SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 70
August 19, 2003

RELEASE OF ANTHRAX REPORT SOUGHT

The Federation of American Scientists has asked the Defense Department to release an unclassified report on lessons learned from the 2001 anthrax attacks that the Department has withheld for over a year.

The report emerged from a December 2001 meeting organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

The meeting explored medical and public health issues related to bioterrorism; law enforcement and national security concerns; and an integrated approach to crisis management and response, according to a brief description on the CSIS web site.

The resulting report, "Lessons from the Anthrax Attacks: Implications for U.S. Bioterrorism Preparedness," presented "a whole series of specific recommendations and policy proposals," said David Heyman of CSIS, the report's author.

Yet few of those recommendations have been implemented or even received a public airing because the Defense Department has blocked the release of the unclassified report.

"After review in the Department of Defense Freedom of Information Act office last year, the report was determined to be For Official Use Only and not releasable to the public," said Clem Gaines, DTRA public affairs officer, in reply to a query from Secrecy News.

"This is just bad public policy," said Mr. Heyman. "If there's something that needs to be redacted, take it out." Otherwise, he said, the report should be released.

But DoD does not seem to have identified any particular passages of the report that are too sensitive for release; it is simply withholding the whole thing.

The cover sheet of the report cites two FOIA exemptions, exemption 2 on internal agency practices and a statutory exemption for export controlled technical data. See:

Neither exemption is a very plausible fit for the subject matter of the report, which is based entirely on open sources.

By reflexively choosing secrecy over public deliberation, the Defense Department has arguably done a disservice to the national security by impeding consideration of improvements in emergency preparedness.

"We're talking about the safety and security of people who would be better protected by this report," said Mr. Heyman.

FAS is pursuing release of the report under the Freedom of Information Act.


SENATE REPORT ON INFO SHARING

Information sharing between the federal government and state and local officials regarding homeland security matters is entirely unsatisfactory, according to a new report from the Democratic staff of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

"State and local first responders and first preventers still do not systematically receive from the Bush Administration the information they need to prevent or respond to another catastrophic terrorist attack, nor does vital information flow effectively from them to the federal government," the report said.

The new report does not address the quality of public access to homeland security information. Nor does it consider the unintended consequences of proliferating security clearances and non-disclosure agreements throughout state and local governments.

See "State and Local Officials: Still Kept in the Dark About Homeland Security," Senate Governmental Affairs Committee minority staff, August 13:


TOM RIDGE ON INFO SHARING

"Sharing information... is at the heart of what we need to do as a country," said Secretary Tom Ridge of the Department of Homeland Security, speaking at a meeting of the National Governor's Association.

He was not referring to general openness and transparency, however, but to the authorized sharing of confidential information on an official, often classified basis.

He noted the remarkable fact that all governors have now signed non-disclosure agreements.

"You now have access to information. We'll be sharing more and more information with you. Just about all of your Homeland Security Advisors have received security clearances. And ... you've got to identify five additional people for us here in the months ahead, so we can begin moving those security clearances as well."

See the text of Secretary Ridge's August 18 speech here:


JOURNAL OF INFORMATION ETHICS

The Spring 2003 issue of the Journal of Information Ethics is devoted to government information and contains several articles on official secrecy.

The articles, written by and for academic specialists, are more conceptually rigorous than some other treatments of the subject, but also somewhat more removed from the present policy agenda. See:


WWII JAPANESE WAR CRIME RECORDS

Researchers are beginning to plough through declassified U.S. records of Japanese biological and chemical warfare programs at the U.S. National Archives.

See "Group Speaks of Japanese WWII Germ Warfare Tests" by K. Connie Kang, Los Angeles Times, August 12:

This is not a purely historical endeavor. Earlier this month, dozens of people were poisoned when barrels of mustard gas deployed by Japan in World War II were unearthed in a northeast China city.

"Weapons of mass destruction deployed in grand scale sixty years ago continue to kill and hurt tens of thousands in China," said Ignatius Ding, a spokesman for a group of researchers currently visiting from China and Japan.

Some researchers have been perplexed by the unexpectedly large number of "withdrawal slips" found in the declassified World War II collections at the Archives, indicating that the records are not publicly available.

This does not mean that the records have been reclassified, said Steven Garfinkel, chair of the National Archives Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Army Records.

Rather, the withdrawal slips reflect past classification actions that have not yet been rescinded. "Part of [the IWG's] mission is to get these documents declassified," said Mr. Garfinkel, "which we almost always can do routinely." He encouraged researchers to notify the IWG whenever they discover a withdrawal slip in these collections.

Contrary to what some may think, practically all U.S. records regarding Nazi and Japanese Imperial Army war crimes have been declassified, Mr. Garfinkel said.

In particular, "We do have open records that indicate the U.S. government did not prosecute certain senior Japanese officials involved in this program in exchange for their cooperation with us about our research in germ warfare," Mr. Garfinkel said. "This is not something the U.S. government is hiding."

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

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