from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 20
February 19, 2004
LOST AND FOUND: LOS ALAMOS TECHNICAL REPORTS
- LOST AND FOUND: LOS ALAMOS TECHNICAL REPORTS
- A REVIEW OF CRITICALITY ACCIDENTS
- ENRICO FERMI: "WHERE IS EVERYBODY?"
- DOE REPORT ON INADVERTENT DISCLOSURES
- BOOK: THE CONDOR YEARS
- INTELLIGENCE REVIEW FOREVER
In 1997, as part of its "Library Without Walls" project, Los Alamos National Laboratory began offering online public access to thousands of unclassified reports reflecting fifty years of research in nuclear science and technology, and related topics.
Five years later, as part of the post-September 11 purge of government web sites, public access to this material was terminated.
But in a spectacular information-salvage operation, most of these Los Alamos documents, comprising nearly ten gigabytes, were acquired and preserved by independent researchers Gregory Walker and Carey Sublette.
"We archived them," said Sublette, "before the 'Library Without Walls' became the 'Library of Walls'."
Indexes of the recovered Los Alamos reports are posted here:
Selected reports of special interest will be posted in weeks and months to come. As time and disk space allow, Secrecy News will entertain requests to post particular documents listed in the indexes.
A REVIEW OF CRITICALITY ACCIDENTS
Among the Los Alamos documents preserved by Walker and Sublette is a 1967 account of all known nuclear "criticality" accidents as of that time.
A criticality accident is an unintended acceleration of the chain reaction of neutrons in a mass of fissile material. In a worst case scenario, supercriticality can lead to fuel melting and explosion. Of 34 criticality incidents identified by the Los Alamos report, six of them resulted in a total of eight deaths.
Does public access to such reports matter? Would an ordinary member of the public have any interest in a technical account of past criticality accidents?
The answer is yes. In fact, twenty years ago the history of nuclear reactor criticality accidents was at the center of a public dispute over the safety of the small research reactor on the UCLA campus before it was permanently shut down in 1984.
The Los Angeles-based Committee to Bridge the Gap, led by Dan Hirsch, successfully challenged relicensing of the UCLA reactor after pointing out that the water-cooled, graphite moderated reactor core had positive reactivity coefficients, a significant design flaw, and was vulnerable to an accidental power excursion. Public access to technical reports bearing on the problem played a crucial role in clarifying the issue and ensuring public safety.
See "A Review of Criticality Accidents" by William R. Stratton, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory report number LA-3611, January 1967 (112 pages, 3.9 MB PDF file):
ENRICO FERMI: "WHERE IS EVERYBODY?"
According to an often repeated anecdote, physicist Enrico Fermi once wondered aloud about the existence of extraterrestrial beings and why they had not shown up on Earth: "Where is everybody?"
In another Los Alamos report that was withdrawn from online public access, Los Alamos scientist Eric M. Jones tracked down the three colleagues with whom Fermi discussed the matter -- Edward Teller, Herbert York, and Emil Konopinski -- and obtained their written recollections of the 1950 conversation.
See "'Where is Everybody?': An Account of Fermi's Question," Los Alamos National Laboratory report number LA-10311-MS, March 1985 (17 pages, 1 MB PDF file):
DOE REPORT ON INADVERTENT DISCLOSURES
The Department of Energy this week published its most recent periodic report on inadvertent disclosures of classified nuclear weapons information in declassified files at the National Archives.
Out of 1.2 million pages reviewed, DOE officials identified 574 pages containing classified information that should not have been disclosed. The most frequently identified subject of the inadvertent disclosures concerned "storage locations" (of nuclear weapons) and "stockpile quantities."
The value of this archival document hunt is questionable.
Considering that validated nuclear weapons designs and production equipment are reportedly in international circulation, and that thousands of kilograms of highly enriched uranium exported by the U.S. have yet to be recovered, the dogged pursuit of inadvertently disclosed historical details, "classified" though they may be, seems more and more absurd.
See the Twelfth Report on Inadvertent Releases of Restricted Data and Formerly Restricted Data under Executive Order 12958, August 2003, declassified version released February 2004:
BOOK: THE CONDOR YEARS
From 1973 to 1980, military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil collaborated in an alliance known "Condor." The alliance employed the full apparatus of torture, "disappearances," and other extreme human rights abuses in the name of combating Marxist insurgents. Thousands of innocent civilians were killed.
Investigative journalist John Dinges tells the story of Condor, and fills in many heretofore missing gaps in the record, in a well-received new book called "The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents." See:
Some of the documents obtained by Dinges, regarding an assassination threat against former New York mayor Ed Koch, were published by the National Security Archive, where he is a fellow. See:
INTELLIGENCE REVIEW FOREVER
The state of U.S. intelligence is such that "It is not surprising that hypotheses tend to harden into dogma, that their sensitivity to changed conditions is not articulated, and that new data are not sought to test them."
Remarkably, this critique of intelligence comes from the CIA itself. And as perfectly apt as it may sound today, it was written in 1971.
The same critique notes an imbalance between collection and analysis, tensions between civilian and military intelligence, and the structural weakness that limits the effectiveness of the DCI.
The enduring relevance of these and other criticisms more than 30 years later suggests that efforts to reform the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy are futile and possibly diversionary.
See "A Review of the Intelligence Community," March 10, 1971, released in declassified form in 1998 (50 pages, 800 KB PDF file):
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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