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John Pike and Steven Aftergood, researchers at the Washington, D.C.- based Federation of American Scientists (FAS), make a living talking about what government officials can’t–be it Star Wars, the Pentagon’s “black budget,” or nearly a century’s accumulation of classified documents.

Pike (left), FAS’s Space Policy Project Director, has emerged as the country’s top independent expert on Star Wars research. Aftergood (right) publishes the monthly Secrecy & Government Bulletin, a frequent source of media scoops on classified information.

What secret information would you most like the new administration to declassify?

Aftergood: Something no one has even asked for, rather than more details on the Cuban Missile Crisis or Watergate. I suspect there are unreported scandals we don’t know anything about. But I don’t expect it will be any easier to uncover them.

Why not? Can’t we expect some reform in government secrecy?

Aftergood: Secrecy serves the interests of the executive branch against the legislative–that’s a temptation against reform. And regardless of what the new administration wants to change, there’ll be resistance from bureaucracy. The Nixon administration declared that most documents could be declassified within ten years. Carter shortened that to six years. All these were executive orders from the president, but they never happened. Even explicit directives aren’t enough.

What’s on the FAS agenda now?

Aftergood: Rather than trying to penetrate the machinations of the Bush administration, we’ll promote the need for urgent change. That means less research, more advocacy. It’s not going to change until there’s a demand for change.

Now that Bush is history, what’s the outlook for Star Wars?

Pike: The reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Clinton has said he’ll spend as much on Star Wars as Bush. And he’s chosen a secretary of defense who doesn’t represent much of a change from the last one. The one change they are going to make–dismantling the formal Strategic Defense Initiative office–will make the situation worse by reducing the visibility of the program.

So what will keep SDI going?

Pike: Star Wars has gone on for so long that it’s got a tremendous institutional and political constituency behind it. National security issues may be a bigger topic now, but it’s not clear who’s going to bell the cat.

Then you’re a pessimist?

Pike: No, I’m a realist.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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