from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 34
March 15, 2006

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The government's use of the problematic "sensitive but unclassified" (SBU) designation to restrict access to information that does not warrant classification is coming under new scrutiny.

"Federal agencies do not use uniform definitions of SBU information or have consistent policies for safeguarding or releasing it," a new study from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) observed.

"This lack of uniformity and consistency raises issues about how to identify SBU information, especially scientific and technical information; how to keep it from those who would use it malevolently, while allowing access for those who need to use it; and how to develop uniform nondisclosure policies and penalties."

The 82-page CRS report presents a comprehensive treatment of this vexing subject. It surveys the origins of government SBU practices; explores "contentious issues" involving SBU; and considers recommendations to improve SBU policy.

CRS does not permit direct public access to its publications, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See "'Sensitive But Unclassified' Information and Other Controls: Policy and Options for Scientific and Technical Information," dated February 15, 2006 (published March 14, 2006):

The Government Accountability Office yesterday released a report on SBU policies at the Departments of Energy and Defense to coincide with a House Government Reform Subcommittee hearing. See "Managing Sensitive Information: Departments of Energy and Defense Policies and Oversight Could Be Improved," Report No. GAO-06-369, March 2006:

The National Security Archive conducted its own survey of SBU policies at federal agencies and released a report entitled "Pseudo-Secrets: A Freedom of Information Audit of the U.S. Government's Policies on Sensitive Unclassified Information":


Some other notable publications from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

"Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses," updated March 10, 2006:

"Homeland Security: Protecting Airliners from Terrorist Missiles," updated February 16, 2006:

"Military Aviation: Issues and Options for Combating Terrorism and Counterinsurgency," January 27, 2006:


"Intelligence in the Civil War" is the topic of a new study published by the Central Intelligence Agency. See:

The technical challenges facing the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and a research agenda to help meet those challenges were described in a new report from the National Research Council. See "Priorities for GEOINT Research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency," 2006:


President Bush this week said that a newspaper -- the Los Angeles Times -- had published details of a new technology used to defend against improvised explosive devices, and that jihadists used details from that newspaper story to develop techniques for defeating the new technology. Noah Shachtman of argues that there is reason to doubt the President's account. See "The Enemy is Me," March 14:

"In another sign of increasing government secrecy, the Federal Aviation Administration has removed from its Web site the transcript of a heated public hearing during which pilots ridiculed no-fly zones that have surrounded Washington since 9/11," writes Lance Gay of Scripps Howard News Service. See "FAA yanks potentially 'sensitive' information from Web site," March 15:

If the New York Times could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for having disclosed the NSA warrantless surveillance activity, as some enthusiasts have proposed, then who else might be guilty of a similar offense? That question was posed by Jack Shafer in "A Gitmo for Journos: Who besides the New York Times could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act?", Slate, March 14:


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

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