SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 27
February 27, 2006

Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/

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FUROR OVER RECLASSIFICATION GROWS

Anyone can purchase a copy of the 1958 Department of Defense "Emergency Plans Book," an early cold war description of response planning for a nuclear attack on the United States. It is available for sale through Amazon.com and elsewhere under the somewhat lurid title "The Doomsday Scenario" (Motorbooks International, 2002).

But don't look for it at the National Archives, where author L. Douglas Keeney originally obtained it in 1997, because it is no longer there. It is among the thousands of government documents that have been reclassified and withdrawn from public access.

"When I returned in 2005 for another round of research in the Secretary of the Air Force Files, RG [record group] 340, the boxes were decimated," Mr. Keeney told Secrecy News. "100% of the documents I retrieved 9 years ago were gone."

In their place, he found a "withdrawal notice" of the sort that has been quietly proliferating at the National Archives. An official stamp ironically certifies that the withdrawal notice itself is declassified and may be safely disclosed. See:

The documents in this case were removed from public access in 1997, near the beginning of the ongoing reclassification process that has undermined the integrity of the National Archives.

If it cannot be halted and reversed, bureaucratically-driven reclassification threatens to reduce the Archives to a mere repository of officially-sanctioned history.

"Those who control the past control the future, Orwell famously wrote in '1984'," recalled Fred Kaplan in an article in Slate that supplied some of the back story of the reclassification initiative.

See "Secret Again: The absurd scheme to reclassify documents" by Fred Kaplan, Slate, February 23:

The continuing assault on history was also reported in "U.S. reclassifies government memos" by Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, February 24:

"This effort to stuff this harmless toothpaste back into the tube would be funny if it weren't so emblematic of a disturbing new culture of government secrecy," a Washington Post editorial opined. See "Classifying Toothpaste," February 27:


RESISTANCE TO ONLINE SECRECY BUILDS

Confronted by a government that seems intent on erecting unnecessary new barriers to public access, members of the public are not entirely without resources to oppose such barriers, and even to overcome them.

"Decrying secrecy, citizen groups fight back" is the thrilling headline of a story by reporter Aliya Sternstein in Federal Computer Week today (2/27/06) which explores the withdrawal of government information from the world wide web, and the public response.

"More federal agencies are taking data off the Web, while citizens seek ways to restore public access," as described in the article. See:

"The concerted use of the Freedom of Information Act by public interest groups and their constituents" offers one way of recovering public access to official information that has been removed from government websites, advises law professor and librarian Susan Nevelow Mart in a new paper.

See "Let the People Know the Facts: Can Government Information Removed from the Internet Be Reclaimed?", Law Library Journal, Volume 98, No. 1 (2006):


CDC POLICY ON "SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED"

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated and revised its policy on "sensitive but unclassified" (SBU) information, the increasingly common twilight category of information that is neither classified nor publicly released.

"Marking information SBU does not automatically qualify it for a public release exemption," the CDC policy observes. (There is no "SBU exemption" to the Freedom of Information Act.)

On the other hand, "the absence of the SBU or other related marking does not necessarily mean the information should be publicly released."

"Therefore, all information should be reviewed and approved prior to its public release," the CDC instructs.

A copy of the revised SBU policy was posted on the CDC intranet and obtained by Secrecy News. See:

The Government Accountability Office will publish a major report on the use of Sensitive But Unclassified control markings next month.

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

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