from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 86
August 22, 2007

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A relatively new technology for enriching uranium known as "Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation" or SILEX is described in some fresh detail in a recent Los Alamos paper.

SILEX, developed in 1992 by Australian scientists, is the rarest of birds in U.S. classification policy: It is privately generated information that is nevertheless classified by the U.S. government.

Ordinarily, information must be owned or controlled by the government in order to be eligible for classification in the first place. But under the peculiar terms of the Atomic Energy Act, the government may impose classification on "all" information concerning nuclear weapons and related matters that has not been previously declassified. Since the new SILEX technology has never been declassified, it is ipso facto classified, despite the fact that it was generated by private (and foreign) researchers. It is the only known case in which the Atomic Energy Act has been used in this constitutionally questionable manner. (See Secrecy News, 06/26/01).

Unclassified details of the SILEX process, which uses pulsed lasers to selectively excite uranium hexafluoride molecules containing uranium-235, are presented in "Enrichment Separative Capacity for SILEX" by John L. Lyman, Los Alamos National Laboratory, LA-UR-05-3786 (thanks to WT):


In compliance with a requirement imposed by Congress, the Central Intelligence Agency declassified and released the executive summary of a CIA Inspector General report that was generally critical of CIA performance prior to September 11, 2001.

From a secrecy policy point of view, the most interesting thing about the disclosure is that it was the result of a congressional initiative undertaken against the wishes of the executive branch.

"While meeting the dictates of the law," said CIA Director Mike Hayden in an official statement, "I want to make it clear that this declassification was neither my choice nor my preference."

In theory, the CIA's "choice" or "preference" should be irrelevant to the declassification process. The President has directed categorically that "Information shall be declassified as soon as it no longer meets the standards for classification under this order." (Executive Order 13292, section 3.1). It is clear from the release of the Inspector General report, which was partially redacted, that it could be declassified. And therefore it should have been.

But the executive order is not self-enforcing and declassification does not occur spontaneously. Without some external stimulus it may not occur at all.

In this case, Congress provided the missing ingredient, thanks to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who authored the amendment to the recent legislation implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

While giving the needed push, Congress did not declassify the document itself, which is arguably within its power, nor did it define the precise terms of declassification, stating only that the document should be "declassified to the maximum extent possible, consistent with national security" -- as determined by the CIA.

By contrast, a more ambitious and unprecedented declassification action is the congressional requirement to disclose the amount of the 2007 National Intelligence Program budget, which must be declassified and released by October 30. No exercise of discretion is permitted.


In what might be seen as a response to last year's popular Army Field Manual 3-24 on Counterinsurgency, the U.S. Air Force has issued a new publication on "Irregular Warfare."

"Irregular warfare (IW) is defined as a violent struggle among state and nonstate actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations. IW favors indirect approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capabilities to seek asymmetric approaches in order to erode an adversary's power, influence, and will."

Though less rigorous and less original than the Army manual, the new document still contains points of interest.

It notes, for example, that counterinsurgency is not the sum total of U.S. military objectives. To the contrary, sometimes the U.S. will side with insurgents: "Various US government organizations are postured to recruit, organize, train, and advise indigenous guerrilla or partisan forces," the document observes.

"In some UW [unconventional warfare] operations, the use of US military aircraft may be inappropriate, tactically or politically. In those cases, training, advising, and assisting the aviation forces of insurgent groups, resistance organizations, or third-country nationals may be the only viable option."

See "Irregular Warfare," Air Force Doctrine Document 2-3, 1 August 2007:


Although Congress is out of session, the news that classified intelligence satellites may increasingly be used for domestic surveillance applications did not go unnoticed by congressional overseers.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), chair of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, last week sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff seeking answers to a series of detailed questions about the new initiative, which was first reported in the Wall Street Journal. Among Rep. Markey's questions were these:

Will the public have an opportunity to comment on the development of appropriate guidelines for domestic use of spy satellites?

What assessments of the legality of the new surveillance program have been performed? (Please provide copies.)

How does the Department plan to ensure that Americans' privacy and civil rights are protected once this new surveillance program becomes operational?

A copy of Mr. Markey's August 16 letter is here:

The new surveillance program "has drawn sharp criticism from civil liberties advocates who say the government is overstepping the use of military technology for domestic surveillance," wrote Eric Schmitt in the New York Times. See "Liberties Advocates Fear Abuse of Satellite Images," August 17:


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

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