Army Says It Will Restore Public Access to Online Library

The U.S. Army said today that it would restore public access to the online Reimer Digital Library of Army publications, after having blocked the site on February 6.

Last week, the Federation of American Scientists filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for a copy of the entire Reimer collection for publication on the FAS website or, alternatively, for renewed public access to the site.

The Army chose the latter option.

“TRADOC [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command] is currently in the process of making it available to the public again,” said Mrs. Alverita Mack, a Freedom of Information Act officer at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

“The Army has seen the error of its ways,” said another Defense Department FOIA officer. “Also, they want you to withdraw your FOIA request.”

The dispute over the shuttered website was reported today in the Washington Post. See “Army Blocks Public’s Access to Documents in Web-Based Library” by Christopher Lee, February 21.

By moving the Reimer site behind the password-protected Army Knowledge Online (AKO) firewall, the Army placed the public at a disadvantage, but not only the public.

“The Army has not only restricted access to the public but to everyone else in DoD as well,” one Navy correspondent explained to Secrecy News. “So… those working for the AF, Navy, Marines, etc will not be able to access these documents — unless they are able to get an AKO account — which isn’t a given.”

“I happen to have an AKO account but only because I know someone who was willing to sponsor me,” the Navy official wrote. “It is getting harder and harder to access information within DoD let alone from outside it!”

The Freedom of Information Act is not often an effective mechanism for changing government policy, nor was it intended to be. But in this case, where the Army had moved to block public access to thousands of releasable documents, the FOIA proved to be the optimal tool for compelling a change in policy.

Mrs. Mack, the Army FOIA officer, said today that she did not know exactly when the Reimer Digital Library would again be accessible. And, she said, it might end up at a different URL than before. We indicated that we would withdraw our FOIA request after public access is fully restored.