from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 83
October 22, 2009

Secrecy News Blog:


The total number of invention secrecy orders that the U.S. government imposed on patent applications rose again this year, reaching 5,081 by the end of last month, the highest figure since 1996.

Under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, U.S. government agencies may restrict the disclosure of a patent application whenever its publication is deemed "detrimental to the national security." In Fiscal Year 2009, 103 new secrecy orders were issued, while 45 existing orders were rescinded. The overall number of orders in effect increased by about 1% over the year before, according to statistics from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that were released to Secrecy News under the Freedom of Information Act.

The most vexing secrecy orders, known as "John Doe" secrecy orders, are those that are imposed on private inventors who are not government contractors so that the government has no property interest in the invention. In Fiscal Year 2009, there were 21 new John Doe secrecy orders, according to the latest statistics. An argument could be made that secrecy orders in such cases are infringements on an inventor's First Amendment rights, but such an argument has never been tested in court.

In general, however, challenges or complaints concerning the operation of the patent secrecy system seem to be rare. Most secrecy orders originate at defense agencies, with the U.S. Navy in the lead this year with 39. (The National Security Agency issued 12 secrecy orders in FY 2009.) In such cases, the most likely customers for the inventions are the military agencies themselves, not commercial enterprises, and so the secrecy orders may have no adverse impact on the inventors. For other resources on invention secrecy, see here:


"Over time, the Supreme Court has become more diverse in some ways and more homogeneous in others," a recent Congressional Research Service report observed.

"When first constituted, and throughout most of its history, no women or minorities served on the Court... The religious affiliations of the Courtís members also have changed over time. For almost the first 50 years of the Court, all Justices were affiliated with protestant Christian churches. [Today], six of the nine current Justices identify as Roman Catholic.... Over time, Justices' legal educations have become more homogeneous.... In the last 20 years, especially, three Ivy League law schools--Harvard, Yale, and Columbia--have been disproportionately represented on the Court."

"To date, every Supreme Court Justice has been a lawyer. There is, however, no constitutional requirement regarding the educational background of a Justice or the necessity of a law degree."

See "Supreme Court Justices: Demographic Characteristics, Professional Experience, and Legal Education, 1789-2009," September 9, 2009:

Other noteworthy new CRS reports that have not been made readily available to the public include the following.

"Presidential Terms and Tenure: Perspectives and Proposals for Change," October 19, 2009:

"The Debate Over Selected Presidential Assistants and Advisors: Appointment, Accountability, and Congressional Oversight," October 9, 2009:

"Poverty in the United States: 2008," October 6, 2009:

"Public Safety Communications and Spectrum Resources: Policy Issues for Congress," October 14, 2009:

"Managing Electronic Waste: Issues with Exporting E-Waste," October 7, 2009:

"Iraq: Regional Perspectives and U.S. Policy," October 6, 2009:


Stewart D. Nozette, who was arrested and charged this week under the Espionage Act, is an unusually gifted and accomplished technologist. The allegation that he provided classified information to an FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer in exchange for cash is distressing on several levels.

Among other things, Nozette had exceptionally broad access to a range of classified programs in defense, space and nuclear technology. According to an FBI affidavit, Nozette stated that he "held a DOE Q clearance from 1990-2000, which involved insight into all aspects of nuclear weapons programs. Held TS/SI/TK/B/G clearance 1998-2006,... Held at least 20+ SAP [special access program clearances]... from 1998-2004."

In fact, however, Nozette's participation in Department of Defense special access programs dates back even earlier, to 1990 or so. At that time he was read into an unacknowledged special access program called Timber Wind, which was an effort by the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization to develop a rocket engine powered by a nuclear reactor. Dr. Nozette's name appears on a Timber Wind master access list we obtained which identified the several hundred persons who were authorized to be briefed on that nuclear rocket program.

The discovery of the hyper-classified Timber Wind program was an inspiration for the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, since we considered it a compelling instance of classification abuse. On a number of occasions I asked Dr. Nozette about the program, but he was always quite scrupulous about rebuffing my inquiries.

Timber Wind was canceled shortly after it became public, and other nuclear rocket initiatives likewise faded away in the 1990s, as the effort to develop nuclear rocketry for military or civilian applications surged and then collapsed, leaving behind only a bunch of good stories.

An idiosyncratic new memoir by Tony Zuppero, one of the would-be nuclear rocketeers, tells those stories as he recalls them, with sometimes alarming candor, humor, and disappointment. Dr. Zuppero had his own concept of a nuclear rocket that would open a path for human expansion into the solar system. But, he laments, "after all the effort, all the visions, I got old instead of making it happen."

Dr. Nozette, myself and the Federation of American Scientists make a few cameo appearances in Dr. Zuppero's new memoir, entitled "To Inhabit the Solar System."


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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