from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 28
April 8, 2010

Secrecy News Blog:


In what may be the Obama Administration's single most significant reduction in national security secrecy to date, the Department of Defense this week published the first unclassified Nuclear Posture Review.

The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) defines U.S. nuclear weapons policy, strategy and force structure. As such, it is one of the most important national security policy documents in government. Two previous Reviews conducted by the Clinton and Bush Administrations in 1994 and 2001 were classified and were not meant to be made public.

When portions of the Bush NPR nevertheless leaked in 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld furiously condemned the release. "Whoever leaked it violated federal criminal law," he said. "It seems that there are some people who simply have a compulsion to seem important, so they take classified information which can damage U.S. national security and give it to people who aren't cleared for it," he added. Even after the Bush NPR report leaked, another official said, "the last administration then found it difficult ever to talk about the results of the review, because it was talking about a leaked classified document."

But this week, in a tangible sign of changing national security secrecy standards, Defense Secretary Robert Gates held a press conference to release the latest NPR document himself.

"The report of the Nuclear Posture Review will exist only in unclassified form," a Pentagon official said at a background briefing on April 6. "There will not be a classified Nuclear Posture Review from which we have redacted a lot of information and then just put forward an unclassified variant. This reflected a decision early in the process.... And in an effort to be fully transparent in our choices and the thinking behind them, we did not want to leave big open questions about what might be left unsaid because it's in the classified domain."

This is not the end of nuclear weapons secrecy, by any means. For one thing, the exact size and composition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal remain classified (wrongly, we would say). Also, "you know there are classified implementation processes, guidance processes," the unnamed Pentagon briefer said. "So it's not that it's free of classified aspects, but the [NPR] report as such and all of the policy findings and recommendations and all of the logic behind them will be presented at the unclassified level."

Incongruously, even the Obama Presidential Study Directive that initiated the latest NPR process a year ago remains classified and unavailable. But with the release of the final Report, that seems like a mere bureaucratic absurdity of little consequence.

The public release of the NPR report does not guarantee a superior policy outcome. But it does eliminate a longstanding hurdle to informed debate on nuclear weapons policy, and it permits the interested public to focus its attention on the substance of the policy, not on a tiresome pursuit of undisclosed records.

In December 1993, Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary undertook her Openness Initiative, releasing all kinds of previously secret records on nuclear weapons tests, historical production of nuclear materials, and many other important topics. Borrowing a slogan from an old cigarette ad, a DOE spokesman at the time said that the Department's new secrecy policy was to "classify less, and enjoy it more."

In this instance, at least, the Obama Administration seems to be following the same joyful path.

The White House yesterday announced the release of dozens of executive branch agency Open Government Plans, which are supposed to guide the implementation of the President's Open Government Directive. Several of the Plans deal, directly or indirectly, with declassification of national security information and records.


In May 2009, North Korea announced that it had conducted its second nuclear explosive test. Although the event generated a seismic signature consistent with a nuclear explosion, it produced no detectible release of radioactive gases or particulates (fallout). This either means that North Korea actually conducted a non-nuclear simulation of a nuclear test, or else it managed to achieve complete containment of a real nuclear explosion. Since detection of radioactive emissions provides the most unambiguous confirmation of a nuclear explosion, the successful containment of a nuclear test could be problematic for verification of a treaty banning such explosions.

This conundrum is explored in a new report from the Congressional Research Service. See "North Korea's 2009 Nuclear Test: Containment, Monitoring, Implications," April 2, 2010:

Congress has refused to make reports like this directly available to the public. Other noteworthy new CRS products obtained by Secrecy News that have not been publicly released include the following.

"Judicial Activity Concerning Enemy Combatant Detainees: Major Court Rulings," April 1, 2010:

"Federal Building and Facility Security," March 24, 2010:

"The U.S. Motor Vehicle Industry: Confronting a New Dynamic in the Global Economy," March 26, 2010:

"U.S. Initiatives to Promote Global Internet Freedom: Issues, Policy, and Technology," April 5, 2010:


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

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