SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 27
April 3, 2002

NASA SHUTTLE LAUNCH SECRECY: A WORK IN PROGRESS

The utility of the new NASA policy of keeping the Space Shuttle launch time a secret is being called into question after one NASA contractor published the launch time of an upcoming Shuttle mission on its web site late last week.

Along with various other mission characteristics, Spacehab Inc. disclosed the launch time for STS-107, a July 2002 flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia that is considered particularly sensitive since it will be carrying an Israeli astronaut.

The incident was described in "Slip-up reveals sensitive shuttle launch time," published in Spaceflight Now on April 1:

Allen Thomson, a space policy expert who spotted the inadvertent disclosure of the launch time, said it illustrates the limits of a security policy that is based on secrecy.

Critics argue that the whole notion of withholding the launch time of a Shuttle flight to the Space Station is illusory and pointless. See "New NASA security plan lacks teeth" by Irene Brown, United Press International, April 1:


DOE SETS PENALTIES FOR SECRECY VIOLATIONS

The Department of Energy will impose civil monetary penalties on contractors who violate classified information security regulations, according to a proposed rule that was published in the Federal Register on Monday:

New monetary penalties for security violations were mandated by an agitated Congress in 1999 following allegations of nuclear espionage at DOE laboratories. In a burst of enthusiasm, however, Congress enacted a poorly crafted statute dictating penalties for mishandling of "classified or sensitive information."

While everyone knows what "classified" means, there is no such thing as "sensitive information" in the Department of Energy, as a perplexed DOE General Counsel noted in January 2000: "Neither the Act nor DOE's existing regulations define 'sensitive information'." See:

Consequently, DOE did not implement this provision of the law in its new proposed rule, dismissing it with the observation that "there is no commonly accepted definition of 'sensitive information' within DOE or the Executive Branch."

Meanwhile, a new DOE Inspector General report on security controls at DOE headquarters found that "The lapses cited in this report could have allowed unauthorized individuals entry into Department buildings and, within those buildings, access to areas containing classified information."

See "Personnel Security Clearances and Badge Access Controls at Department Headquarters," DOE Inspector General Audit Report DOE/IG-0548, March 2002, published this week:


SECRECY IN THE NEWS

The Office of Homeland Security (OHS) has evaded public inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as assuredly as it has resisted congressional oversight of its activities.

In an attempt to compel a response, the watchdog Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a FOIA lawsuit yesterday seeking disclosure of "OHS documents that discuss new technical and legislative proposals that could lead to the creation of a national identification system." See:

Historian Hugh D. Graham, who died last week, was an outspoken critic of the Bush Administration's new policy limiting access to presidential records, and one of the plaintiffs in a pending lawsuit challenging that policy. See a Los Angeles Times obituary reprinted here:

Pity the poor openness advocates. "These are especially tough times for exposing what the government is up to," according to an Associated Press story today. "The Bush Administration is secretive by nature and even more so by circumstance: Defining the boundaries of openness and secrecy has gotten more difficult since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."

See "A clampdown on information tests the mettle of Washington's secret-busters" by Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press here:

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Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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