from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 69
June 12, 2006

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An interagency report on proposals to streamline controls on so-called "sensitive but unclassified" (SBU) information is due to be presented to the White House this month.

Efforts to promote information sharing among government agencies and others involved in homeland security have been stymied by the growing use of over sixty different types of access controls on unclassified information, such as For Official Use Only, Law Enforcement Sensitive, Limited Official Use, and many more. Such controls are often poorly defined and mutually incompatible.

Last December 16, the White House initiated an ongoing review that began with preparation of an inventory of all of the various SBU access controls used in the federal government, which was completed in March. The next step was to formulate recommendations for standardizing SBU policies related to terrorism, homeland security and law enforcement, which are now due.

See Guideline 3, "Standardize Procedures for Sensitive But Unclassified Information," in the December 16 White House memo here:

As of last week, a report to the President on those recommendations was awaiting the signatures of the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security.

The pending report sets forth principles upon which SBU policy should be based, but stops short of the crucial task of defining exactly how those principles ought to be implemented, government officials said.

One of those principles is that each type of control on unclassified information should have a uniform, public and government-wide definition so that it is employed the same way by all agencies. That is not the case today.

The proposed principles include provisions for oversight of how SBU controls are used, officials told Secrecy News.

They also include a proposed moratorium on the creation of new SBU categories.

The new report to the President has not been released. But a 2005 report prepared for the Department of Homeland Security provides one detailed perspective on the complexity of the information sharing problem and some options for addressing it.

See "Information Sharing and Collaboration Business Plan," Institute for Defense Analyses, June 2005 (205 pages, 1.5 MB PDF):


Some agencies treat oversight of their programs as a burden or a threat to be avoided or evaded. But that is a shortsighted view.

The paradox of oversight is that when properly performed it actually serves the interests of the overseen program by building confidence in its legitimacy and integrity.

Perhaps with that in mind, U.S. Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey recently issued a memo to senior Army leaders stressing the importance of effective oversight, especially when it comes to classified "sensitive" activities.

"I expect my oversight team to have an informed understanding of the Army's conduct of, or support to, sensitive activities," Secretary Harvey wrote.

"Sensitive activities may include intelligence activities and military operations, organizational relationships or processes, and technological capabilities or vulnerabilities."

See "Oversight of Sensitive Activities," May 18, 2006:


"The National Security Agency is committed to declassifying national security information as instructed in Executive Order 12958, as amended," the NSA declared in a 2005 declassification plan.

"The Agency will use all available resources to successfully accomplish the provisions of the E.O. within the required time."

See "NSA Declassification Plan for Executive Order 12958, as Amended," January 13, 2005 (obtained by Michael Ravnitzky):

"The fact that the U.S. Army and Navy mounted a [World War II] effort called Project BOURBON against certain Soviet cryptosystems can be released," according to a newly disclosed 2001 NSA notice on declassification policy.

"Most details beyond this statement, as well as the cooperation with the British in this effort, remain classified."

See selected NSA declassification guidance, released June 2006:

Other agency declassification plans, including newly posted plans of the Army and Navy, may be found here:


"Is New York City adequately prepared for a 'dirty bomb' attack?" asked John Sudnik, a deputy chief at the New York Fire Department in a recent master's thesis on the prospects of a terrorist incident involving a radiological weapon.

In response to this question, the author provided an assessment of the threat, the consequences of an attack, and the possibilities of mitigating such consequences.

See "'Dirty Bomb' Attack: Assessing New York City's Level of Preparedness from a First Responder's Perspective" by John Sudnik, Naval Postgraduate School, March 2006:


"Why does The Washington Post willingly publish 'classified' information affecting national security?" wrote former Post editor Robert G. Kaiser in a Sunday Outlook piece.

"Should Post journalists and others who reveal the government's secrets be subject to criminal prosecution for doing so? These questions, raised with new urgency of late, deserve careful answers."

He proposed some thoughtful answers in "Public Secrets," Washington Post, June 11:


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

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