a National Geographic feature film starring Harrison Ford called "K-19: The Widowmaker."


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

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