Bookmark this for a fun lunch read: Wired's Danger blog room has a lengthy, entertaining report on its wrangling with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service over an unclassified document describing a fictional laser weapon, that NCIS insists was "leaked." The Navy's interest in who shared a five-year-old document, marked For Official Use Only but not classified as "secret," fits in with the current "leak fever" zeitgeist, but the weapon described in the document is kind of ridiculous. It's basically a laser that can target insurgents and burn their clothing, and eventually their insides. (Shades of Real Genius?)
Wired's report, by Sharon Weinberger and Noah Shachtman, is a good way to understand how an official policy cracking down on leaks can get out of hand until it "provides official justification for reprisals, even when the threat to national security teeters on the absurd." Come for the straight-faced descriptions of outrageous sci-fi weaponry, stay for the serious examination of military policy. Per Weinberger and Shachtman:
The document in question is what’s known as a “universal urgent needs statement” — a request from troops in a warzone for a new technology. In this case, the First Marine Expeditionary Force in 2006 wanted a laser for use in Iraq that could cause “instantaneous burst-combustion of insurgent clothing, [and] a rapid death through violent trauma, and more probably a morbid combination of both.”
The almost comically over-the-top document included photoshopped images of a V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft with a laser, and pictures with gun sights over insurgents’ heads, demonstrating how the energy weapon could take out a single person.
Dramatic, yes. But the document contained almost no technical information, since the weapon it was requesting, by its own acknowledgment, didn’t actually exist. Rather, what it was proposing was a theoretical weapon based on the Advanced Tactical Laser system, a chemical laser that an Air Force review in 2008 determined was not suitable for operations.
Read the whole thing over at Danger Room.