Secrecy News -- 09/27/12

Steven Aftergood saftergood at
Thu Sep 27 09:01:10 PDT 2012

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from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2012, Issue No. 98
September 27, 2012

Secrecy News Blog:



The capacity of gas centrifuges to enrich uranium increased by two orders
of magnitude between 1961 and 1967, from 0.39 kg-SWU/year to 30
kg-SWU/year. That striking fact was declassified by the U.S. Department of
Energy in 2008 and made public this month.

Under the terms of the Atomic Energy Act (section 142), which governs the
classification of nuclear weapons-related information, the Department of
Energy is required to conduct a "continuous review" of its classified
information "in order to determine which information may be declassified."  
And so it does.

Slowly and methodically, the Department has declassified numerous
categories of nuclear information over the last several years.  Those
declassification actions were documented recently in response to a Freedom
of Information Act request from the Federation of American Scientists.

At least one of the declassifications is of lasting and profound political
importance, namely the public disclosure in 2010 of the size of the U.S.
nuclear weapons arsenal. Other declassifications involve obscure matters of
uncertain significance, like the now-declassified "fact that thorium metal
is used in the radiation case of the W71 warhead."

In each instance, declassification is preceded by a deliberative process
which considers whether the information is already widely known; whether
its publication would assist an adversary in the development of
countermeasures to U.S. systems or in development of its own nuclear
capability; whether disclosure would have a detrimental effect on U.S.
foreign relations; whether it would benefit the public welfare; and whether
it would otherwise enhance government operations.

With respect to the declassification of historical U.S. centrifuge
information, the DOE record of decision noted that while the information
was not widely known, it would not assist in development of
countermeasures, would not have a detrimental effect on foreign relations,
and would not enhance government operations.  Other aspects of the
justification for declassification of centrifuge data, however, remained
classified and were not released.

On the whole, DOE seems to have a well-articulated procedure for
conducting declassification of atomic energy information.  Under DOE
regulations, there is even a provision for members of the public to propose
topics for declassification (10 CFR 1045.20), though it has rarely if ever
been invoked.

The outcome of the declassification process, however, is somewhat
unpredictable.  It is contingent upon an official -- but inevitably
subjective -- assessment of current technological developments and
political trends.  The correct answer is not always self-evident.

"Prior classification decisions, while not unwarranted, might have taken a
slightly different direction had the post-Cold War environment been more
clearly seen a decade ago," wrote a Los Alamos technical evaluation panel
in a 2003 report to DOE headquarters.

Classified atomic energy information still plays a potent role in public
policy and is not exclusively the province of technologists.  This week the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a license to General Electric-Hitachi
for construction of a uranium enrichment plant in Wilmington, NC, which
uses a controversial laser enrichment process known as SILEX.  Arms control
advocates (including FAS) and others argued that the SILEX process raises
distinctive proliferation concerns that weigh against its adoption.

In 2001, the SILEX process was deemed by DOE to contain
privately-generated Restricted Data that is classified under the Atomic
Energy Act.

Aside from nuclear weapons information classified under the Atomic Energy
Act, the Department of Energy also classifies national security information
by executive order.  DOE described the current state of its national
security information program in a recent report on its performance of the
Fundamental Classification Guidance Review.


One of the features that make Congressional Research Service reports
broadly valuable is that they often reflect the privileged access to
executive branch information that is enjoyed by CRS, at least in some
areas, compared to what an ordinary member of the public can expect.  So,
for example, a newly updated CRS report on Central Asia provides
authoritative tabulations of US foreign assistance to Central Asian
countries, broken down by country and by year for the past two decades.  
Assembling this data independently would be a difficult and time-consuming
chore, if it were possible at all.  See Central Asia: Regional Developments
and Implications for U.S. Interests, updated September 19, 2012:

(For a new critical assessment of US aid to Central Asia based on data
previously published by CRS, see "U.S. Military Aid To Central Asia: Who
Benefits?" by Joshua Kucera, The Bug Pit, September 25.)

Some other new and newly updated reports from the Congressional Research
Service that materialized on our website include the following.

Prospects for Democracy in Hong Kong: Results of the 2012 Elections,
September 14, 2012:

Trafficking in Persons: International Dimensions and Foreign Policy Issues
for Congress, updated September24, 2012:

Energy Policy: Election Year Issues and Legislative Proposals, September
24, 2012:

The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (Post-9/11 GI
Bill): Primer and Issues, September 21, 2012:

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), updated
September 26, 2012:

U.S. Public Diplomacy: Legislative Proposals to Amend Prohibitions on
Disseminating Materials to Domestic Audiences, September 21, 2012:

Mexico: Issues for Congress, updated September 24, 2012:

The Eurozone Crisis: Overview and Issues for Congress, updated September
26, 2012:

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

The Secrecy News Blog is at:

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Steven Aftergood
Project on Government Secrecy
Federation of American Scientists
email:  saftergood at
voice:  (202) 454-4691
twitter: @saftergood

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