from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 86
September 4, 2008

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"Secrecy," a well-reviewed documentary on national security secrecy, begins a theatrical run this month in selected theaters around the country.

By identifying secrecy as a problem, filmmakers Peter Galison and Robb Moss implicitly adopt a critical stance towards their subject matter. But they also make a determined effort to present articulate defenders of secrecy policy alongside the critics (among whom I play a minor role). And they do not impose an artificial resolution on the disagreements that are expressed, as there is none in reality.

Above all, Secrecy does a courtesy to the participants and to the audience by taking the subject seriously. Also, it's beautifully made.

A schedule of upcoming screenings along with other background information can be found here:


A detailed new portrait of China's nuclear weapons program is beginning to emerge into the public domain following years of pre-publication conflict between author Danny B. Stillman and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Stillman, a former Los Alamos intelligence officer, was able to learn more about China's nuclear weapons infrastructure than any other American, particularly since the Chinese, for their own reasons, welcomed his attention. Over the course of numerous visits in the 1990s, he was able to inspect secret nuclear facilities that had been completely off limits to foreigners.

But when he proposed to publish his findings, the Central Intelligence Agency stepped in to block publication. Through the prepublication review process, the CIA objected to approximately 15% of Stillman's manuscript, which it said contained classified information. A court later affirmed that view. ("CIA Blocks Book on Chinese Nuclear Weapons," Secrecy News, April 4, 2007). Now a redacted version of the manuscript is scheduled for publication early next year.

A preview of some of the book's findings with an overview of Stillman's interactions with Chinese nuclear weapons scientists appears in the current issue of Physics Today. See "The Chinese Nuclear Tests, 1964-1996" by Thomas C. Reed, Physics Today, September 2008:

Some specialists dispute certain assertions that appear in the article, including a surprising claim that China performed non-explosive nuclear tests for France in the 1990s. See "Report Says China Offered Widespread Help on Nukes" by Dan Vergano, USA Today, August 29, 2008:


A new report from the National Research Council probes deeply into the positive and occasionally negative effects of public participation on the environmental policymaking process.

It is practically an article of faith in democratic societies that openness and public participation are presumptively good, but that doesn't mean it's true. On closer inspection, however, including empirical studies of participatory processes, the new NRC report was able to reach some encouraging conclusions.

"When done well, public participation improves the quality and legitimacy of a decision and builds the capacity of all involved to engage in the policy process. It also can enhance trust and understanding among parties," the report said.

On the other hand, "public participation, if not done well, may not provide any of these benefits -- in some circumstances, participation has done more harm than good."

The 250 page report, including a valuable 50 page bibliography, elucidates some of the conditions for successful participation and those that are likely to result in failure.

"Some participatory processes have functioned as a political tactic to divert the energy of the public away from engaging in dissent on important differences and into activities that are considered safer by an agency.... This use of public participation is counterproductive in the long run," the report said.

Instead, agencies inviting public participation must have a "commitment to use the process to inform their actions."

Also, "The power to define the questions to be addressed and to shape the public participation approach -- how it is used and by whom -- is critical."

With certain adjustments, the report's conclusions regarding environmental policy may also be applicable to security policy and other areas of government-public interaction.

See "Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making" by Thomas Dietz and Paul C. Stern, editors, National Academies Press, 2008:


Noteworthy new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News that have not been made readily available to the public include the following.

"U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues," updated August 5, 2008:

"Russia-Georgia Conflict in South Ossetia: Context and Implications for U.S. Interests," updated August 29, 2008:

"Defense: FY2009 Authorization and Appropriations," updated August 1, 2008:

"Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV): Background and Issues for Congress," August 28, 2008:

"Distribution of Homeland Security Grants in FY2007 and P.L. 110-53, Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act," updated January 28, 2008:

"Globalization, Worker Insecurity, and Policy Approaches," updated July 31, 2008:


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

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