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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

When Secrets Damage Science and a Country

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Countries interested in scientific and technological development face the dilemma of how to keep their military and technical secrets under wraps without blocking the free exchange of ideas. Complicated measures are needed to balance these interests, but the most important measure in any country is its law on state secrets.

Public Chamber head Yevgeny Velikhov said Saturday that Russia's legislation on state secrets fails to ensure that classified military and technological information remains confidential but rather complicates the work of law enforcement officials charged with investigating leaks. "We have failed to keep real state secrets, and this is why we have scientists in jail. I'm sure that some of them were imprisoned for doing nothing wrong, although the cases were legally grounded," he said at a meeting of the chamber.

Imperfections in the law make it difficult for scientists to work. Many have been charged with passing state secrets in recent years, including Valentin Danilov, Igor Sutyagin and the Minin brothers.

As a result, fewer scientists are working with their foreign counterparts, and many research institutes have stopped cooperating with foreign institutes altogether to avoid being caught up in espionage investigations.

The decline in scientific cooperation means Russia is lagging behind other developed countries.

The imperfect law means the security services are looking everywhere for leaks, not just among military or state officials. And the security services have found an easy target -- Russian scientists who receive foreign grants or communicate with foreign colleagues.

One of the reasons behind the crackdown on scientists is Article 5 of the state secrets law, which defines state secrets in the scientific arena. It reads: "A state secret may be scientific or experimental in nature, as well as significant technologies in the defense or economic spheres that may affect the security of the Russian Federation."

Another reason scientists are facing trouble is the fact that the law allows both prosecutors and defense lawyers to call in experts to determine whether a state secret has been exposed, without taking into consideration their area of competency.

Problems are not limited to military and technological secrets. Government agencies also stamp documents with "classified" or "for office use only." Agencies can issue orders and instructions that violate civil rights and classify them as secret.

This means citizens are left without legal recourse and no documents to present in court -- since they are all classified.

This appeared as an editorial in Vedomosti.