from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 49
April 20, 2006

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When the San Francisco Chronicle reported April 8 that information about the design and layout of the Presidential aircraft Air Force One was available on the world wide web, it generated a spasm of anxiety in some quarters.

The anxiety was magnified by a follow-on story in the Chronicle April 19, reprinted in the Pentagon Early Bird today, which observed ominously that the information "still remain[s] publicly available."

The reporter, Paul J. Caffera, spoke to several people in and out of government who were prepared to express alarm about the disclosure. He did not quote anyone who questioned its significance or downplayed the potential threat that it might pose.

On closer examination, it appears that the Chronicle story exaggerated the entire matter, and not only by mistakenly referring to the information as "classified" (an error that it corrected today).

The notion of the Secret that may lead to fatal vulnerability if exposed has mythological force and deep psychological resonance. But it is a poor guide to government information policymaking.

To begin with, the document that the Chronicle found on the web has never been classified. To the contrary, it was specifically reviewed and cleared for public release years ago.

This was no accident. As Stephen I. Schwartz observed in a cogent critique of the Chronicle story last week, the Air Force document was deliberately made public:

"It's part of a safety manual, written so firefighters and emergency responders can quickly rescue Air Force One's pilots and passengers if there's an accident or mishap," noted Schwartz, the former publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

It follows that new efforts to suppress the document in response to the Chronicle story may tend to impede accident preparedness.

See Schwartz's critique on the DefenseTech blog "Air Force One Scare: Real Security Sacrificed," April 11:

John Pike of observed that he regularly finds "all kinds of stuff" that is genuinely sensitive, such as new details relating to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Iraq, which his organization refrains from publishing.

But the information in the unclassified Air Force One safety manual that triggered the Chronicle story, he said, "is neither very interesting nor unique." See:


The Law Library of Congress, which maintains the world's largest collection of legal materials, produces a monthly publication called World Law Bulletin that features the highlights of legal developments around the world, as well as occasional essays on specialized topics by some of the Library's resident experts.

For no good reason, however, the World Law Bulletin is not released to the public. Until such time as Congress authorizes it to do so, the Library cannot make it directly available. Efforts are underway to instigate a change in disclosure policy to permit public release, but that has not happened yet.

In the meantime, Secrecy News has obtained the latest issues from December 2005 through March 2006.

Scanning the March issue at random, one learns that "The Government of Botswana has amended the Liquor Act so that as of April 1, 2006, beer may only be sold for five hours a day."

But a Library analyst astutely observes that "Bars and bottle shops are to open at 5 p.m. and close at 11 p.m. (which would appear to be a six-hour period for legal sales)."

See the latest issues of World Law Bulletin here:


"Security guards at the Department of Homeland Security were forced last month to sign agreements not to disclose information the agency deems sensitive -- an attempt, according to several current guards, to silence them after recent high-profile revelations of security breaches at DHS."

See "Guards Say Non-Disclosure Agreements Were Used to Hide Security Flaws at DHS" by Patrick Yoest, CQ Homeland Security, April 19:

"While no one is paying much attention, the Bush administration is promoting a reading of an old and largely moribund law that could radically diminish the openness of U.S. government while criminalizing huge swaths of academic debate and journalism," the Washington Post editorialized today on the AIPAC case.

See "Dangerous Prosecution," April 20:

The FBI's attempt to gain access to files of the late Jack Anderson "is one of the more outrageous steps in a campaign by the Bush administration to hide information from the public," according to the Kansas City Star.

See "FBI needs to back off," April 20:


The U.S. Army last year published a handbook for commanders and other U.S. military personnel who are newly deployed to Germany which describes German customs, protocol and etiquette -- as understood by the Army.

It includes a wide variety of interesting and peculiar details, including an introduction to German wine and beer.

"German wine categories are more complicated than German beer categories," the Army guide says. "There are three types of wine and three colors."

It also includes advice for how to handle delicate interpersonal situations.

For example, if two persons pledge brotherhood ("Brüderschaft") over drinks and switch from using the formal you ("Sie") to the informal you ("du") and one of them later comes to regret the intimacy -- what then?

"If an unhesitating 'Sie' is used [by one person] at the next encounter following a Brüderschaft drink, the other person should also revert to using 'Sie'."

See "Commanders Guide to German Society, Customs, and Protocol," USAREUR Pamphlet 360-6, 20 September 2005:


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

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