Fw: Secrecy News -- 10/16/03
- SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 89
October 16, 2003
** DOD RESTORES ONLINE ACCESS TO DIRECTIVES
** GAO (BUT NOT DOD) ON ANTHRAX LESSONS LEARNED
** THE COLUMBIA ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION'S "BIGGEST
** CLASSIFIED TECHNOLOGY FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT
** SECRECY VERSUS INTELLIGENCE
DOD RESTORES ONLINE ACCESS TO DIRECTIVES
The Department of Defense today restored public access
to a website containing hundreds of DoD directives that
it had removed from public reach just over a week ago.
The episode is a microcosm of countless other disputes
over access to government information. Last week, the
Pentagon began by unilaterally blocking public users
from the directive web page. The move was immediately
exposed and criticized (SN 10/08/03). It was
challenged and implicitly ridiculed by
TheMemoryHole.org, which posted a complete replica of
the withdrawn website. The removal triggered a request
and faced impending legal challenges under the Freedom
of Information Act. And it drew media attention,
including a brief Associated Press story yesterday by
To its credit, the Pentagon got the message. The site
is again available here:
An optimist would be entitled to conclude that it is
still possible, even under current conditions, to
effect change in offical secrecy policy, at least in a
GAO (BUT NOT DOD) ON ANTHRAX LESSONS LEARNED
The General Accounting Office yesterday released a
report entitled "Bioterrorism: Public Health Response
to Anthrax Incidents of 2001."
The GAO identified the lessons learned by state and
local public health officials regarding both strengths
and weaknesses in preparedness for an anthrax-related
emergency. It described the steps that have been take
to improve emergency response, and those that remain to
be accomplished. See:
The new GAO report is doubly noteworthy because it
addresses precisely the same set of issues as another
report prepared by the Center for Strategic and
International Studies under contract to the Defense
Threat Reduction Agency.
But that unclassified report, "Lessons from the Anthrax
Attacks: Implications for U.S. Bioterrorism
Preparedness," is still being withheld by the Pentagon
from public disclosure. An FAS Freedom of Information
Act request to compel release of the document is
pending (SN, 8/19/03).
THE COLUMBIA ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION'S "BIGGEST MISTAKE"
The "biggest mistake" made by the Columbia Accident
Investigation Board that examined the February 2003
space shuttle disaster was that it circumvented the
normal open meeting requirements, thereby "diminishing"
its own work.
That is the conclusion of an otherwise sympathetic
assessment published in the November 2003 Atlantic
Monthly entitled "Columbia's Last Flight" by William
"Serious critics cried foul... and pointed out
correctly that [Board chair Admiral Hal] Gehman was
using loopholes to escape sunshine laws that otherwise
would have applied," Langewiesche writes.
In particular, the Orlando Sentinel (to whom
Langewiesche wrongly condescends elsewhere in the
article) reported on May 11 that by hiring the Board
members as NASA employees, the Board was able to escape
the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
"Gehman believed that treating the [witness] testimony
as privileged was necessary to encourage witnesses to
testify, and to get to the bottom of the story,"
"[B]ut the long-term effect of the investigation will
be diminished as a result (for instance, by lack of
access to the raw material by outside analysts), and
there was widespread consensus among the experienced
investigators actually conducting the interviews that
the promise of privacy was having little effect on what
people were willing to say," he continued.
"These were not criminals they were talking to, or
careful lawyers. For the most part they were sincere
engineering types who were concerned about what had
gone wrong, and would have been willing even without
privacy to speak their minds. The truth, in other
words, would have come out even in the brightest of
The interesting article by Langewiesche is not
available on The Atlantic website
(www.theatlantic.com). But see "Shuttle Accident Board
Erodes Open Meeting Law," Secrecy News, May 12, 2003:
CLASSIFIED TECHNOLOGY FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT
Classified technologies could be employed by law
enforcement to decipher encrypted communications or to
acquire other forms of evidence in criminal
investigations, but deciding to use such technologies
requires a careful balancing of competing interests, a
Justice Department memorandum explained last year.
Among other things, officials must weigh the nature of
the evidence to be obtained, the risk of disclosure of
the classified technology (e.g., in the course of
prosecution), the impact of any such disclosure on
national security, and so forth.
The issue was addressed in a four page memo from
then-Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson dated
January 31, 2002. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
requested a copy of the memo last year. It was finally
provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee in April of
this year and published in a Committee hearing volume
See "Procedures for the Use of Classified Investigative
Technologies in Criminal Cases" here:
SECRECY VERSUS INTELLIGENCE
"There's a 'total meltdown' in America's intelligence
services -- and the Bush administration's penchant for
secrecy is one of the major reasons why, current and
former top U.S. spooks charged Tuesday," writes Noah
Shachtman in Wired News.
The report reflects a growing realization among the
most alert members of the government that excessive
classification is doing a disservice to U.S.
intelligence and to U.S. policy generally by impeding
the flow of information to those who need it.
See "Spies Attack White House Secrecy" by Noah
Shachtman, Wired News, October 16:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and
published by the Federation of American Scientists.
To SUBSCRIBE to Secrecy News, send email to
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