Frederick Seitz and the 1970 Task Force on Secrecy

The distinguished scientist Frederick Seitz who died this week was not only an accomplished physicist, global warming skeptic and tobacco industry-funded medical researcher, as obituaries in the New York Times and Washington Post observed.

He was also an early, incisive critic of government secrecy.

In 1969-70, Dr. Seitz chaired the Defense Science Board Task Force on Secrecy, leading a stellar panel of defense scientists and technologists such as Edward Teller, Jack Ruina, Marshall Rosenbluth and others, who identified fundamental defects in the secrecy and security policies of the time.

Their Task Force Report on Secrecy presented an acute critique of secrecy policy that remains pertinent.

“When an otherwise open society attempts to use classification as a protective device, it may in the long run increase the difficulties of communications within its own structure so that commensurate gains are not obtained,” the Report stated.

“Classification of technical information impedes its flow within our own system, and, may easily do far more harm than good by stifling critical discussion and review or by engendering frustration. There are many cases in which the declassification of technical information within our system probably had a beneficial effect and its classification has had a deleterious one.”

“In the opinion of the Task Force the volume of scientific and technical information that is classified could profitably be decreased by perhaps as much as 90 percent through limiting the amount of information classified and the duration of its classification.”

“The Task Force noted that more might be gained than lost if our nation were to adopt– unilaterally, if necessary– a policy of complete openness in all areas of information, but agreed that in spite of the great advantages that might accrue from such a policy, it is not a practical proposal at the present time.”

A copy of the 1970 Final Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Secrecy, chaired by the late Dr. Frederick Seitz, is posted here.

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