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PRIORITIZATION UPDATE: New Topics Re: Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) Information

by on December 9, 2013


We thank you for your continued interest in prioritization and for the many comments from our followers we have received about what topics you would like to see declassified.  Today, we present you with a new list of topics that involve information classified as Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) information.

View the List Here: Topics Re: Formerly Restricted Data (FRD) Information

Like our previous prioritization topics, this list of FRD topics captures what we heard from Agency declassifiers, experts from the Presidential Libraries and the requester community.  The topics are listed in alphabetical order, not by ranking.

All lists will remain active for comment while the blog is live.  Please continue to make comments on this new list and also any other topics you think are important for prioritization.

Your comments will be posted as soon as possible.  Please review our blog’s Comment and Posting Policy for more details.  Thank you for your continued interest and participation.


Comments

Allan Johnson December 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

My recommendations for top priorities for declassification of Formerly Restricted Data are:

1. Deployment, storage, and, number of U.S. tactical and strategic nuclear weapons prior to 1980 (ie Davy Crockett, Honest John, Jupiter, etc.)
2. Overseas storage locations and foreign port visits by U.S. Naval ships
3. Short-range and INF-range nuclear surface-to-surface missiles (cruise, ballistic)
4. Nuclear-armed air defense interceptors — manned (F-89, F-101, F-102, F-106) and unmanned (Nike Hercules and Bomarc)
5. U.S.-U.K. military nuclear cooperation
6. U.S-Canada military nuclear cooperation
7. Post-World War II Development of nuclear weapons complex (but w/o RD)
8. Chernobyl
9. Manhattan Project (but without RD)
10. Yields of nuclear weapons fully retired for 25+ years

Additionally, I recommend the cut-off time for “Deployment, storage, and, number of U.S. tactical and strategic nuclear weapons” be adjusted from 1980 to 1988 (which is 25 years from 2013), or, if possible, to when the force drawdowns in Europe associated with the end of the Cold War occurred. That should be around 1992.

[Reply]

Steven Aftergood December 12, 2013 at 11:11 am

All of the potential declassification topics are of some interest.

But instead of tasking the FRD declassification process with a few specific new demands, it would be preferable to “transclassify” all or most FRD into ordinary national security information, and then to let the standard declassification procedures take effect.

Now that the PIDB has effectively flagged FRD as a problem, the Board should foster a comprehensive solution to the FRD problem through transclassification. This would be vastly preferable to the piecemeal declassification of a handful of items.

[Reply]

Harry Cooper Reply:

Formerly Restricted Data has already been transclassified to NSI. The Atomic Energy Act says (see § 142 (d)) that “The Commission shall remove from the Restricted Data category such data as the Commission and the Department of Defense jointly determine relates primarily to the military utilization of atomic weapons and which the Commission and Department of Defense jointly determine can be adequately safeguarded as defense information: Provided, however, That no such data so removed from the Restricted Data category shall be transmitted or otherwise made available to any nation or regional defense organization, while such data remains defense information, except pursuant to
an agreement for cooperation entered into in accordance with subsection b. or d. of section 144

There has been debate for many years regarding whether FRD is actually NSI once it is removed from RD or if it remains under the protection of the AEA. It seems to me that all that is needed is a qualified legal opinion from DoJ regarding whether the AEA or the Executive Order is the operative policy for FRD. If it is the AEA, then only a change in the law will require declassification where DoE experts do not believe such declassification is prudent. If the EO has jurisdiction, then the provisions of the EO can be applied by qualified people with an appropriate outcome.

Until we decide whether FRD falls under the EO or AEA no real action can be taken.

[Reply]

Alex Wellerstein January 6, 2014 at 2:48 pm

While I similarly agree with Steve that this seems like a “band-aid” to a larger conceptual/legal problem as to whether FRD even makes sense as a classification category anymore (one can ask similar things about RD, but we must pick our battles), given the provided list, I would rate my interest as the following:

1. Overseas storage locations and foreign port visits by the U.S. Naval ships
2. Deployment, storage, and number of U.S. tactical and strategic nuclear weapons prior to 1980 (ie. Davy Crockett, Honest John, Jupiter, etc.)
3. Post-World War II Development of nuclear weapons complex (but w/o RD)
4. U.S.-U.K. military nuclear cooperation (AF, DOE, Joint Staff, OSD, STATE)
5. Yields of nuclear weapons fully retired for 25+ years (DOE, OSD) –> How many of these are still classified?
6. Chernobyl –> Why is there Chernobyl FRD at all? I thought FRD was mostly for military characteristics of weapons.
7. Manhattan Project (but without Restricted Data (RD)) –> How much Manhattan Project FRD is there?
8. Short-range and INF-range nuclear surface-to-surface missiles (cruise, ballistic) (AF, ARMY, DOE, Joint Staff, STATE, STRATCOM)
9. Nuclear-armed air defense interceptors — manned (F-89, F-101, F-102, F-106) and unmanned (Nike-Hercules and Bomarc) (AF, ARMY, DOE, Joint Staff)
10. U.S.-Canada military nuclear cooperation (AF, DOE, Joint Staff, OSD, STATE)

[Reply]

MP January 27, 2014 at 8:48 am

The declassified record relating to the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis is confusing and mixed: it is unclear on what the Government has declassified relating to a compromise with the Soviet Union over the removal of missiles. The National Security Archive has several electronic briefing books showing declassified documents. Some of these documents show a type of quid pro quo deal to remove missiles; yet, according to the National Security Archive, the Government has only acknowledged storing nuclear weapons in Germany and the UK. It seems that the Government could do more to declassify additional Cold War nuclear secrets that are widely known and/or are now wholly obsolete or are no longer in existance.

