Jeffrey LewisTracking the Dragon: Unneccessary Redactions

I’ve now had an opportunity to spend considerable time looking at the declassified documents in Tracking the Dragon: Selected National Intelligence Estimates on China, 1948-1976.

Despite my initial reaction that the release was a real goldmine, I can’t help but complain the collection is marred by many pointless and unneccessary redactions.

Robert L. Suettinger, a career intelligence analyst who penned the introduction, defends the heavy redactions as necessary to protect sources and methods:

Knowledge of the Chinese program was driven largely by increasingly sophisticated intelligence collection programs, particularly satellite imagery, which began to be available in the early 1960s. The nature of those programs—and their continuing relevance to collection and analysis of intelligence today—accounts for the heavy redaction to be found in most of the papers dealing with China’s efforts to develop its nuclear program.

That’s crap.

A comparison of two charts, one which is from the Tracking the Dragon… collection, pretty clearly suggests many of the redactions are ludicrous.

NIE 13-8-71 Communist China’s Weapons Program For Strategic Attack, declassified as part of the Tracking the Dragon… collection, contains a table concerning the first 11 Chinese nuclear tests. The table is heavily redacted, listing only the date and delivery mode of the test.

Here is the same chart, from TCS-654775-72 Soviet and People’s Republic of China Nuclear Weapons Employment Strategy. This chart contains the same data, but has not been censored.

NIC redacted the tests’ yields (estimated from seismic monitoring) and purposes (from radiochemistry analysis of fallout). Come off it, guys.

Note: The documents give competing dates for the CHIC 11. The official Chinese history suggests the test was on 14 October 1970.