from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 33
April 16, 2003


One of the more challenging developments in government information policy is the renewed emphasis on so-called "sensitive but unclassified" (SBU) information. This refers to information that is normally withheld from public disclosure but which can be shared throughout the government without the burden of formal classification procedures.

While the notion of SBU is responsive to the imperative of improving information sharing within government, it is troublesome from a public access point of view because it lends itself to indiscriminate withholding. This is particularly problematic in an Administration that is predisposed to official secrecy.

The challenges posed by SBU are examined in an impressive new report from the Congressional Research Service by CRS analyst Genevieve J. Knezo.

Ms. Knezo traces the genealogy of SBU as far back as a 1977 Presidential Directive that used the term "unclassified, but sensitive" and up to the present day. She examines ambiguities in the definition of SBU and how it has been employed differently by different agencies. She explains why the concept has been criticized over the years, and by whom. And she lays out a spectrum of policy options for addressing concerns about the use of SBU.

The 48 page report, which is abundantly footnoted to diverse source documents, is the best work on the topic to date.

See "'Sensitive But Unclassified' and Other Federal Security Controls on Scientific and Technical Information: History and Current Controversy" by Genevieve J. Knezo, Congressional Research Service, April 2:


There has been an unseemly tendency in the Bush Administration to award contracts for Iraq reconstruction on a sole-source basis, i.e. without a competitive bidding process. The contracts themselves are occasionally classified.

To correct this offensive practice Sen. Ron Wyden, along with Senators Collins, Clinton, Byrd and Lieberman, introduced the "Sunshine in Iraq Reconstruction Contracting Act" (S. 876).

"Contracts to rebuild Iraq should be awarded in the sunshine-- not behind a smokescreen," said Sen. Wyden. He explained the problem with "closed-door contracting," and described his proposed solution, in an April 10 floor speech introducing the bill. See:


The counterterrorism operations of Israel's internal security service known as the Shin Bet were profiled in a lengthy feature in the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv on April 11.

The article, which was subject to military censorship, nevertheless provides the kind of first-hand operational detail that is not readily available elsewhere, and is presented in an engaging way. ("If you are discovered in the casbah, no one will come to your rescue.")

See "Missions of Shin Bet Special Operations Unit Viewed" from an article by Amit Navon, Ma'ariv, April 11, translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service:


The Washington Times' Insight Magazine has published an update of its inconclusive Freedom of Information Act "investigation" into the presumed location of remnants of Noah's Ark on Turkey's Mount Ararat, which is predicated on a reference in Genesis 8:4 ("And the ark rested ... upon the mountains of Ararat").

The CIA released some records under the FOIA, but the Agency has "claimed" that it has no spy satellite photographs of the Mount Ararat site, Insight reported archly. Other records may be held by the Navy.

While anyone is free to use the FOIA to ask for anything, anyone else is free to criticize the legal hijacking of the FOIA process to pursue a private obsession. That seems to be the case here.

See "Update: Noah's Ark Investigation" by Timothy W. Maier, Insight, posted April 15:

New archeological data indicates that biblical texts may not be inconsistent with the historical record in every respect. Carbon dating links a site in northern Israel to an invasion by the Egyptian Pharoah Shoshenq I around 925 BCE. He appears as "Shishak" in I Kings 14:25-26 and II Chronicles 12:3-4.

See "Carbon-14 Dates from Tel Rehov: Iron-Age Chronology, Pharaohs, and Hebrew Kings" by Hendrik J. Bruins, Johannes van der Plicht, and Amihai Mazar in Science, April 11, 2003, pp. 315-318 (not available online to non-subscribers).


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

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