from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 113
December 12, 2005


Three years after Congress directed the President to develop government-wide procedures for protecting sensitive homeland security information (SHSI), no such procedures are in place and the effort to produce them has been all but formally abandoned, Secrecy News has learned.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 required the President to prescribe and implement procedures by which agencies would "identify and safeguard homeland security information that is sensitive but unclassified" (Section 892).

In his July 2003 executive order 13311, President Bush assigned the Secretary of Homeland Security responsibility for complying with this requirement.

But "as is true with so many other subjects, they have done nothing with it," said one U.S. Government official with subject matter expertise. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

A government-wide policy on protecting SHSI "has been periodically discussed, pushed close to some action, and then sent back for further study. There are a dozen hard and fast deadlines that have been missed on this whole subject."

"I think it's fair to say it's dead. The concept is not dead but it's highly unlikely anything will come of it."

Because Congress failed to define the statutory meaning of "sensitive," critics including the Federation of American Scientists were concerned that the establishment of the "Sensitive Homeland Security Information" (SHSI) category was an invitation to formalize the indiscriminate withholding of information.

"I think this is a case where no news is good news from your point of view," said the official, referring to the lack of progress on SHSI.

Meanwhile, however, he said that a separate interagency initiative was underway to define and regulate the even broader category of "sensitive but unclassified" information.

But "that is far too big a task to come to fruition," the official predicted.

Given that agencies were unable to reach consensus on the definition of terrorism-related SHSI, it will be "exponentially more difficult" to come to agreement on the vastly larger and more amorphous domain of "sensitive but unclassified" information, he said.


Thousands of unclassified technical reports that were published on the Los Alamos National Laboratory web site and then removed from public access have now been reposted on the Federation of American Scientists web site.

The Los Alamos reports were archived by researchers Carey Sublette and Gregory Walker, who made them available to FAS (SN, 02/19/04).

Over the past year we have incrementally added more and more of the collection, which comprises an enormous 8.5 gigabytes of data, to our website. That process is now complete.

Many of the documents have enduring if narrow scientific value, judging from the requests we regularly receive for various titles. Others are principally of historical value. Still others hold both scientific and historical interest.

For example, the 1947 study entitled "Blast Wave" (LA-2000, a 19 MB PDF file) includes original scientific papers by Hans Bethe, John von Neuman and Rudolph Peierls -- but also by Klaus Fuchs, who would be convicted in 1950 of spying for the Soviet Union.

The 300 page volume was originally for sale to the public for $6.50, according to the inside cover. Now it is available for free on the FAS web site, with thousands of other such documents.

See Los Alamos Technical Reports and Publications:


On December 9, Secrecy News published an extraordinary email message from a National Guard official, Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, who warned against military control of disaster response activities.

That email message was discussed and placed in context in a deeply reported front page story in the Wall Street Journal on December 8.

See "Local and Federal Authorities Battle to Control Disaster Relief" by Robert Block and Amy Schatz, Wall Street Journal, December 8 (sub. req'd.):


It is obvious why an opponent of the present Administration would be critical of its secretive ways. And yet such opponents are not the only ones who favor increased transparency and disclosure. Nor do perspectives on openness and secrecy correspond predictably to partisan affiliations.

The avowedly conservative Judicial Watch is hosting a panel discussion at the National Press Club December 13 on "The Case for Open Government," with the rather ecumenical participation of the Heritage Foundation, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Federation of American Scientists, and the Society of Professional Journalists. See:


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

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