January 5, 2002
Nuke Weapons Policy Still Secret;
Congress Ordered Unclassified Report
By John Fleck, Journal Staff Writer
A long-awaited Pentagon review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy has been classified secret despite a congressional mandate requiring an unclassified version by the end of December 2001.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday that an effort would be made to prepare an unclassified version but that it was unclear when that would happen.
Rumsfeld's comments drew fire Friday from government secrecy critics and members of Congress. "It's hard to have any kind of public discussion or debate about the issue until there's an unclassified version," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who serves on the Armed Services Committee, which was responsible for the bill.
"This is a basic policy document that cannot be permitted to remain classified," said Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C.
The Nuclear Posture Review is an effort to define the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War world.
In November, after meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Bush announced plans to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal by two-thirds.
The Review is expected to spell out the details of how that would happen and what role nuclear weapons would play in U.S. defense strategy.
It has been eagerly awaited in the defense community, especially in New Mexico, where nuclear weapons research is a mainstay of the state's economy.
Rumsfeld told reporters Thursday that the Nuclear Posture Review will call for "deep reductions" in the U.S. stockpile.
It will also mark "a significant change in U.S. offensive nuclear weapon approach," Rumsfeld said.
Bingaman said New Mexicans should not expect that reductions in the arsenal will mean cuts at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, the state's two nuclear weapons labs.
"The number of weapons we've got in the arsenal really doesn't dictate the size of the labs," Bingaman said in a phone interview Friday.
In a Christmas-week press briefing, Rumsfeld said the Nuclear Posture Review would be "released" this week. But speaking to reporters Thursday, he tried to clarify that remark.
"You know, I probably shouldn't have used the word," Rumsfeld said. "It's correct, we're releasing it to the Congress, and it is classified. ... After I said that last week, and I thought the implication would be 'release' meaning 'to the public.' And I apologize for that."
Lt. Col. Michael Humm, a Pentagon spokesman, said Friday that the Defense Department plans to eventually release a public version of the report. "At some point in the future, we will be releasing the part that we can release to the public," Humm said.
Humm would not say when that would happen.
It is wrong for Rumsfeld to suggest that it is his prerogative to decide to provide an unclassified version, Aftergood said.
"The implication that he is somehow doing a favor by requesting its declassification is out of line," Aftergood said.
"I'm dismayed that there appears to be any delay whatsoever in the release of an unclassified version," added Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, a Santa Fe group.
Copyright 2002 Albuquerque Journal