Born Secret

h-bomb secret

Born secret‘ refers to a policy of information being classified from the moment of its inception, usually regardless of where it was being created, usually in reference to specific laws in the United States that are related to information that describes the operation of nuclear weapons. It has been extensively used in reference to a clause in the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which specified that all information about nuclear weapons and nuclear energy was to be considered ‘Restricted Data’ (RD) until it had been officially declassified. The ‘born secret’ policy was created under the assumption that nuclear information could be so important to national security that it would need classification before it could be formally evaluated.

Whether or not it is constitutional to declare entire categories of information preemptively classified has not been definitively tested in the courts. When it was directly challenged in a freedom of the press case in 1979 (United States v. The Progressive) where a magazine attempted to publish an account of the so-called ‘secret of the hydrogen bomb’ (the Teller-Ulam design) which was apparently created without recourse to classified information, many analysts predicted that the Supreme Court would, if it heard the case, reject the ‘born secret’ clause as being an unconstitutional restriction of speech. The government, however, dropped the case as moot before it was resolved.

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