DOE's Erroneous Declassification of Nuclear Weapons Design Documents

EMD-79-109: Published: Sep 21, 1979. Publicly Released: Oct 2, 1979.

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Doubts have been raised about the conduct of a large-scale Department of Energy (DOE) program to review old classified documents.

It has been found that some documents which contained sensitive information on nuclear weapons were erroneously declassified and made available to the public. In one group of documents rechecked, it was found that about 6 percent of them had been erroneously declassified. During the review to determine which documents could be declassified, mismanagement included simple administrative and clerical errors. An expert involved in the review testified that the declassification of one highly sensitive document was the most serious breach of security since World War II. It is apparent that some of the usual declassification policies and procedures were not used, and some of those who did the reviews were not trained classification specialists. These shortcomings coupled with a desire to declassify large numbers of documents quickly, produced a situation in which mistakes should have been predicted. The information in the documents could have been obtained by interested parties through the use of lists of the reports and DOE libraries or those of DOE contractors. DOE is taking measures to restrict access to documents that are potentially erroneously declassified. Some documents are being rechecked to determine whether they should be reclassified. However, DOE actions to retrieve one highly sensitive document did not seem to be aimed at getting it back quickly. It cannot be determined whether any reports are now in the possession of unauthorized persons as a result of permitting distribution of the documents.

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