from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 25
March 12, 2009

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The Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) that was established by classified presidential directive (NSPD 54 and HSPD 23) in January 2008 is deliberately opaque, and there is little specific information in the public domain about its conduct or performance to date.

"Much remains unknown about the CNCI due to the classified nature of the presidential directives and supporting implementation documents," says a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

But the CRS report summarizes what has been disclosed, and illuminates many of the ensuing questions raised by the Initiative. These include the extent of its underlying legal authority; the respective roles of the executive and legislative branches on cybersecurity; the involvement of the private sector; the impact of privacy considerations; and even the possibility that offensive or defensive cybersecurity activities would fall into the category of "covert action."

See "Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative: Legal Authorities and Policy Considerations," March 10, 2009:

"A chief concern" about the Initiative, the Senate Armed Services Committee declared last year, "is that virtually everything about [it] is highly classified, and most of the information that is not classified is categorized as `For Official Use Only'."

"These restrictions preclude public education, awareness, and debate about the policy and legal issues, real or imagined, that the initiative poses in the areas of privacy and civil liberties. Without such debate and awareness in such important and sensitive areas, it is likely that the initiative will make slow or modest progress. The committee strongly urges the administration to reconsider the necessity and wisdom of the blanket, indiscriminate classification levels established for the initiative." ("Cyber Security Initiative is Too Secret, SASC Says," Secrecy News, May 15, 2008.)

On February 9, 2009 President Obama ordered a 60-day review of cybersecurity policy.


One way "to enhance citizen access to Government information," a new Senate bill proposes, would be to require that Government documents "must be written clearly."

By insisting on plain language in official documents, the bill "promotes transparency and accountability," said lead sponsor Sen. Daniel Akaka. "It is very difficult to hold the Federal Government accountable for its actions if only lawyers can understand Government writing. As we face an economic crisis and unprecedented budget deficits, the American people need clear explanations of Government actions."

See Introduction of the Plain Writing Act of 2009, March 11. A similar bill (HR 946) was introduced in the House last month.

Another Senate bill tackles the problem of judicial secrecy orders and confidential court settlements that deprive the public of significant health or safety information.

"The Sunshine in Litigation Act is a modest proposal that would require federal judges to perform a simple balancing test to ensure that in any proposed secrecy order, the defendant's interest in secrecy truly outweighs the public interest in information related to public health and safety," said Sen. Herb Kohl.

"Specifically, prior to making any portion of a case confidential or sealed, a judge would have to determine--by making a particularized finding of fact--that doing so would not restrict the disclosure of information relevant to public health and safety."

Speaking of sunshine, next week (March 15-21) is "Sunshine Week," a national campaign to promote values of open government and freedom of information. Background information and a calendar of events can be found here:


Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News include the following.

"North Korea's Nuclear Weapons," February 12, 2009:

"Japan's Nuclear Future: Policy Debate, Prospects, and U.S. Interests," February 19, 2009:

"The United Arab Emirates Nuclear Program and Proposed U.S. Nuclear Cooperation," March 2, 2009:


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

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