from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 24
March 21, 2002


The Bush Administration has issued new guidance on safeguarding classified and "sensitive but unclassified" information that portends new limits on public access to government information.

"Government information, regardless of its age, that could reasonably be expected to assist in the development or use of weapons of mass destruction... should not be disclosed inappropriately," wrote White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card, Jr., in a March 19 memorandum to the heads of executive branch agencies.

An attachment prepared by the Information Security Oversight Office and the Justice Department Office of Information and Privacy spells out the applicable standards for controlling classified and other sensitive information.

"It doesn't create new law or amend any existing executive order," said one official who helped develop the memo. "It interprets current policy."

One potentially troublesome feature of the new interpretation, however, is the ill-defined category of "Sensitive But Unclassified Information." This refers to information that for one reason or another cannot be classified but that is deemed too sensitive for further publication.

"The need to protect such sensitive information from inappropriate disclosure should be carefully considered, on a case-by-case basis, together with the benefits that result from the open and efficient exchange of scientific, technical, and like information," the memo states.

No detailed criteria for conducting such case-by-case consideration are provided, leaving this category seemingly open-ended.

Another Administration official told Secrecy News that the new memo illustrated, in a way, the power of the press. "This is a direct result of the January 13 New York Times story," the official said, referring to the Times article "U.S. Selling Papers Showing How to Make Germ Weapons" by William J. Broad. That article described the availability for sale of certain declassified records concerning the production of biological and chemical weapons. Some of those records, according to scientists who have reviewed them, are genuinely sensitive and should not be made readily available.

The text of the new White House memo is posted here:

The memo was first reported in the Washington Times today by Bill Sammon. See "White House Tells Web Sites to Delete Data":

"Terrorist groups worldwide have ready access to information on chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons via the Internet," Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 19:


The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) this week published a substantive new report to Congress on the declassification of records concerning Japanese war crimes in World War II.

NARA's Interagency Working Group described some of the highlights of the 18,000 pages that have been declassified to date, including such things as Japanese bacteriological warfare-related activities, and reported on the status of the remaining 60,000 pages that await declassification review.

See the new report on "Implementation of the Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act and the Japanese War Crimes Provisions of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act" here:


A number of interesting and useful documents generated at the Freedom of Information Day conference on March 15 are now available online. The conference was jointly sponsored by the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center and the American Library Association.

Updates on Bush Administration information access policy, government secrecy, legislative developments and court rulings, state and local access policies, and international developments are provided.

The text of speeches presented by historian Richard Reeves and by Steven Garfinkel, former Director of the Information Security Oversight Office and FOI Day honoree, are also now posted.

See "2002 FOI Day Resources" here:


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

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