USAF Org Chart Departs from Phone Directory Secrecy

03.19.09 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The United States Air Force has published a detailed organizational chart of its headquarters (pdf) including the names and telephone numbers of key personnel.

What makes this of more than passing interest is that it represents a departure from the post-9/11 Pentagon practice of withholding the names and phone numbers of Pentagon officials from publication in the Department of Defense telephone directory.  Prior to 9/11, Pentagon phone directories were made available for sale to anyone who wanted them.  I used to get a copy once or twice a year at the Government Printing Office (GPO) Bookstore on North Capitol Street for the use of the Federation of American Scientists.

Then, in a move that heralded a massive withdrawal of government information from the public domain, the document suddenly ceased to be available.  “The DOD Telephone Directory since September 11, 2001 is marked ‘For Official Use Only’ and is no longer sold by GPO,” according to a notice formerly posted on the GPO web site.

A bowdlerized version of the Pentagon phone book was later published for public use, with the names of Pentagon officials deleted.  Thus, “The listing for secretary of defense includes only ‘Hon. …’ for the Honorable Robert M. Gates,” reported Bill Gertz of the Washington Times on September 7, 2007.

The Air Force has abandoned such a policy, and its new org chart provides the names and the phone numbers of its headquarters staff without restriction.  Access to the complete, unexpurgated Pentagon telephone directory, however, remains limited to those with a .mil address and a “Common Access Card” that is issued to DoD employees and contractors.

Why does DoD withhold its telephone directory when other agencies with national security responsibilities such as the Department of State and the Department of Energy openly publish their telephone directories on their websites?

One answer is “OPSEC,” or “operations security,” meaning the concealment of unclassified indicators to frustrate foreign intelligence collectors.  But that rationale could apply equally to Energy and State, which do not embrace it.  Besides, the Pentagon itself survived the Cold War without such an extreme secrecy policy.

Another answer is that unlike other agencies, “We were attacked,” as one Pentagon employee told Secrecy News, citing the September 11 terrorist strike on the Pentagon.  That is a conversation stopper but not much of an explanation, since there is no known reason to believe that the Pentagon telephone directory was used by the 9/11 terrorists.