WASHINGTON — Tour a nuclear missile base in North Dakota. Check out the inventory of nuclear-capable B-2 Stealth bombers in Missouri. Study the Pentagon's strategy for fighting a nuclear war.
Sound like peeking at state secrets? Not in the age of the Internet.
The federal government, led by the Defense Department, has quietly taken the lead in providing public access to vast amounts of national security information--nuclear and otherwise--that anyone with a computer and a modem can find.
It's not just arcane scientific papers. It's jazzy photos and graphics too.
Recognizing Americans' growing infatuation with the World Wide Web, two private experts on nuclear weapons are publishing an online guide to more than 500 nuclear-related Web sites.
"Even in an area traditionally as secretive as nuclear weapons, the Internet has transformed citizen access," said Robert S. Norris, senior analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He and William Arkin spent several months compiling the guide, which they call "The Internet and the Bomb."
They published paper copies of the guide this week; the online version, with direct links to each Web site, is to be available soon on the home page of the Natural Resources Defense Council's nuclear program, at: http://www.nrdc.org/nrdcpro/nuclear/. They expect private researchers and journalists to use it.
Rick Silva, who manages the Defense Department's main Web site, called DefenseLink, said efforts to help computer users find their way are a valuable service.
"If it's all public information, that's the beauty of the Web," he said.
The guide is not meant to spill any nuclear secrets; the lion's share of Web sites it identifies are maintained by the federal government--mostly the Defense Department. There is little on the Web about nuclear bomb design that you could not already obtain through traditional--and unclassified--sources.
"People should not think there is some deep, dark secret about the bomb," Norris said in an interview. "There really is no secret about the bomb," other than techniques for enriching uranium and processing plutonium.
The Pentagon has strict rules about the kinds of nuclear-related information it puts on the Internet. Typical of the warnings you encounter on a Defense Department Web site is this one on the home page of Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., home to 200 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles:
"Warning!!! Unclassified, nonsensitive, non-Privacy Act use only!!!"
And this for good measure: "Unauthorized use could result in criminal prosecution."
Keeping in mind that users of the Pentagon's Web sites are subject to online monitoring by computer security watchers, here is a small sampling of attractions:
* On the home page of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., you can tour the home of the "Roughriders," as these missileers call themselves. Among the sights: a photograph of an airman inside a missile silo, a view of the warheads atop a Minuteman III nuclear missile and a map of Minot's missile fields scattered between Grand Forks and Williston, N.D.
* In the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Electronic Library, the text of JP 3-12, "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations." This unclassified document spells out the Pentagon's basic concepts for planning, conducting and concluding a nuclear war. When it mentions the "initial laydown of nuclear weapons," it is referring not to disarmament but to a beginning salvo of nuclear strikes.
* Each of the military services has a site for "lessons learned" from war games. You can identify these exercises by code name and tell which involve nuclear war gaming, but the text of the actual "lessons" is not available. The Air Force notes that it puts these texts only on the SIPRNET, a classified internet.