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Information review necessary before release to the public

Released: 26 Feb 1999


by Senior Airman Jeffrey Bishop
Air Force Print News

KELLY AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Perhaps you an amateur writer, working on the next Tom Clancy-like military-technology thriller. Or maybe you're a wing commander preparing a speech on Air Force acquis itions for the local business group. Or perhaps you're a scientist wanting to publish a paper in a technical journal.

Whichever describes you, if you want to release Air Force information in the public forum, you should first have the product reviewed and cleared, according to Walt Werner, chief, Air Force Office for Security Review.

Werner's office, manned with three full-time reviewers, processes more than 3,000 items per year, ensuring what is cleared is unclassified, accurate, non-proprietary and conforms to official policy.

"We provide a service to those who wish to release information" he said. "We aren't the technical experts, but we go to them, and we ask, 'is this classified? Is this in keeping with policy?' We also ask experts to look at export control, technology transfer, operations security, national policy, foreign-government sensitivities and other issues," he added.

While the subject-matter expert who wants his paper published may be the most qualified to determine whether it contains classified information, Werner cautions that sometimes that person may be a little "too close to the subject" to make a complete determination as to whether it is releasable.

"We're not just looking for classified material, because there are many other issues and implications that need to be considered," he said, adding, "We can give a work an independent look that the author sometimes can't. In any case, once the work is cleared for public release, it has the official stamp of approval."

Review applies to just about any type of media; print or electronic, and any subject, if it includes Air Force operations or systems information.

"Now if you write a song, a novel, a script or something from your imagination, we don't need to see that," he said, "but if you deploy to an air base overseas, and come back and produce something about what you did, the equipment you worked on, or your experiences while deployed there, it probably should be looked at."

Werner said security review starts at the lowest level -- the unit public affairs office -- and follows the chain of command as needed. The products that make it to his office are turned around as fast as possible.

Werner said the whole system of security review and its rules apply to most defense contractors as well.

"Defense contractors working in technology or weapons-systems program areas often have their own security review specialists, and their contracts frequently specify that they not publish without having Air Force approval first," Werner said.

Meanwhile, the Air Force and the Defense Department are trying to get their hands around the newest medium -- the Internet. Werner said that with the information freely available on many DOD Web sites, anyone can easily access potentially damaging information, such as personnel information or other sensitive material.

In response to the threat, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen has approved the creation of a 22-member Joint Web Risk Assessment Cell to monitor and evaluate Department of Defense Web sites, to ensure the sites do not compromise national security by revealing sensitive defense information.

"Technology has extended America's reach around the world, and it has extended the reach of those who seek to threaten Americans at home," Cohen said. "In joining this new mission area ... the JWRAC will help us defend against those who would turn our technological superiority against us."

Further, a new Air Force Instruction is currently being written to help all airmen determine what to put on Web pages.

Werner said his office doesn't serve as a censor, but is an organization that determines if something is releasable.

"Our goal is to help the author get his product published. We sometimes negotiate differences between the experts and the authors of the product and often end up suggesting rewrites to make it releasable.

"Clearance of 'maximum information with minimum delay" has been the theme of this office for years," he added.

RELATED SITES

* Defense Information Systems Agency
* Department of Defense
* Kelly Air Force Base, Texas
* Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen