from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 70
August 31, 2009

Secrecy News Blog:


Two 90-day interagency reviews of government secrecy policies that were ordered by President Obama on May 27 are now essentially complete.

A review of the current executive order on classification policy is finished except for a few "sticky" issues pertaining to intelligence agency authorities, according to one participant in the interagency process. The recommendations of that review have not yet been transmitted to the White House. A separate review of procedures for handling "controlled unclassified information" (CUI) produced recommendations that were sent to the White House last week, though the contents have not been disclosed.

Both reviews were the subject of considerable public comment, and the resulting recommendations include at least some proposed changes that are directly traceable to public input, the participant said. But he also cautioned against overly high expectations for the outcome, especially given the insular character of the deliberative process, which was dominated by agency classification personnel. "You've got a bunch of foxes designing security for the henhouse," he said.

The recommendations that were produced by the interagency reviews must still be reviewed by the White House and then approved or modified, a process that could take months. A decision on whether to invite additional public comment has not yet been announced.


Open source intelligence products, which are based on information gathered in the public domain, are often withheld from public disclosure, for various reasons. These include habit, the cultivation of the mystique of secret intelligence, the protection of copyrighted information, and the preservation of "decision advantage," i.e. the policy-relevant insight that open source intelligence at its best may offer.

Even when it can be justified, however, such secrecy comes at a price. By restricting the distribution of unclassified intelligence products, government agencies also limit the opportunities for the discovery and correction of erroneous information or analysis. Conversely, expanding access to such materials may be expected to yield an improved product.

So, for example, Secrecy News recently published a previously undisclosed Open Source Center report on Bolivia's Islamic community ("OSC Views Islam in Bolivia," June 1). It had not been approved for public release.

Sure enough, once the report became public knowledge, it became possible to identify mistaken information that had been inadvertently disseminated by the Open Source Center throughout the U.S. government.

The report had listed the Association of the Islamic Community of Bolivia as a Shia organization (at page 11). That was incorrect. "La Asociacion de la comunidad Islamica de Bolivia... es una comunidad SUNNITA," wrote Ahmad Ali Cuttipa Trigo, a representative of the group, in a courteous but emphatic email message from La Paz. "Quisieramos que enmienden ese error de taipeo."

In fact, mistaking a Sunni community for a Shia one is more than a typographical error. It is the kind of thing that under some circumstances could lead a reader to draw significant unwarranted inferences. And so fixing it is a service to everyone concerned.

From this perspective, the unauthorized publication of such materials may also perhaps be seen as a contribution to the open source intelligence enterprise.


"Japan is a media-saturated nation where the level of consumption of both newspapers and television is extremely high by global standards," according to a new assessment from the DNI Open Source Center (OSC). "Furthermore, the news media have the deep trust of the people.... More Japanese adults trust journalism than trust any other institution [including] schools, the police, or religious institutions."

The 67-page OSC report describes the peculiar Japanese media landscape, with profiles of major media categories as well as individual news organizations. It also presents numerous curious observations regarding Japanese production and consumption of news and information. For example:

The OSC report on Japanese media has not been approved for public release, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News. See "Japan -- Media Environment Open; State Looms Large," Open Source Center, August 18, 2009.


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

See also "Reducing Government Secrecy: Finding What Works" by Steven Aftergood, Yale Law and Policy Review, vol. 27, no. 2, Spring 2009:

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