from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 1
January 3, 2011

Secrecy News Blog:


One aspect of the current crisis in classification policy is the growing discrepancy between what is secret and what is classified. All too often, official classification controls are imposed (or retained) on information that is public, thereby generating confusion and loss of confidence in the integrity of the classification system. The problem was underscored recently by the government's response to the publication of classified State Department cables by Wikileaks, which was to insist that they remain classified despite their broad availability. "So, my grandmother would be allowed to access the cables, but not me," one official complained to us last month.

The increasing divergence between secrecy and classification is exacerbated by new media for disclosure and publication, and it is not at all limited to U.S. government secrecy policy. A current controversy in Russia over the alleged publication of classified information provides a vivid illustration of the problem.

The Russian news magazine Kommersant-Vlast has twice been rebuked recently by the Russian Federal Service for Communications (Roskomnadzor) for publishing state secrets, placing the future of that publication in legal jeopardy. But the purported secrets were all derived from open sources, the magazine explained, including sources such as Russian government websites.

One of the offending news stories, entitled "All About Missile Forces" and published in December 2009, described the deployment, composition and combat strength of Russian strategic missile forces. The government said this story included Secret and Top Secret information, and therefore violated the Russian Federation Law on Mass Media.

But in its defense, Vlast-Kommersant argued that this Secret information was not, in fact, secret: "One of the sources of 'state secrets' for Vlast was the official website of the RF President and Commander in Chief."

In a discussion of "Where to Find 'State Secrets'," Vlast writer Mikhail Lukin provided a detailed account of how his publication assembled the story on Russian missile forces by using public databases, search engines, previous news stories and scholarly works, and the public statements of government officials. "It turns out that the President of Russia, the Minister of Defense, the RVSN Commander-in-Chief, the commanders of missile armies [and others] number among the divulgers of [ostensibly secret] information about [missile] deployment...."

Vlast presented all of this information to the Moscow City Court in a legal challenge to the warnings that it had received from the Russian government. But in October 2010, the Court ruled against the news magazine, and in favor of the government.

In paradoxical terms that would be familiar to U.S. classification officials, the Moscow Court held that "the fact of the information being published in open sources does not in any way impact on its level of secrecy."

An appeal to the Russian Supreme Court is pending. See "The Obvious Becomes Secret" by Mikhail Lukin, Kommersant-Vlast, October 26, 2010, translated by the National Virtual Translation Center and obtained by Secrecy News:

The Russian original is here:


The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby organization, has often received and distributed confidential government information, including classified materials, asserted former AIPAC official Steven J. Rosen in his pending lawsuit against the organization.

"There is evidence that the receipt and distribution of confidential foreign policy information is a common practice for AlPAC," he argued in a December 14 legal filing. The organization disputes that claim.

Mr. Rosen contends that he was wrongfully terminated by AIPAC after he and fellow AIPAC employee Keith Weissman became the subjects of a federal investigation for the unlawful receipt and disclosure of classified information they obtained from former Pentagon official Larry Franklin. Rosen and Weissman were indicted in 2005 but the federal case against them was withdrawn by prosecutors in 2009.

On previous occasions, Mr. Rosen said in his current lawsuit, "AIPAC condoned the receipt and distribution of classified information." In 1984, Rosen recalled, he had received and shared classified information that members of the Libyan UN delegation had provided money to a US presidential candidate's staff. His conduct in that matter was supported by the organization, he said.

"There were in fact other situations before the 2004 Larry Franklin matter involving Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman in which AIPAC employees were involved in receiving classified material," including the 1984 acquisition of a classified US Trade Representative document, some details of which been redacted from the public version of Mr. Rosen's filing.

The latest developments in the case of Rosen v. AIPAC were reported in "Steve Rosen Fires Back in His Law Suit Against AIPAC" by Nathan Guttman, Forward, December 15:

Selected case files are available from the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy here:

An AIPAC spokesman told the Forward that it "strongly disagrees with Mr. Rosenís portrayal of events and circumstances related to this litigation." He said that "senior employees at AIPAC testified under oath during this litigation that they had never been involved with seeking or knowingly disclosing classified information as part of their jobs at AIPAC."

AIPAC has stated that Rosen and Weissman were fired because their behavior "did not comport with standards that AIPAC expects of its employees."

But Rosen's December 14 pleading said that there were no AIPAC standards on handling classified information, and therefore he could not have violated them. "At no time in the 23 years Steven Rosen was employed by AIPAC did the organization provide in writing or orally any guidance or standards that he and other employees were expected to follow regarding the receipt and sharing of secret, sensitive or 'classified' information that might be offered by government officials."


Noteworthy new products of the Congressional Research Service include the following reports.

"The EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement and Its Implications for the United States," December 17, 2010:

"Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: The Fate of the Oil," December 16, 2010:

"Keeping America's Pipelines Safe and Secure: Key Issues for Congress," December 13, 2010:

"American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat," updated December 7, 2010:


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

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