from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 113
October 30, 2006

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In an unusual investigation of improper secrecy involving unclassified information, an Inspector General report last week found that a Defense Department contractor marked records as "proprietary data," thereby restricting their dissemination, even though the records did not qualify as proprietary.

Kellogg, Brown and Root Services, Inc. (KBR), a component of Halliburton, "routinely marks almost all of the information it provides to the government as KBR proprietary data," the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found.

This is not consistent with Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), the IG said.

"The routine use of proprietary markings when the data marked is not internal contractor information... is an abuse of FAR procedures [and] inhibits transparency of government activities and the use of taxpayer funds...," the Inspector General reported.

"The result is that information normally releasable to the public must be protected from public release...."

"In effect, KBR has turned FAR provisions designed to protect truly proprietary information ... into a mechanism to prevent the government from releasing normally transparent information, thus potentially hindering competition and oversight," the Inspector General concluded.

See "Interim Audit Report on Inappropriate Use of Proprietary Data Markings by the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program Contractor," Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, October 26, 2006:

Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root unit won a $17 billion contract in 2001 to provide services to the U.S. Army worldwide that includes over $15.4 billion for Iraq work, noted Tony Capaccio in a report for Bloomberg News. "While KBR has been criticized for its accounting practices, bills and estimates of future costs, this audit is the first to cite it for restricting information," he wrote.

While national security classification procedures are governed by certain rules and procedures, including a degree of external oversight, the same is not consistently true of the dozens of control markings (such as "proprietary data" or "for official use only") that are increasingly imposed on unclassified information.

So, for example, there are well-defined procedures for declassification of classified information, but there are no such procedures for lifting controls on many varieties of "sensitive but unclassified" information.

And while the Information Security Oversight Office is responsible for oversight of classification and declassification activity, no one is similarly responsible for monitoring restrictions on unclassified information that is withheld from the public. It would be surprising if such restrictions were not abused, since they can serve as a shield against oversight and accountability.

The new Inspector General report suggests that this is a function that might regularly be assumed by agency Inspectors General.

A House Government Reform Subcommittee held a hearing last March on the proliferation of controls on unclassified information and their consequences. The record of that hearing has recently been published.

See "Drowning in a Sea of Faux Secrets: Policies on Handling of Classified and Sensitive Information," House Committee on Government Reform, March 14, 2006:


Confronted for the first time by a congressional request to review the classification of two congressional reports, the new Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) has been stymied by doubts over its own authority to proceed.

The PIDB was formally created by statute in 2000 to serve as an advisory body on declassification priorities and policies. Its controlling statute was modified in the intelligence reform legislation of 2004, when its members began to be named, but it first received funding in fiscal year 2006.

In September, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee including its chairman Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), asked the Board to review the controversial classification of portions of two committee reports on pre-war Iraq intelligence, contending that those documents were overclassified. It was the Board's first such tasking (Secrecy News, 09/15/06).

Under the terms of the amended statute, the Board now says it cannot act on the congressional request without specific Presidential approval.

"The statute under which we operate provides that [President Bush] must request the board undertake such a review before it can proceed," wrote L. Britt Snider, chairman of the Public Interest Declassification Board, in a letter to Sen. Wyden.

In effect, it appears, the Bush Administration must authorize the Board's investigation of whether the Bush Administration overclassified the reports in question.

See "Anti-secrecy panel called 'puppet'," by Shaun Waterman, United Press International, October 30:

Some aspects of the dilemma were reported by Tim Starks in Congressional Quarterly on October 20, and elaborated by Nick Schwellenbach of the Project on Government Oversight in "Public Interest Declassification Board: Who's the Boss?":


Some recent products of the Congressional Research Service, not made directly available to the public, include the following.

"Pakistan-U.S. Relations," updated October 26, 2006:

"Pakistan: Chronology of Recent Events," updated October 20, 2006:

"Western Sahara: Status of Settlement Efforts," updated September 29, 2006:


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

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