A Half Life for Historical Formerly Restricted Data (FRD)
Classified information concerning the technical design and manufacture of atomic weapons and the production or use of special nuclear material in the production of energy is categorized as Restricted Data (RD) by the Department of Energy (DOE) under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) is a separate category of information (defined under 10 CFR 1045) concerning the military utilization of atomic weapons as jointly determined by DOE and the Department of Defense (DoD).
FRD includes broad categories related to military utilization, including storage locations, military planning information, stockpile numbers, negotiations with foreign nations concerning nuclear weapons, and testing information. Unlike information classified by Executive Order 13526, “Classified National Security Information,” (the Order) or its predecessor orders, RD and FRD information remains classified indefinitely with no distinction between sensitive, current information and innocuous, historical information.
While there is high researcher interest in accessing historical FRD information, much of this information remains needlessly classified. Weapons systems are decommissioned, as are the military units who maintained them. War plans become obsolete and are changed to account for advances in weaponry and technology as well as altered to account for changes to current national security policy. Stockpile and storage locations change over time, and nuclear weapons information is disclosed to other nations as treaties are negotiated and signed. Despite its operational obsolescence, this historical information remains classified as FRD and is needlessly safeguarded in the same manner as our current active nuclear policies and plans. As a result, there are large gaps in the public’s understanding of the role of nuclear weapons in our national security history. Significant Cold War events, like the Cuban Missile Crisis, have yet to be fully detailed as most records marked FRD remain locked in classified vaults.
For historians, national security policy scholars, and the public, access to this information is integral to understanding our national security history. Yet, a regular, systematic process to review FRD for declassification and public access does not exist. FRD has been declassified in a few isolated instances, but these decisions were usually ad hoc and inconsistent.
The public has no formal means of requesting the declassification review of FRD information. Unlike other categories of classified information, information marked as FRD is automatically excluded from all reviews for declassification under the Order, including 25-year automatic declassification reviews and Mandatory Declassification Review requests. Agencies are required to process and review records containing FRD under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the FRD information itself is pro forma exempted and not reviewed on its merits. On those rare occasions when DoD and DOE choose to consider specific FRD information for declassification, there is no mechanism to appeal an exemption/denial decision.
The Public Interest Declassification Board (the Board) recommends that the classification designation FRD be eliminated on all historical records that are 25 years old or older. These records should be reviewed for declassification in the same manner as all other classified national security information. Historical FRD information – stockpile numbers, storage locations, military planning information, basic testing and yield information, and non-technical nuclear information as it relates to the military utilization of nuclear weapons – would formally become classified national security information and reviewed for declassification according to the Order. Agencies could seek exemptions from the automatic declassification provisions of the Order from the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) and exempt this information accordingly. DOE could participate in ISCAP deliberations as a temporary representative when FRD information is discussed.
Historical FRD information that describes technical design information relating to the military utilization of nuclear weapons would be converted to the RD classification, in effect correcting erroneous FRD markings of the past. As part of this transition, DoD and DOE would need to create a declassification guide to provide clear and precise instructions on what should properly be classified as RD and what should be classified by the Order as national security information and what should be declassified. To ensure proper treatment of FRD, this guidance would be disseminated to all agencies that hold historical FRD information in their records.
 This is identical to an existing procedure used to provide representation for the CIA when their equities are being adjudicated by ISCAP.