Missile Defense Deployments “Secret for Political Purposes”

08.02.06 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

(Updated below)

The names of foreign countries that are being considered for deployment of U.S. missile defense systems are unclassified but nevertheless should be kept secret, the Missile Defense Agency ordered (pdf) last year.

“There are many operational and political sensitivities that require varying levels of protection as we consider possible deployments,” wrote MDA Deputy Director Gen. Marvin K. McNamara.

“Therefore, I am requiring that potential host nations being studied or considered by MDA for operational deployments not be identified by country or city name in any form on Unclassified computer systems…..”

The November 22, 2005 MDA memorandum on “Protection of Information Regarding Operational Deployments” was obtained by Nick Schwellenbach of the Project on Government Oversight and is available here.

In an email message also obtained by POGO, an MDA security manager paraphrased the policy this way: “Information regarding operational deployments should be treated as ‘Secret’ for political purposes and, for that reason, the information is to be sent encrypted or by SIPRNET.”

What is at issue here, explained Victoria Samson of the Center for Defense Information, is the location of the third site for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which is still under conideration.

But not everyone got the word.

In a March 20, 2006 briefing (pdf) by MDA Director Gen. Trey Obering, obtained by Ms. Samson, three countries are identified as possible candidates for the third ground-based site: the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, and Poland. See “Missile Defense Program Update” (at slide 35).

Official controls on unclassified information have mushroomed in recent years. An interagency task force that conducted an inventory of so-called Sensitive But Unclassified control markings recently identified 164 distinct marking systems for controlling unclassified information, according to Grace Mastalli, who co-chaired the task force.

Update: The March 20 Obering briefing was presented at an MDA/AIAA briefing in Washington, DC. It was previously reported by Inside Missile Defense, which noted the identification of the UK as a candidate country for the third GMD site, and also made the briefing available to readers.