SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 123
December 16, 2002

NEW REGULATIONS ON BIOLOGICAL AGENTS

In a far-reaching regulatory response to terrorism that may affect the conduct of science in thousands of U.S. laboratories, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week unveiled new regulations governing the possession, transfer and use of certain biological agents and toxins that are deemed to be particularly hazardous to public health, or to plant or animal life.

The rules generally require increased security for these materials, termed "select agents," and impose restrictions on who may have access to them. Several dozen select agents have been designated, including anthrax, ebola, and smallpox.

"Protecting the health of Americans is paramount, and this rule strengthens our ability to ensure that essential research on these agents continues while making certain they don't fall into the wrong hands," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson in a December 10 press release.

"These safeguards will help protect the food supply without sacrificing valuable research being done on these agents," said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman.

It is probably a good idea to maintain a careful inventory of the locations of such hazardous materials, and to regulate access to them.

But any suggestion that scientific research concerning these agents will be unimpeded is wishful thinking. The new regulations are sufficiently complex and burdensome that they constitute a significant disincentive to laboratories considering such research, particularly if the labs employ foreign scientists or students.

See the texts of the new regulations, published in the Federal Register on December 13, here:

and

A helpful, if rather daunting, fact sheet on the new regulation is available from the Centers for Disease Control here:

See also "New regulations on biological materials get mixed reviews" by David Ruppe, Global Security Newswire, December 12:


JUSTICE DEPT ADVISES OTHER NATIONS ON FOIA

The U.S. Department of Justice, which has an uneven record of its own on freedom of information policy, is routinely engaged in advising other countries on their information access policies, according to a new statement from the Department's Office of Information and Privacy (OIP).

"As it is United States government policy to encourage the adoption and successful implementation of openness-in-government (or 'transparency in government,' as it often is referred to overseas) throughout the world, OIP has provided background briefings and advice to increasing numbers of foreign visitors over the years."

"To date, more than 45 other nations have enacted their own Freedom of Information Act counterparts, with many more considering such legislation, and OIP has met with representatives of more than six dozen nations."

See "OIP Gives FOIA Implementation Advice to Other Nations," December 12:


DARPA: SMELL YA LATER

Talk about Total Information Awareness. Now the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to find out how to identify particular individuals by their genetically-determined odor.

DARPA is "soliciting innovative proposals to (1) determine whether genetically-determined odortypes can be used to identify specific individuals, and if so (2) to develop the science and enabling technology for detecting and identifying specific individuals by such odortypes."

See DARPA's presolicitation notice for the "Odortype Detection Program," December 13, here (thanks to WMA):


THE LEM CHRONICLES

The Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, author of the classic 1961 novel "Solaris" which has recently been remade into a movie, hasn't seen the film but expressed bafflement based on the reviews.

"To my best knowledge, the book was not dedicated to erotic problems of people in outer space," he told the Boston Globe. His objective was something more profound, if perhaps less entertaining.

"I shall allow myself to repeat that I only wanted to create a vision of human encounter with something that certainly exists... But cannot be reduced to human concepts, images, or ideas."

See "The Lem Chronicles," a fine profile of the remarkable 81 year old writer by Jeet Heer, Boston Globe, December 15:


SECRECY IN THE NEWS

"With fellow Republicans set to run Congress and a federal court upholding his right to secrecy, President Bush over the next two years will be protected from potentially embarrassing congressional investigations into his administration, especially its relationship with big corporate donors, government officials say."

See "Officials See Bush Insulated from Hill Probes" by Jim VandeHei, December 15:

"As the War on Terror proceeds, augmented by new incidents and warnings of more yet to come, institutions in the United States and other threatened democracies face the renewal of an old and agonizing challenge. It is to balance two vital needs: to deal with random assaults, planned and executed by individuals or states indifferent to adverse consequences for themselves or others; and yet to preserve, at the same time, freedoms that are essential threads in the democratic fabric," writes Donald Kennedy in a Science Magazine editorial.

See "Balancing Terror and Freedom," December 13:

"Government's expanding powers, which it says are needed to fight the war on terrorism, worry many people because of the long-term consequences for ordinary citizens, including a loss of privacy," writes James Heaney of the Buffalo News.

See "Has Big Brother arrived, and is he watching us?", December 15:


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