from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 49
June 4, 2009

Secrecy News Blog:


An innovative White House attempt to engage the interested public in the development of government policy on openness and transparency is moving briskly and, so far, productively. An initial online brainstorming session attracted over 98,000 visits and generated some 2,450 "ideas" for increasing public access to government information, over 11,000 comments on those ideas, and over 200,000 votes in favor or against them.

The process threatened to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of proposals, not all of which were clearly focused or formulated, and some of which were eccentric or irrelevant (legalize marijuana!). But the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy team that is managing the process was able to distill the best suggestions into a substantive but digestible core.

The next step is an online discussion of the particular proposals that is intended to flesh them out and to convert "lofty principles into specific actions" that the executive could take, said Dr. Beth Noveck, the OSTP Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government. Interested members of the public are invited and encouraged to participate in the process. To catch up on the latest developments, see the OSTP Open Government blog:

Other White House efforts to address overclassification and the spread of official controls on unclassified information have received a less enthusiastic reception. Critics (including Secrecy News) expressed concern that these initiatives may be insufficiently ambitious in conception and that they provide no formal mechanism for public input. See "Critics Blast Obama Classification Review" by Justin Rood, ABC News The Blotter, June 3, 2009:


There is "an astonishing number of groups and activities concurrently pursuing the subject" of information sharing, according to a newly disclosed 2004 report of the Intelligence Science Board (ISB). But those activities are not well coordinated. "In effect, we aren't even sharing information about information sharing."

The ISB is a little-known advisory panel that addresses intelligence science and technology issues at the direction of the Director of National Intelligence. Almost all of its products are classified, but a few are not.

It's hard to say whether the ISB is influential. But it has performed important and interesting work, most notably on the science of interrogation. Its 2006 report on "Educing Information," concluded that there was no scientific evidence to support a belief in the efficacy of coercive interrogation. ("Intelligence Science Board Views Interrogation," Secrecy News, January 15, 2007.)

Now the only other unclassified ISB reports have been released by ODNI under the Freedom of Information Act: "Concept Paper on Trusted Information Sharing" (November 2004) and "What Makes for a Great Analytic Team?: Individual versus Team Approaches to Intelligence Analysis" (February 2005). All of the unclassified ISB reports are available here:


The Congressional Research Service has prepared a new account of the state secrets privilege, which is used by the government to bar disclosure of certain national security information in the course of civil litigation. While the CRS report contains nothing new, it is a detailed, dispassionate and fairly comprehensive account of the subject. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See "The State Secrets Privilege and Other Limits on Litigation Involving Classified Information," May 28, 2009:

Other notable new CRS products that have not been made publicly available include the following.

"Major U.S. Arms Sales and Grants to Pakistan Since 2001" (fact sheet), updated June 3, 2009:

"Political Turmoil in Thailand and U.S. Interests," May 26, 2009:

"The 2009 Influenza A(H1N1) 'Swine Flu' Outbreak: An Overview," May 20, 2009:

"Defense: FY2010 Authorization and Appropriations," May 8, 2009:

"Medical Marijuana: Review and Analysis of Federal and State Policies," March 31, 2009:


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

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