About the blog

Nuclear secrecy is a special kind of secrecy, because the atomic bomb is a special kind of bomb. Just as the atomic bomb has been treated as something above and beyond any other category of warfare, so has its secrecy. In the United States, nuclear weapons related information has a separate and parallel structure from other types of state secrets, one that in many ways rests on a very different epistemological foundation than military, diplomatic, or political secrets. When the bomb was thrust upon the consciousness of the world, again and again it was emphasized that it was built by science and by secrecy. In the years since the Manhattan Project, this connection between secrets and security, between nuclear technology and nuclear knowledge, has continued, although it has not been constant, nor evinced the same responses.

Shot Greenhouse Item — the “question mark” is natural and un-retouched, as is the turquoise glow. Source: NARA, Still Pictures Division, RG 326, 434-RF-12.

This blog takes its name from legal definition of American nuclear secrecy, as defined by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946.1 For me, “Restricted Data” represents all of the historical strangeness of nuclear secrecy, where the shock of the bomb led scientists, policymakers, and military men to construct a baroque and often contradictory system of knowledge control in the (somewhat vain) hope that they could control the spread and use of nuclear technology.

It is these sorts of matters that this blog is concerned with: the history of nuclear weapons in general (in particular from an epistemological, or knowledge-centric, point of view), and the history of nuclear secrecy in particular. It serves as an outlet for some of the interesting documents, stories, and observations that I’ve come across in my research. I am currently completing a book on the history of nuclear secrecy, and have been doing research on this topic since 2002.

I started this blog in November 2011, as a means of bringing my interests and research to a broader audience, experimenting with writing, and thinking about the role of academic scholarship in a networked, digital age.

There are three main categories of posts: Meditations (essays or extended thoughts of mine); Redactions (documents from the archives); and Visions (visual explorations). There will be at least one post a week — anything more than that is just a bonus. There is a separate, occasionally-used category of News and Notes which are just for small, topical items. A good way to see past posts is the Post Archives page.

For more about me, visit the “About me” page. I should say up front that I do not have, nor have I ever had, nor have I ever sought or desired, any kind of security clearance. Everything on this blog was posted in good faith with regards to its classification status, and I am perfectly happy to trade certainty for the ability to speak and speculate.

One other thing: any books referenced will have Amazon links to them. If you buy the book through that link, some small percentage of a percentage point goes to this site as a referrer. You don’t have to do that if you don’t want to. Any pennies that end up in my account will be nominally considered going towards maintenance of the site, but honestly, at this point it doesn’t cost much (a whopping $6 a month or something like that), so you don’t really have to feel very obligated. I thought I just ought to put that out there in case anyone was wondering what was going on with that (full disclosure on a site about secrecy, you know).

If you would like to support the blog materially, consider purchasing something from the Restricted Data store. I get a very small cut ($3 or so) from every purchase. I also sell calendars every year.

About the site design

I designed the appearance of the blog myself, on a WordPress backend. It’s a pretty standard “Kubrick” modification with a few extra bells and whistles. I’ve designed a few sites over the years, and I do occasionally do them for hire.

The gray background image is just some sort of generic pattern I cooked up with Photoshop, the top font is in Franklin Gothic (which I’m particularly fond of for Cold War things), and the revolving “secrecy” stamps in the header are actual secrecy stamps I’ve come across in my research at the National Archives. I have an ever-expanding collection of interesting secrecy stamps on my RestrictedData Flickr page. The “atom with a lock in it” icon is of my own devising and is something I’ve been using in talks for a few years now.

All of the layout elements are copyright Alex Wellerstein, 2011-2012, except for the stamps, which are released on Flickr under a CC-BY license (just credit “Alex Wellerstein” and link back to the blog and you can use them). If you have any desire to use any of the content or imagery in any way, please just get in touch with me. I’m a pretty reasonable guy when it comes to reuse of my materials; I don’t release them into the Creative Commons as a rule because I don’t want there to be a carte blanche for using them stupidly (e.g. as part of content farms), not because I don’t believe in copyleft or reuse in general.

Comment policy

This is my little corner of the Internet, and I’m the one who makes the call on which comments stay, go, and what have you. If you’re unhappy with that, start your own blog! I’m happy to support a plurality of opinions; I’m less happy with the pushing of obsessions, personal vendettas, trolling, or general stupidity. I’m the arbiter of what counts as those things. Comments don’t have to be scholarly, but they should be thoughtful and/or interesting. If I approve a comment, it doesn’t mean it is something I agree with; if I decide not to publish one, it’s my prerogative to do so. The main reason I don’t approve comments (other than them being spam, inflammatory, or whatever), is that I feel they are just not moving the discussion forward enough. This site is not meant to be a generic discussion forum, nor is it a place where I want to get into long, endless comment wars with people. You can take it or leave it — it’s my site. Please feel free to start your own blog if this one does not cover things the way you would.

Comments are closed after 60 days. This is to prevent them from being used as a forum (that is not what they are for), and to cut down on the spam moderation problem. If you have a comment on an article that does not have an active comment thread, please feel free to get in touch with my directly.

Disclaimer which is actually true

All opinions, facts, stories, nonsense, and sense expressed here are purely the points of view of the author, Alex Wellerstein, and not attributable to, nor should be considered condoned by, the organizations who have employed me in the past, nor my current employers.

  1. Atomic Energy Act of 1946, Sect. 10(b)(1). []