New DoD Website Fosters Secret Science

Updated below

The Pentagon’s Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) last month announced the creation of a new password-protected portal where authorized users may gain access to restricted scientific and engineering publications.

“DTIC Online Access Controlled… provides a gateway to Department of Defense unclassified, controlled science and technology (S&T) and research and engineering (R&E) information,” according to a September 21, 2009 news release (pdf).  “As defense S&T information advances, so does the unique community to which it belongs,” said DTIC Administrator R. Paul Ryan.

The cultivation of controlled but unclassified scientific research by DTIC seems to represent a departure [see update below] from a longstanding U.S. government position that scientific research should either be classified, if necessary, or else unrestricted.  (There have always been exceptions for export controlled information and for proprietary information.)

“It is the policy of this Administration that, to the maximum extent possible, the products of fundamental research remain unrestricted,” wrote President Reagan in the 1985 National Security Decision Directive 189.  “It is also the policy of this Administration that, where the national security requires control, the mechanism for control of information… is classification.”

“The key to maintaining U.S. technological preeminence is to encourage open and collaborative basic research,” wrote then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in 2001.  “The linkage between the free exchange of ideas and scientific innovation, prosperity, and U.S. national security is undeniable.”

In response to a request 5 days ago, DTIC was not able to provide a comment on the matter.

Update and Clarification: “Departure” may be the wrong word for this new development. DTIC has long maintained a collection of limited distribution records, both classified and unclassified, that are not publicly available. Nevertheless, the new DTIC Online Access Controlled portal appears to expand and reinforce the barriers blocking access to certain unclassified DTIC holdings.

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