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Sep 7, 2022

In early August, the FBI seized boxes of classified documents, some suspected to contain nuclear secrets, from former president Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago. News of the FBI’s raid ignited a political firestorm but it also shed light on an obscure aspect of US foreign policymaking — America’s “nuclear secrecy regime.”


From its WWII origins in the development of the atomic bomb to the latest controversy miring Trump, nuclear secrecy has cast a shadow over the development and execution of US national security policy. In this episode, historian Alex Wellerstein joins the Eurasia Group Foundation’s Mark Hannah to help us make sense of America’s byzantine classification system, the bureaucratic process that makes it work, and its inherent tensions with democracy. Alex also explains how a president’s ability to declassify information is more complicated than some would have us think. 

Alex Wellerstein is an associate professor at Stevens Institute of Technology, where he is the director of Science and Technology Studies in the College of Arts and Letters. Alex is the author of the book, Restricted Data: The History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States (2021), and the creator of NUKEMAP, an online nuclear weapons effects simulator.

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