from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 84
October 26, 2009

Secrecy News Blog:


A House Subcommittee is reviving a decade-old debate over the need to expeditiously replace the older security locks on safes for storing classified documents with new, more sophisticated electromechanical locks.

"The secure storage of classified information is a matter of paramount importance to the national security of the United States," wrote Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA) earlier this month. Yet, he complained, government contractors that have possession of classified materials have been slow to upgrade their locks and safes to meet the new standards.

Rep. Tierney's House National Security Subcommittee is therefore "conducting an investigation" focusing on industry's ability and intention to carry out the mandatory upgrade to improved locks and containers prior to a 2012 deadline. Almost 20,000 "substandard security containers" are supposed to be replaced in the next three years, according to the Defense Security Service.

"Based on Industry's slow rate of transition over the past decade, and the substantial number of substandard security containers still in use, it appears that Industry may not have adequate plans in place to complete the transition by October 1, 2012." Rep. Tierney described his concerns in an October 7 letter to William J. Bosanko, director of the Information Security Oversight Office. The letter was released at a recent meeting of the NISP Policy Advisory Committee.

Although Rep. Tierney did not mention it, the origins of the requirement to upgrade security locks for classified documents are tainted by parochial financial concerns, and the move is questionable on security policy grounds.

Beginning in the 1990s, the lock conversion requirement was zealously advocated by Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) whose constituents, not coincidentally, included the manufacturer of the proposed replacement lock. The manufacturer also enlisted the lobbying support of Douglas Feith, who went on to become the Bush Administration's controversial Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. See "Sen. Bunning Pushes Electronic Locks to the Dismay of Industry, DoD" by Hampton Stephens, Defense Information and Electronics Report, August 10, 2001:

But there has never been any known compromise of classified information in government or industry that was attributable to a faulty security container or lock. For that reason, the cost-benefit ratio of a systematic retrofit does not seem very compelling, particularly when compared to other potential uses for the limited supply of security dollars.

On the other hand, the fact that self-serving financial interests drove the political debate does not mean the security issue is entirely groundless, an independent security consultant told Secrecy News. Existing mechanical locks in use within industry "can be penetrated surreptitiously within 20 minutes," he said, and the older barlock containers that are still in use "can be penetrated surreptitiously within seconds."


The records of several noteworthy congressional hearings that were held in the past two years have been published in the last few weeks, including these:

"A Report Card on Homeland Security Information Sharing," House Homeland Security Committee, September 24, 2008:

"Turning Spy Satellites on the Homeland: The Privacy and Civil Liberties Implications of the National Applications Office," House Homeland Security Committee, September 6, 2007:

"Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," Senate Judiciary Committee, March 27, 2007:

"FISA Amendments: How to Protect Americans’ Security and Privacy and Preserve the Rule of Law and Government Accountability," October 31, 2007:

Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sen. Charles Grassley of the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote to Attorney General Holder on October 20, asking the Department of Justice to comply with outstanding Committee requests for information that have gone unanswered, in some cases for several years.


The DNI Open Source Center has produced a colorful profile of Raymond Wong Yuk-man, a former talk show host who was elected to Hong Kong's Legislative Council in 2008.

Known as "Mad Dog" for "his virulent criticism of the Communist Party of China," Wong is a member of the "radical pro-democracy League of Social Democrats (LSD)." But his flamboyant behavior has raised concerns that he could "divide the Hong Kong opposition and set back the process of democratization," the OSC report said.

Earlier this year, Wong was officially rebuked for using the English phrase "poor guys" to refer to Hong Kong's citizens. It seems that "poor guys" was a play on "the vulgar Cantonese expression 'pok kai'" which means, the OSC explained, something like "drop dead."

Last year, Wong was ejected from the Council chambers after throwing bananas to protest the minimal stipend (known as "fruit money") given to senior citizens.

To be a radical is "fine," said one of Wong's critics. But to be "a loutish, obscene, banana-throwing radical is not."

See "Profile of 'Radical' Hong Kong Legislator Raymond Wong Yuk-man," Open Source Center, October 2, 2009.


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

See also "Reducing Government Secrecy: Finding What Works" by Steven Aftergood, Yale Law and Policy Review, vol. 27, no. 2, Spring 2009:

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