from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 82
October 15, 2009

Secrecy News Blog:


House and Senate conferees last week approved legislation that would preempt the Freedom of Information Act and permit the Secretary of Defense to withhold from release photographs and other visual media if he determines that their public disclosure "would endanger citizens of the United States, members of the United States Armed Forces, or employees of the United States Government deployed outside the United States."

The new provision, contained in the 2010 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, was adopted to thwart a successful FOIA lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking release of certain photographs documenting the abuse of detainees held in U.S. military custody. A federal appeals court ruled last year that the unclassified photographs are not exempt from the FOIA and must be released.

The Obama Administration, prodded by Senators Lieberman and Graham and with the support of some senior military officials, petitioned the Supreme Court last August to overturn the ruling. "The disclosure of those photographs could reasonably be expected to endanger the lives or physical safety of United States military and civilian personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan," the Administration argued. But Congress acted first, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan asked the Court on October 8 to suspend its consideration of the petition.

From an open government point of view, it is dismaying that Congress would intervene to alter the outcome of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act proceeding. The move demonstrates a lack of confidence in the Act, and in the ability of the courts to correctly interpret its provisions. The legislation elevates a speculative danger to forces who are already in battle above demands for public accountability concerning controversial government policies, while offering no alternative avenue to meet such demands. "The suppression of these photos will ultimately be far more damaging to our national security than their disclosure would be," suggested Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU.

On the other hand, legislative intervention to block release of the photos might not be the worst possible outcome. A worse scenario would be if the Supreme Court upheld the sweeping Obama Administration argument that other courts have rejected, and ruled that the FOIA exempts these unclassified photos simply because they may pose an unspecified danger to unspecified persons. Such a Supreme Court ruling would have left a gaping hole in the Freedom of Information Act even larger than what the Obama Administration and Congress have now created.

Meanwhile, a new military policy prohibits reporters embedded with forces in eastern Afghanistan from photographing U.S. troops killed in action, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press revealed last week. See "Afghanistan Command Confirms Policy Against Images of U.S. Dead" by John M. Donnelly, CQ Politics, October 14, 2009.


"Kazakhstan, which is second only to Australia in uranium reserves and exceptionally appealing to nuclear nations that require uranium, has entered into agreements or joint ventures with many countries and corporations," a new analysis from the DNI Open Source Center observes. Kazakhstan has embarked on cooperative civilian nuclear projects with countries including the U.S., Russia, China, Brazil, Canada, France, India, and others, possibly including Iran.

"Some serious issues lurk behind the veneer of the government's political and commercial success," the OSC analysis says. These include "an unclear line of power succession,... which could facilitate nuclear deals with international partners with mixed proliferation records."

"The country is corrupt and has corrupt practices," the OSC declares. "Kazakhstan's mineral riches have supplied many a thief with wealth." See "Kazakhstan -- Opening Up for Nuclear Collaboration," Open Source Center, October 6, 2009:

Kazakhstan relinquished the nuclear weapons that it inherited from the former Soviet Union in 1995. It has also accepted IAEA safeguards and the Additional Protocol.


A 1957 scientific paper on astrophysics by the late Alistair G.W. Cameron has the unusual quality of being both historically significant and very hard to obtain. A scanned copy of the paper has recently been posted online.

Known to specialists as CRL-41 (for Chalk River Laboratory paper number 41), the proper title is "Stellar Evolution, Nuclear Astrophysics and Nucleogenesis."

The paper is a milestone in the field of nuclear astrophysics, explained Daid Kahl, a Ph.D. student at the University of Tokyo. "This work independently arrived at the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis in the same year as a much more widely cited paper by Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler, and Hoyle."

While it is still cited with some frequency (including a 2007 reference in Science magazine), hardly anybody seems to have a copy. Only around 30 libraries around the world are known to possess the document, Mr. Kahl said, based on a WorldCat search.

"Many people know about the publication, but people also cite it without ever having seen or read it," he said. "There was a large conference two years ago at CalTech commemorating 50 years since these works were published. Even at this conference, older professors were asking if anyone had a copy of CRL-41."

Now, with the expiration of the copyright on the document 50 years after publication, it has become possible to scan and post the document for anyone who may be interested. Thanks to Mr. Kahl for sharing his copy.


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

See also "Reducing Government Secrecy: Finding What Works" by Steven Aftergood, Yale Law and Policy Review, vol. 27, no. 2, Spring 2009:

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