Suspicious Secrecy

WHEN THE U.S. GOVERNMENT announced a decision to classify sections of a report on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) by a panel of independent scientists, the panel's chairman, Gade University Professor Nicolaas Bloembergen, responded diplomatically. "There are certain questions on items that the [Strategic Defense Initiative Office (SDIO) at the Department of Defense] feels should be classified," said the Nobel Laureate in physics. There are, indeed. And since several members of the independent panel have been critical of SDI, it is quite clear what those questions are about.

Since President Reagan announced his desire to develop a "peace shield" which would end the threat of nuclear war, a barrage of rhetoric and a glaring lack of information have led to questions about the feasibility and desirability of SDI. Now a panel of the nation's most distinguished scientists have spent 18 months investigating the program. Their report promises to be the most thorough and impartial assessment of SDI to date. But the Reagan Administration, for some odd reason, wants to censor some of their report.

In order to gain access to the classified information needed for a complete investigation of SDI, the independent panel of scientists agreed to allow the government to review their final report for any classified data it might contain. There is nothing wrong with keeping secrets secret. But in this case the reasons for secrecy seem more related to politics than to security. The Administration has already classified a report on SDI by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Now SDIO wants to censor the panel's findings and panel members have said they would be unwilling to publish the document without the sections in question.

Of course, we do not really know what the Pentagon censors want removed. The sections they want to classify may have nothing to do with, say, the feasibility of the program or the desirability of testing outside the laboratory during the next decade--the very issue that provided the President with an excuse at Reykjavik for weaseling out of the most sweeping arms limitation proposal ever considered by the two superpowers. But we do wonder why the Reagan Administration would want to suppress information that could answer crucial questions about SDI. We worry when the government limits public knowledge and discussion about decisions that involve not just hundreds of billions of tax dollars, but the very survival of the nation and the planet.

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