This week NASA abruptly took the massive NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) offline. Though no explanation for the removal was offered, it appeared to be in response to concerns that export controlled information was contained in the collection.
“Until further notice, the NTRS system will be unavailable for public access. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you and anticipate that this site will return to service in the near future,” the NTRS homepage now states.
NASA Public Affairs did not respond yesterday to an inquiry about the status of the site, the reason for its suspension, or the timeline for its return.
“NASA should immediately take down all publicly available technical data sources until all documents that have not been subjected to export control review have received such a review and all controlled documents are removed from the system,” Rep. Wolf said.
In other words, all NASA technical documents, no matter how voluminous and valuable they are, should cease to be publicly available in order to prevent the continued disclosure of any restricted documents, no matter how limited or insignificant they may be.
“There is a HUGE amount of material on NTRS,” said space policy analyst Dwayne Day. “If NASA is forced to review it all, it will never go back online.”
Essentially, the mindset represented by Rep. Wolf and embraced by NASA fears the consequences of unauthorized disclosure more than it values the benefits of openness. It is a familiar outlook that has wreaked havoc with the nation’s historical declassification program, and has periodically disrupted routine access to record collections at the National Archives, as well as online collections at the CIA, the Los Alamos technical report library, and elsewhere.
“I’d also note that a large amount of historical Mercury/Gemini/Apollo documents that were previously available at NARA Fort Worth is now apparently withdrawn due to ITAR [export controls],” said Dr. Day.
The upshot is that the government is not an altogether reliable repository of official records. Members of the public who depend on access to such records should endeavor to make and preserve their own copies whenever possible.