State Department Advisors Urge More IAEA Transparency

25 June 2015

An advisory committee to the United States State Department has recommended that the US advocate for more transparency at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Advisory Committee on Historical Documentation wrote a letter on June 14 to the US representative on the IAEA Board of Governors, Ambassador Laura Kennedy.

The committee called it “unfortunate and troubling” that the IAEA “lacks a policy or program for the systematic review, declassification, and release of restricted and other classified material in its archives,” according to the letter signed by the chairman of the advisory committee, Richard H. Immerman, a history professor at Temple University and Director of the Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy.

The letter summarizes the importance of the IAEA’s work dating back to its founding in 1957, including the establishment of procedures for safeguarding the operation of nuclear reactors, before stating:

“Under existing IAEA policy, nevertheless, archival records relating to the development and implementation of safeguards policy, even during the Agency’s earliest years, are closed to research. More broadly, records on Agency decision-making are likewise unavailable in Vienna. The unavailable records include even the minutes of Board of Governors meetings dating back to the late 1950s.”

The Advisory Committee “encourages the IAEA to develop processes to open its historical archives to the fullest extent possible,” the letter continues. The Unites States, as a founder, “has a special responsibility to ensure that the Agency formulates and implements principles of openness and transparency,” according to the two-page letter.

The Committee requested that the State Department “take steps to work with other interested government in urging the IAEA to develop an agency-wide policy on disclosure of official documents, including a policy for the systemic declassification and release of older documents.”

The lack of transparency at the IAEA was the subject of a special report published in April by Nuclear Vault and FreedomInfo.org. A follow-up story described a proposal made in 1996 by the Secretariat to the Board of Governors for a more liberal disclosure policy that was apparently adopted, though never announced or fully implemented. (Nuclear Vault and FreedomInfo.org.)

Historical researchers in particular have been critical of the agency. Anna M. Weichselbraun, a University of Chicago scholar, argued for more openness in an article published by the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.

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In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
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