from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 21
February 23, 2004


In a quiet realignment of U.S. military force structure, clandestine special operations forces are being assigned ever greater mission responsibility.

"In the last three years the role of the Special Operations Forces has just increased and increased and increased," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a February 17 interview with WTVT-TV in Tampa, Florida, where U.S. Special Operations Command is headquartered.

But the nature and significance of that increase are difficult for the public to fathom, since government officials won't discuss the subject.

"I have no comment on any particular questions about Special Forces because we don't talk about these Special Forces," said Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita at a February 19 news briefing.

In the absence of official comment, one can still glean a good deal of information about the role of special operations forces through unclassified military research and strategy papers.

Over the past year alone, studies have been prepared on topics such as: "The Army Special Operations Forces Role in Force Projection"; "How Can the U.S. Army Overcome Intelligence Sharing Challenges Between Conventional and Special Operations Forces?"; "Transformation of Special Operations: Reducing Joint Friction"; "Should the Marine Corps Expand Its Role in Special Operations?"; and "Guerrilla Warfare Tactics in Urban Environments".

These and other papers on special operations can be found here:

The budget for Special Operations Command increased by 35% in 2004, reported William M. Arkin in an incisive critical commentary on special forces in the Los Angeles Times, "Not a Magic Bullet," February 22.


The system of government controls on unclassified information is becoming more complex, as new types of official restrictions on public access to information multiply. These include the following:

Critical Infrastructure Information (CII)

On February 20, the Department of Homeland Security published its interim rule on "critical infrastructure information" (CII), which would prohibit release of information "voluntarily submitted" by industry regarding systemic infrastructure vulnerabilities.

"By offering an opportunity for protection from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act for information that qualifies..., the Department will assure private sector entities that their information will be safeguarded from abuse by competitors or the open market," DHS stated. See:

"Shrouding infrastructure information in absolute secrecy will remove a powerful incentive for remedial action and might actually exacerbate security problems," argued David Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in July 2002 testimony:

Critical Energy Infrastructure Information (CEII)

Another new and related control category called "Critical Energy Infrastructure Information" (CEII) was devised by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This extraordinary control marking blocks public requests for certain unclassified energy information unless the requester can demonstrate a "need to know," and consents to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Over the past six months, FERC reports, it received 126 requests for information designated as CEII. Most requests were granted, or otherwise resolved.

But four requests were denied "because the requester did not agree to the terms of an appropriate non-disclosure agreement." See:

Sensitive Homeland Security Information (SHSI)

A separate category called "Sensitive Homeland Security Information" was established in the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The regulations governing this category have not been completed.

"The Department of Homeland Security is currently working to develop procedures for the sharing of sensitive homeland security information," a DHS official wrote on February 18. "At this time, however, these procedures have not been finalized."

Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU)

Then there is "sensitive but unclassified." This term is most frequently used as a generic description of information that is not intended for release, rather than as a specific information control category.

But here is a November 2002 Treasury Department document that is actually marked "Sensitive But Unclassified." It comes from the document collection published by Ron Susskind in connection with his book "The Price of Loyalty":

The Tenth Exemption

Perhaps the most widespread of all official controls on unclassified information is what might be called the tenth exemption to the Freedom of Information Act: "I don't wanna tell you."

Last week Secrecy News called the CIA Public Affairs office to request a copy of the unclassified speech that was delivered at CIA on February 11 by Jami A. Miscik, deputy director of intelligence. The text of the speech had previously been provided to the Washington Post and the New York Times.

A few hours later, a CIA official ("Michelle") called back to advise that Bill Harlow, the head of CIA public affairs, was "exercising his discretion not to give it to you."


A new report from the Congressional Research Service provides a 111 page compilation of previously published information on "Foreign Terrorist Organizations."

A copy of the February 6 report, courtesy of the U.S. State Department but not the U.S. Congress, is posted here:


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

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