from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2019, Issue No. 39
October 3, 2019

Secrecy News Blog:


One might presume that foreign spies do more damage to national security than those who leak classified information to the press. But the opposite could be true, government attorneys told a court this week, because the leaked information is circulated more widely.

"While spies typically pass classified national defense information to a specific foreign government, leakers, through the internet, distribute such information without authorization to the entire world," the Justice Department attorneys wrote. "Such broad distribution of unauthorized disclosures may actually amplify the potential damage to the national security in that every country gains access to the compromised intelligence," they argued.

They wrote in opposition to a motion filed by accused leaker Daniel Everette Hale, who had moved for dismissal on First Amendment grounds of the Indictment against him.

The argument that leakers may be worse than spies is not new. It was previously advanced by the government in 2011 in the prosecution of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, as reported at the time in Politico.

While Hale's argument is obviously self-serving, the case for dismissal of the charges against him is nevertheless substantial, said the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The increased number of such prosecutions of sources who leak classified information to the press is adversely affecting the larger public interest, the organization argued in an amicus brief filed in support of the defendant.

"This case must be considered in the context of a dramatic uptick in the prosecution of journalistic sources since 2009, an increase in the severity of punishment, and a heightened danger of selective enforcement against lower-ranking disclosers," their brief said.

"Not only are there far more cases today than 10 years ago, one can discern two trends in these cases: punishments that continue to increase in severity and the possibility of selective prosecutions against more vulnerable, lower-level disclosers."

"Journalistic source prosecutions directly chill newsgathering by dissuading sources from coming forward with newsworthy information in the public interest."

Collectively, these factors alter the context in which prior leak cases were adjudicated, the Reporters Committee argued. Current circumstances and the specifics of this case justify dismissal, the amicus brief said.


A new NASA report examines various scenarios in which nuclear reactors that are used to power spacecraft could accidentally reenter the Earth's atmosphere.

"There are a number of types of reentry events that can potentially occur with missions containing fission reactors. Each type of reentry event can produce a variety of possible adverse environments for the fission reactor," the report said.

The postulated scenarios include accidental reentry upon launch, reentry from orbit, and reentry during Earth flyby.

"There are three potential outcomes for a fission reactor in a reentry scenario," the report explains. "First, the fission reactor can burn up in the atmosphere due to the aerothermal loads imparted to it during reentry. Second, it can survive the reentry and impact the Earth's surface with or without additional spacecraft components. Finally, it can break apart during reentry, but its various components survive reentry and impact the Earth's surface (a scattered reentry)."

See Fission Reactor Inadvertent Reentry: A Report to the Nuclear Power & Propulsion Technical Discipline Team, by Allen Camp et al, NASA/CR-2019-220397, August 2019.

A conference on "Nuclear Energy in Space: Nonproliferation Risks and Solutions" will be held in Washington DC on October 17 that will focus on the anticipated use of highly enriched uranium in space nuclear reactors, and the feasibility of using low enriched uranium instead. The conference is sponsored by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP) at the University of Texas at Austin.

Several previous technical analyses have concluded that use of low enriched uranium in space reactors is in fact feasible, but that it would probably require a reactor of significantly larger mass.

See "White Paper - Use of LEU for a Space Reactor," August 2017 and "Consideration of Low Enriched Uranium Space Reactors" by David Lee Black, July 2018.


The procedures that govern congressional impeachment investigations are largely left to the discretion of the House and, in the case of a trial, to the discretion of the Senate.

A new publication from the Congressional Research Service summarizes the options. It "also describes some of the ways in which an impeachment investigation, as compared to a more traditional investigation for legislative or oversight purposes, might bolster the House's ability to obtain, either voluntarily or through the courts, information from the executive branch." Finally, it "briefly describes possible future steps that might follow an impeachment inquiry, including possible action by the Senate."

See Impeachment Investigations: Law and Process, CRS Legal Sidebar, October 2, 2019:

Some other noteworthy new CRS publications include the following.

Ukraine: Background, Conflict with Russia, and U.S. Policy, updated September 19, 2019:

Military Space Reform: FY2020 NDAA Legislative Proposals, CRS In Focus, October 2, 2019:

American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics, updated September 24, 2019:

Defense Primer: Defense Support of Civil Authorities, CRS In Focus, October 2, 2019:


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

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