[Reply]

William Burr January 29, 2014 at 1:33 pm

The Board’s report on Transforming the Security Classification System http://www.archives.gov/declassification/pidb/recommendations/transforming-classification.pdf includes an important and valuable recommendation for a close look at the “formerly restricted data” [FRD] rules which prevent the declassification of information about the past deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons, even when it has long been overtaken by events. According to PIDB, “A process should be implemented for the systematic declassification review of historical FRD information.” To make it possible to declassify information about the historical locations of nuclear weapons, PIDB raises the possibility of converting FRD about the deployments into the “national security information” category. An Act of Congress http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/secrecy/2012/05/053012.html has already laid the way for doing so and amendments to Executive Order 13526 would complete the fix.
If the historical locations of the U.S’s overseas nuclear deployments were no longer under a blanket exemption, then security reviewers could declassify at least on a case-by-case basis. Historians could then write more easily about the role that nuclear weapons deployments played in U.S. diplomatic relations with a wide range of countries around the world.

Time and time again, researchers at the National Security Archive and others as well have encountered the problem of Cold War-era exempted FRD. The Defense Department and other agencies have answered many FOIA and mandatory declassification review requests with heavily excised documents because of the FRD exclusion. While some records on the deployments could be found at the National Archives before the late 1990s, for the most part they disappeared from the files because of special reviews required by the Kyl-Lott Amendment https://www.fas.org/sgp/congress/hr3616am.html. Partly triggered by a scare over alleged Chinese spies in the U.S. nuclear complex but also by the discovery of “unmarked FRD” in archival records, Kyl-Lott was a setback to the progress made by the Clinton administration in declassifying Cold War-era archival records. It required Department of Energy security reviewers to impound previously open archival records and to scrub them of restricted data (RD) about nuclear weapons design and fissile materials production or FRD about the historical locations and other topics. As it turned out, much of what the DOE reviewers found was in the FRD category, most likely documents concerning the historical deployments whose sensitivity was arguable.

A number of postings on the National Security Archive Web site have addressed the problem of the historical overseas locations of U.S. nuclear weapons and the problems raised by FRD. One in 1999 concerned a then recently declassified, but heavily excised, Defense Department history from 1978 on the history of nuclear custody. Drawing on that history, Archive senior analyst William Burr working with Robert S. Norris (then directing the Natural Resources Defense Council’s nuclear project) and independent writer William Arkin tried to tease out the names of all of the countries where the United States had deployed nuclear weapons during the Cold War. They published two articles on the deployments in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. One, “Where They Were,” appeared in the Nov-December 1999 issue with supporting documents in an Archive-NDRC posting http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/19991020/index.html. The authors mistakenly identified Iceland as a storage site for nuclear weapons but quickly learned that two islands—Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima–in the U.S. occupied Bonin Islands were storage sites before they were restored to Japan in 1968. This new knowledge led to another article, “How Much Did Japan Know?”, in the January-February 2000 issue of The Bulletin, which was supported with another Archive-NRDC posting http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB22/index.html

In 2006, the Archive published an Electronic Briefing Book entitled “How Many and Where Were the Nukes?” http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB197/index.htm Specifically addressing the FRD problem, the EBB’s second part included a heavily excised inventory of the overseas locations as of 1968 that the Defense Department had recently released. The posting made this point, among others: “declassifying information on the Cold War deployments is a complex problem, but the U.S. public deserves something more reasonable than the current blanket policy of secrecy.”

In early 2013, the persistence of the FRD problem, but also the promise of the PIDB reform proposal, occasioned an entry http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/atomic-energy-act-prevents-declassification-of-site-of-1958-broken-arrow-nuclear-weapons-accident/ on the Archive’s blog Unredacted. It concerned the Air Force’s recent partial declassification of documents about a nuclear weapons accident in Morocco in January 1958, although the word “Morocco” was excised from the documents. The posting closed with an endorsement of the PIDB proposals, asserting that without their enactment “the Air Force and other agencies will continue to redact obsolete information about Cold War nuclear deployments.”

Another blog entry http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/nato-shape-histories-declassify-restricted-nuclear-data/ called readers’ attention to a remarkable series of publications by historians working for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The historians had secured the declassification of thousands of pages of histories of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe [SHAPE], the seat of command for NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe. These are invaluable histories but what was especially striking about them was the common-sense approach they took regarding information about U.S. nuclear deployments in Western Europe, whether actual or prospective. According to the posting, NATO’s “pragmatic” decision “usefully illustrates the archaic character of FRD classification rules.” Declassification would have been unlikely if the NATO histories had gone through the U.S. review process.

Implementing the PIDB’s recommendations on FRD would be an important step in fixing the U.S. classification/declassification system and could only expedite the work of NARA’s National Declassification Center, which sees nuclear secrecy as “the greatest challenge” http://www.archives.gov/declassification/ndc/reports/2013-biannual-january1-june30.pdf to the review of the backlog of classified records. Nevertheless, this will be an uphill fight because opposition to reform can be found in the mid-levels of the national security bureaucracy, especially at Defense and the Energy Department, while senior officials at Defense who support reform are leaving government. All the same, solving this problem would provide the Obama White House with a significant accomplishment in increasing government transparency.

If and when the FRD problem is resolved, some U.S. government agencies may still block the declassification of past deployments, for example, by citing damage to “national security” or “ongoing diplomatic relations.” It is also possible that some governments will object to the U.S. government disclosing facts about past nuclear deployments in their countries. But at least the problem will be in the open and one less arcane concept will be available to security reviewers to prevent the declassification of valuable information on U.S. nuclear history.

William Burr, Senior Analyst, The National Security Archive

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