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Chain of fools.

Despite the balmy weather, Washington looked a lot like Moscow last month, as Lieut. Gen. John T. Chain Jr., director of the State Department's Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, declared Leslie H. Gelb, New York Times national security correspondent, an unperson. Chain forbade his staff to speak with Gelb, who headed the bureau from 1977 to 1979, removed Gelb's photograph from the gallery of former directors, and replaced it with a sign saying that Gelb "did willingly, and knowingly, publish in 1985, classified information, the release of which is harmful and damaging to the country."

On February 13 and 14 The New York Times published articles by Gelb that revealed U.S. contingency plans to deploy nuclear depth charges in Canada, Iceland, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Spain, the Azores, Diego Garcia and the Phillipines in the event of crisis or war. When reports about the plans appeared in the foreign press in December and January, officials in those countries, who had not been told about them by Washington, protested. Iceland's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and members of the Bermudan and Canadian press had got the information about the deployment plan from William Arkin, an expert on nuclear weapons and a researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington; Gelb verified it independently.

Gelb's crime was letting the Ameircan public know what had already been reported in newspapers in Iceland, Bermuda and Canada. The New York Times says it chose not to reveal more sensitive information in its possession. Viewed from a different perspective than General Chain's, that self-censorship allows the government to be the sole judge of what the public may know.

The people of allied countries should have a voice in whether American nuclear weapons are deployed in their territory. And the people of this country should have a voice in setting America nuclear policy. But they can't participate in the debate if the government withholds important information, as this Administration is well aware. The real target of General Chain's campagin is not Gelb but Arkin, who deserves great credit for bringing the deployment plan to the attention of the governments affected by it, and anyone else who values the public's right to know above the government's right to conceal. Ultimately, the target is free public discussion. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger charged that Arkin's purpose in releasing the information "would certainly seem to be to try to destroy [NATO] and to create all kinds of suspicion and this is exactly what the Soviets also have been trying to do." Eventually, such smear tactics will backfire.

Readers of The Nation may recall that Howard Morland, whose "Are We readying a First Strike?" appears on page 297 in this issue, caused a flap in 1979 when The Progressive published an article by him describing the design concept of the hydrogen bomb. Morland demonstrated the importance of demystifying official secrecy. So have Arkin and Gelb.

General Chain has removed the sign casting a slur on Gelb, although he has not restored the picture. Perhaps he could learn something from George Orwell's Winston Smith, who had the job of removing unpersons from the history books. On one occasion, after his surgery left a large hole in the record, Smith invented a fictional hero. Chain might replace the missing picture with one showing the Administration's ideal journalist--blindfolded, earmuffed, handcuffed and sporting a "we're No. 1" T-shirt.
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Title Annotation:John T. Chain accuses Leslie Gelb
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Mar 16, 1985
Words:563
Previous Article:The missing tape.
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