Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Through the Looking Glass...

During the Cold War, Defense Secretaries McNamara and Laird made public statements about the US nuclear posture that went into considerable detail--number of weapons deployed, where they were based, and so on. These statements were made to support two ends. The first end was to support the logic of nuclear deterrence; in order for deterrence to work, some public discussion of deployed forces is necessary, so that the deterree understands the potential consequences of getting on the deterrer's bad side. (A tasteless paraphrase of Kennedy's inaugural speech sums it up: "Ask not what the United States can do for you, but instead ask what the United States can do to you.")

The second goal--and the more important one--was to allow the public to be informed of how their taxes were being spent. We've always had a difficult balance between legitimate secrecy (things like details of military plans, intelligence collection methods, or specific vulnerabilities of specific weapon systems, that can and should be kept secret) and the public's legitimate right to know about their country's policies (I have seen examples of using security classification as a weapon in interdepartmental political battles; I suppose that security classification can be misused for external political reasons as well).

This time, however, the security classification weenies have gone too far.

One of the best sources for historical information on the Cold War is the National Security Archive at George Washington University, and they found that material based on public testimony had been redacted from documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Don't believe me? Read it and weep, folks.

I hold a security clearance. Because I do, I can no longer comment on certain historical aspects of the Cold War--such as how many intercontinental ballistic missiles or submarine-launched ballistic missiles we had deployed. Never mind that I have books, printed on real paper, that have that information from unclassified testimony to Congress; it's now officially classified.

I'm wondering how long it will be before my 1987 edition of Soviet Military Power gets taken away from me and stamped "SECRET NOFORN."

Orwell once wrote that freedom was the right to say "Two plus two equals four," without the government saying that it was actually equal to five.

He had it wrong. Freedom is the right to say "Two plus two equals four," and not have a classification stamp slapped over the answer.

The United Press International piece on this has a quote that is astonishing:

However, Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, defended the reclassification.

"There's no question that current classified nuclear weapons data was out there that we had to take back," Wilkes said. "And in today's environment, where there is a great deal of concern about rogue nations or terrorist groups getting access to nuclear weapons, this makes a lot of sense." (Emphasis added by your humble scribe)

Yes, we have to classify numbers of weapons deployed during the 1960s and 1970s--weapons that are, for the most part, long retired and scrapped--to keep some goat-fornicating terrorist from getting nukes.

If there are any villages who are missing their idiots, they should check over at the NNSA.


Harold C. Hutchison said...

I guess I also have classified information in the form of three seperate editions of Combat Fleets of the World.

Ken Prescott said...

I guess I also have classified information in the form of three seperate editions of Combat Fleets of the World.