from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 97
October 8, 2008

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A new policy seeks to promote sharing of terrorism-related information throughout the government by making information sharing an explicit factor in employee performance appraisals.

"We have taken a critical step toward ensuring that information sharing becomes ingrained in the way the federal government operates," said Amb. Thomas McNamara, the ODNI Information Security Environment program manager, in an October 6 news release.

The policy is particularly noteworthy as an effort to re-engineer the federal bureaucracy in favor of information sharing by creating new incentives that reward the desired actions.

Can it really be that easy? Can the bureaucracy effectively be reprogrammed by installing a suitable set of rewards? And in particular, could a similar policy be adopted that advances open government by designating appropriate public disclosure as a criterion for evaluating employee performance?

It would be extremely interesting to try, but there are reasons for skepticism.

For one thing, the new policy on information sharing emerges from and reinforces an existing consensus in favor of increased sharing; it doesn't create that consensus. And no similar consensus exists in the current Administration in favor of increased public disclosure of information.

Furthermore, information sharing, as the term is used by officials, is nearly the opposite of public disclosure. Information sharing is predicated on the fact that what is to be shared is not to be made generally available to all comers. If it were openly available, it wouldn't have to be "shared."

Finally, the new policy has unfolded at an excruciatingly slow pace that doesn't bode well for similar efforts. Incredibly, it has been almost three years since the President himself ordered agencies (in a December 16, 2005 memorandum) to adopt the new performance evaluation element for information sharing, and it may take years more before the newly announced policy is fully implemented in practice.

Meanwhile, information sharing is something of a policy phantom that has "had virtually no operational impact," according to one particularly unfavorable assessment presented in testimony to Congress last month.

"Those of us willing to honestly address this issue will conclude that 'information sharing' has no clearly understood meaning, is poorly managed, and has been made overly complicated," said former U.S. Attorney John McKay in September 24 testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee.

"From a national perspective, there is no concept of success, no agreed-upon jurisdiction, no designated authority, no effective leadership. And despite the large sums of money being spent over the past decade and many, many promises, there remains no consensus on the way to proceed," he said.


In an extraordinary rebuff to Bush Administration detention policy, a federal court yesterday ordered that 17 Chinese Uighur detainees held in Guantanamo Bay shall be released into the United States because there is no lawful basis for their continued detention. The government immediately filed a motion to stay the ruling.

Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said in effect that the Administration's claim of exclusive jurisdiction over the matter was un-American.

"The unilateral carte blanche authority the political branches purportedly wield over the Uighurs is not in keeping with our system of governance," Judge Urbina said at an October 7 hearing. "Because our system of checks and balances is designed to preserve the fundamental right of liberty, the Court grants the [Uighur] Petitioners' motion for release into the United States."

Judge Urbina ordinarily has a healthy respect for authority. "[You are] not the DCI," he once told me, explaining why my views on the need for intelligence budget disclosure had no legal significance. But he also reluctantly became the first federal judge ever to order the CIA against its will to disclose an annual intelligence budget figure (for Fiscal Year 1963), after it was shown that the information was already in the public domain ("Judge Orders CIA to Disclose 1963 Budget," Secrecy News, 04/05/05).

U.S. military interrogators collaborated with Chinese government agents to interrogate Uighur detainees at Guantanamo prison, and even deprived them of sleep the night before by waking them up every 15 minutes in a treatment called the "frequent flyer program," as noted in a recently updated report from the Congressional Research Service, citing June 2008 testimony from Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine. See "U.S.-China Counterterrorism Cooperation: Issues for U.S. Policy," updated September 11, 2008:


The House Intelligence Committee critically reviewed the U.S. intelligence satellite program in a rare unclassified report on the subject. See "Report on Challenges and Recommendations for United States Overhead Architecture," House Intelligence Committee, House Report 110-914, October 3, 2008:

"All counterterrorism programs that collect and mine data should be evaluated for their effectiveness and privacy impacts," according to a new report on data mining from the National Academy of Sciences.

A new doctrinal publication from the Joint Chiefs of Staff considers "Meteorological and Oceanographic Operations," Joint Publication 3-59, September 24, 2008.

A somewhat older Army Field Manual addresses nuclear warfighting in "Nuclear Operations," U.S. Army Field Manual 100-30, October 29, 1996.


Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been made available online until now include the following.

"Supreme Court Appellate Jurisdiction Over Military Court Cases," October 6, 2008:

"Presidential Succession: Perspectives, Contemporary Analysis, and 110th Congress Proposed Legislation," October 3, 2008:

"Defense: FY2009 Authorization and Appropriations," updated September 29, 2008:

"Homeland Security Department: FY2009 Appropriations," updated September 25, 2008:

"The Global Nuclear Detection Architecture: Issues for Congress," updated September 23, 2008:

"Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategies, Approaches, Results, and Issues for Congress," updated September 22, 2008:


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

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