News Release/ University of Maryland
March 10, 2005

Reform Post-9/11 Handling of “Sensitive” Information, Says UM Study

Since 9/11, U.S. government efforts to keep sensitive but unclassified materials out of the hands of terrorists have led to tangled regulations that too often bottle up needed information without providing adequate security, says a new report from the University of Maryland.

At issue is a broad range of governmental, business, academic and scientific information that falls in a gray area: not meriting security classification, but still involving potential risks due to sensitivity. The report recommends a new regulatory approach designed to maximize access while providing new clear guidelines in cases where greater security is needed.

“We need to be vigilant about security, but we also must be careful not to stifle important conversations in the public and private sectors,” says Jacques S. Gansler, the Roger C. Lipitz Chair in Public Policy and Private Enterprise at the University of Maryland, who co-authored the report. “Making security too tight can have serious costs. Businesses, university researchers and government agencies all need to be able to talk to each other. The devil lies in coming up with a sensible, workable balance between security and openness.”

Gansler brings to the research an insider’s knowledge. As the third ranking civilian at the Pentagon from 1997 to 2001, he was responsible for all research and development, acquisition reform, logistics, advanced technology and numerous security programs.

“Sometimes the potential danger is pretty clear and other times it’s a difficult call,” Gansler says. “Advanced biotechnology research is an area of particular concern where we probably need to increase oversight. In other cases, precautions can seem excessive or capricious.”

Gansler points to the airline passenger watch list as a case where a clear need for security conflicts with other major public concerns. “Look at this from the point of view of the passenger who ends up on the watch list and tries to find out why, only to be told, ‘We can’t tell you - that’s confidential.’ And there’s no system of appeal spelled out,” he says.

The report underlines the urgency of cleaning up a messy, confusing situation. “There are more than 50 separate sets of rules at various federal agencies, and in some cases virtually any employee can unilaterally decide to take information out of the public sector,” says William Lucyshyn, a visiting senior research scholar at the University of Maryland Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise, and a co-author of the report. “The problem has significantly intensified since 9-11. We need a central cohesive system for making decisions about sensitive information, just as we have for classified material. And we need to build some kind of review or appeal into the process.”

As a first step, the report recommends that the president issue an executive order creating a new class of restricted materials: CUSI - Controlled Unclassified Security Information. To give an overall consistency to government policy, the order should spell out which categories of information can be considered sensitive and restricted, the report says. But it adds that the actual controls should be fine-tuned to meet the specific needs of the “sector” generating the information - the government, private businesses or the academic and scientific communities.

To make the system “cohesive,” the report recommends three additional elements: education of key personnel in the various sectors by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an appeals process run by DHS and the National Archives and Records Administration, and international outreach to develop the cooperation of other countries.

Lucyshyn, who has served as a research director in the Department of Defense, says the international component is critical because of the significant research conducted and published in other countries. “The most effective way to build international cooperation is by putting an effective system in place here in the United States,” he says.

Another critical reason for developing international cooperation is the need to attract high-quality international students to the United States, the report says. “If foreign graduate students face problems publishing or talking about their research, we’ll see more and more of them choosing to study and do research in other countries,” says Gansler, who also serves as the University of Maryland vice president of research. “Over the long-term this could seriously weaken our nation’s technological competitiveness.”

The report, “The Unintended Audience: Balancing Openness and Secrecy,” is available online at http://www.cpppe.umd.edu/Bookstore/Documents/UnintendedAudience_3.05.pdf. It is a project of the University of Maryland Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise and received support from the National Defense University.

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