from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 56
May 10, 2006

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In response to a request from a public interest group, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) agreed (pdf) to disclose the amounts of highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel sought for export by two foreign countries. But the NRC said it reserved the right to withhold similar information in the future.

The Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) had argued last February that NRC secrecy regarding HEU exports was impeding public deliberation on the subject, and that such deliberation had in the past contributed to a reduction in international traffic in the weapons-grade material.

NRC chairman Nils J. Diaz agreed in part.

"With respect to the two pending applications for export of HEU, the NRC has decided that the total quantity of material requested in the particular export applications may be released," he wrote to NCI President Paul Leventhal and analyst Alan Kuperman in a letter dated April 26 and disclosed this week.

Chairman Diaz revealed that Belgium had applied for export of 85.5 kilograms of HEU reactor fuel, and that Canada was seeking 15.5 kilograms of HEU.

Unfortunately, the utility of the new disclosures for public deliberation over nuclear exports was undercut by the fact that Belgium's application has already been approved. A copy of the May 3 export license, with the amount of fuel to be sent to Belgium still blacked out, is here:

"This new NRC policy of considering disclosure of requested export amounts upon request is an improvement over the blanket redaction policy," said NCI's Alan Kuperman, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

"But it will not restore a meaningful opportunity for public comment unless in each case the public promptly requests and the NRC promptly grants disclosure of the amount of the export license request, well in advance of the commission's decision on that license request," he told Secrecy News.

Kuperman praised outgoing NRC chairman Diaz for his constructive response, but he said that "we'll be appealing for the routine release of these numbers."


The prosecution of two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for allegedly mishandling classified information is attracting growing attention as the momentous character of the case and its implications for American civil liberties become clear. (AIPAC itself is not a defendant and is not accused of wrongdoing.)

"When we say that this is an unprecedented case, we're not saying it hyperbolically the way people use 'unprecedented'," said defense attorney Abbe Lowell, according to the newly disclosed transcript of an April 21 court hearing. "We literally mean it's nprecedented. There is not a case like it."

Never before has the Espionage Act of 1917 been used to prosecute uncleared, non-governmental persons who are engaged in protected First Amendment activities (not espionage) for receiving and transmitting national defense information.

If these defendants are guilty of a crime, then so are many other people.

"I think Mr. Lowell is absolutely right," Judge T.S. Ellis, III said at the April 21 hearing. "It is an unprecedented, it's a novel case."

Prosecuting attorney Kevin DiGregory argued that the defendants had conspired to improperly gather and disseminate classified information and therefore "they stand in the shoes of a thief."

But the court rejected that assertion.

"You're not going to attempt to prove, and it isn't alleged in the indictment, that these defendants in some way conspired to steal [the information]," said Judge Ellis. "I don't think you gain much from an analogy that doesn't fit."

"I find this a very, very hard problem," he said. "I'm exquisitely sensitive to the [defendants'] motion to dismiss that I'm continuing to consider," he said.

Assuming the case is not dismissed, the trial will begin August 7.

A copy of the transcript of the April 21 hearing on the matter was obtained by Secrecy News and is available here:

The AIPAC case may be a prelude to the establishment of an American version of the British Official Secrets Act, wrote civil libertarian Nat Hentoff. See "Chilling Free Speech" by Nat Hentoff, Washington Times, May 8:

The case could "change the nature of how news is gathered in Washington and how lobbyists and academics interact with the government," wrote author David Wise. See "Read the News, Go to Jail," by David Wise, Los Angeles Times, April 30:

Both articles were entered into the Congressional Record yesterday by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA). See "The Big Chill in Washington, DC," May 9:


  • The new Journal of National Security Law & Policy has recently published its second issue featuring several meaty articles on interrogation, torture and the rule of law. The full contents of the issue, along with subscription information, are available online here:

  • "Regulatory transparency--mandatory disclosure of information by private or public institutions with a regulatory intent-- has become an important frontier of government innovation." A new journal article assesses when and how such transparency works. See "The Effectiveness of Regulatory Disclosure Policies" by David Weil, et al, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 25, No. 1 (abstract only).

  • The case of Sam Adams, the intelligence analyst who challenged official assessments of the size of Viet Cong forces during the Vietnam War, is revisited in a new book. "It's the first complete narrative of the intelligence war at the heart of what went wrong in Vietnam, and it also happens to be highly relevant to what's happening today in Iraq," suggests the publisher. See "Who the Hell Are We Fighting? The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars," by C. Michael Hiam, Steerforth Press, published April 25, 2006:


    "We remain concerned that Tehran may have a clandestine nuclear weapons program," according to a new but rather anticlimactic U.S. intelligence report to Congress.

    The new report on foreign acquisition of weapons of mass destruction during 2004 was released by the Deputy Director of National Intelligence this week.

    Such a report is required by statute to be prepared and delivered every six months. The last report, for the second half of 2003, was released in November 2004.

    See "Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January Through 31 December 2004," Unclassified DDNI Report to Congress, May 2006:


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

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