The uses and abuses of secrecy by the United States government is a problem of considerable concern to most Americans. In the name of defense and national security the government often impedes the flow of information to the public - information that will serve no value to those we consider our enemies, yet information needed by the public in a democratic society to make decisions on public policy.
Through tireless investigation that overcame many officially imposed obstacles, Richard Fineberg has carefully scrutinized United States chemical-biological warfare policy. His investigation discloses an alarming lack of candor by the Defense Department. Repeated attempts by the military to prevent disclosure of our true CBW policies and programs are cited throughout his book.
Secrecy in our CBW policy has been justified by the military as being vital to our national security. Dr. Fineberg's book clearly demonstrates that secrecy has served DO vital interest, but rather points up the hypocrisy which has accompanied our defense policies at home and abroad. If the information withheld could possibly be construed as being of strategic value to a potential enemy there might be a case for guarding that information. But in the case of our CBW policies, as this book so dramatically illustrates, secrecy has been used to cover up policies which have the potential for endangering the lives of all the American people.
It takes an informed public and an informed Congress to keep the defense establishment accountable for its actions. From our CBW policy to the events surrounding the disclosure of the Pentagon papers, the government has been guilty of failure to trust the American people with information vital to their interests and properly theirs in a free and open society.
Dr. Fineberg's investigations have served to bring to light many hitherto unexplained policy actions which now must be fully revealed by defense decision makers.
One such incident dramatically illustrates the problem. In January and February, 1966, the Army placed 201 nerve gas filled artillery projectiles, 3 nerve gas filled rocket projectiles and 3 propellant cans filled with nerve gas, mustard gas, and Lewisite on a frozen Alaska lake for storage. Before the ammunition could be moved or destroyed, the lake ice melted and the deadly arsenal sank to the bottom. There they remained, the loss completely unreported, even to responsible military officials, until sometime during the fall of 1968. The lake was finally drained between May 7 and August 27, 1969 to recover the deadly poisons.
After repeated inquiries on the subject by myself and others, the Army finally admitted the incident had, indeed, occurred and said, "The Army has not been able to explain why the chemical weapons were left on the lake, nor why the loss of a large quantity of nerve gas was not noticed for over two years." And further, "The investigation [of the loss] was unable to ascertain the specific cause or reason for the oversight."
Such irresponsibility with so deadly an arsenal is appalling. The fact that the event occurred is disturbing in itself. Further attempts by the Army to cover it up are totally inexcusable. The Army tried to protect itself from public scrutiny by classifying the information. It was unsuccessful at this attempt. But how many similar incidents have gone unreported - and their causes uncorrected?
The military cannot be allowed to pursue its own policy goals and cover up its true motives and mistakes by using the shield of national security, any more than we would stand for such behavior with respect to any other agency of government.
Dr. Fineberg's disclosures in The Dragon Goes North will help fill the information vacuum on the subject of CBW policies. The potential for disaster is great and must not be allowed to continue.
The Congress must exercise its oversight prerogatives and insure that past mistakes are not allowed to be repeated thoughtlessly under the guise of national security. Then, and only then, will we have a viable, accountable, and respectable defense policy.
United States Senator