FAS Note: This tribute was prepared by a Department of Energy official on the occasion of Roger K. Heusser's retirement.
He accomplished what the bureaucrats said could not be done-- by bringing an era of openness to an embattled Energy Department. He proved that by declassifying old secret scandals, a longer-term truthfulness could be nurtured in government. Roger K. Heusser was the former Director of the Office of Declassification which recently morphed into the Office of Nuclear and National Security Information under Secretary Richardson. Bryan Siebert, the director prior to Heusser, was shunted aside two years ago-- detailed to St. Mary's College.
LAST OF ENERGY DEPARTMENT'S OPENNESS TEAM LEAVES
Heusser first championed openness under former Secretary Hazel O'Leary, and was the lone voice demanding public release of the human radiation experiments, which had been conducted up through 1972. These experiments included plutonium injections WITHOUT notification of the victims. In addition, there as a shocking secret national program that collected cadavers and still-born babies for experimentation, again WITHOUT notification of families.
After a stormy internal session at Energy, (during which Heusser was personally threatened, and given a derisive nickname), the December 7, 1993 press conference, presenting these former secrets to the public, was a national sensation. It led to President Clinton's public apology, and cash payments to the families of the victims. This was the very first accountability for such actions at the DOE. Also announced that day were 200 secret nuclear tests, which Heusser argued should be released since "They are known to the Russians and the nuclear tests jar Nevada with earthquakes. Who is it that they need to be secret from?"
Also announced was the declassification of Energy's field sites' plutonium and highly enriched uranium inventories, which forced the Defense Department to reassess defense needs for these materials. However, Defense promptly classified the quantities excess to national security needs; defense staffers threatened Heusser with jail if he declassified them.
With the assistance of the White House, Heusser did arrange for declassification. This caused President Clinton to announce in March, 1995, that, "To further demonstrate our commitment to the goals of the (Nuclear Non Proliferation) Treaty, today I have ordered 200 metric tons of fissile material-- enough for thousands of nuclear weapons-- to be permanently withdrawn from the United States Nuclear Stockpile. It will never again be used to build a nuclear weapon."
These accomplishments are surprising, since Heusser and Siebert had been penalized for trying to warm former Secretary Watkins and the Bush White House of the Iraqi efforts in 1989 to develop nuclear weapons before the gulf war. Their office was cut by two thirds. However, their Iraq assessment was later proven to be correct after U.N. Inspectors uncovered hidden bomb making equipment in Iraq, and seized Iraqi documents related to the design of sophisticated nuclear weapons.
It used to be publicly stated that there was "good" plutonium and "bad" plutonium, i.e. commercial grade and weapons grade. However, that myth was destroyed by release of the fact in 1994 that a nuclear explosion was made with commercial grade plutonium in the Nevada desert back in 1962.
This was very significant according to Tom Clements, at that time with Greenpeace International. It confirmed the need for international safeguards. Still, DOE would only vaguely describe the yield of the commercial grade plutonium test as less than 20 kilotons. (The bomb the U. S. dropped on Nagasaki during WWII had an 18-kiloton yield.)
To date Energy has declassified over 16.2 million pages of documents, which have led to many revelations. Plutonium was left in Vietnam after Saigon fell, even though subsequent Administrations stated it had all been returned. After the documents concerning this were declassified, the matter was raised with the International Atomic Energy Agency, an international watchdog group that sent an inspection team to Vietnam to place the plutonium under safeguards. Another revelation was that the U.S. had produced nuclear weapons as small as 60 pounds that could be used by parachuters.
Under Heusser's aegis, experts have audited over 160 million pages, approximately 12 miles, of other agencies' declassified documents under control of the Natural Archives and Records Administration. These experts prevented approximately 22,500 pages (9 linear feet) of secret documents from being improperly released, but confirmed that about 14,890 pages, or 6 linear feet, containing other nuclear information were incorrectly publicly released, including documents clearly stamped Top Secret. Over 1000 experts from other agencies have been recently trained by Energy to prevent a recurrence of improper declassification.
David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security, also served on Colorado's Health Advisory Panel overseeing historical public health exposure studies from Rocky Flats, Colorado, which produced plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons up to 1989. Albright has said that without Heusser's help in declassifying statistics concerning the plutonium involved in the two large fires at Rocky Flats, "We would not have been able to complete a scientifically credible study that showed radiation exposures to the public were small, despite several dangerous accidents."