SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 19
February 22, 2005

VANISHING INFORMATION RESOURCES

With almost every passing day, public access to yet another government information resource is extinguished. Like an exotic species or a nearly forgotten language that suddenly becomes extinct, its disappearance excites little attention or protest. But the cumulative effect of many such losses is bound to be significant.

The latest official resource to vanish from the public domain is the U.S. Air Force "orbital element" database. These orbital elements, which characterize the orbits of satellites in Earth orbit, have been freely available to the public through NASA for nearly twenty years. Now they won't be.

The change is noted in this February 21 announcement from Analytical Graphics, Inc. (thanks to K):

Related background, updated February 18, is here:

On a different, purely political level, some congressional committees are making it difficult for the public to gain access to answers to the Questions for the Record (QFRs) which are submitted by government witnesses in response to written questions from committee members following a congressional hearing.

In many cases, QFRs offer substantive new information on sensitive, controversial or complex subjects. They are often the most interesting and least utilized part of a congressional hearing record.

But when Michael Roston of the blog Nuclear Test Watch asked for a copy of the QFRs filed by the newly confirmed Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman following his confirmation hearing, he was told that a soft copy would not be provided. The QFRs could only be reviewed, but not copied, in a Senate Committee office, he was advised. See his account in the February 21 edition of Nuclear Test Watch:


IN CONGRESS

The Senate last week approved a bill to extend the duration of the Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records for an additional two years. The move follows a dispute with the CIA over the scope of declassification and document release required by the 1998 Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act.

"I hope and expect that well within those 2 years, the IWG, working closely with the CIA, will be able to examine the remaining documents and release the important information that still lays within the files of the CIA--unexamined by the public until now," said Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH).

The bill to extend the IWG was sponsored by Sen. DeWine, along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

See this extended Senate colloquy from February 16 on the achievements of the IWG to date:

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass) last week reintroduced the "Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act" that would formally prohibit the practice of "extraordinary rendition" by which prisoners in U.S. custody are allegedly sent for interrogation to foreign countries that practice torture. See:

A resolution introduced in the Senate calls upon North Korea to return the U.S.S. Pueblo, the American intelligence vessel seized in January 1968 and now on display in Pyongyang. See:


BOOK: CHATTER

What is a citizen permitted to know about the global network of electronic surveillance? What more can he or she hope to discover?

These sorts of questions form the narrative backbone of a rather entertaining new book called "Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping" by Patrick Radden Keefe (Random House, February 2005).

Nicely and intelligently written, Chatter looks into the far-flung system of intelligence collection facilities, the bureaucrats who operate them, the citizens who obsess over them (Secrecy News is featured in a flattering light), and the secrecy system that shields them. See:


NEW CRS PRODUCTS

New and newly updated reports from the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News include the following.

"The Global Peace Operations Initiative: Background and Issues for Congress," February 16, 2005:

"Islamic Religious Schools, Madrasas: Background," updated February 10, 2005:

"The Islamic Traditions of Wahhabism and Salafiyya," updated February 10, 2005:

"Terrorism in Southeast Asia," updated February 7, 2005:

"Homeland Security: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Border Surveillance," updated February 7, 2005:

"National Security Education Program: Background and Issues," updated January 21, 2005:

"Nuclear Arms Control: The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty," updated January 21, 2005:

"U.S. Nuclear Weapons: Changes in Policy and Force Structure," updated January 13, 2005:

And not so new but still noteworthy is "Post-War Iraq: A Table and Chronology of Foreign Contributions," updated November 5, 2004:

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

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