from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 98
December 10, 2009

Secrecy News Blog:


The Obama Administration's new open government policy has begun to elicit a response from executive branch agencies. The Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and other agencies issued news releases outlining the initial steps they are taking to fulfill the December 8 White House Open Government Directive.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy posted a request for public comment on how to enhance public access to federally-funded science and technology research.

Beginning today, "The Administration is seeking public input on access to publicly-funded research results, such as those that appear in academic and scholarly journal articles. Currently, the National Institutes of Health require that research funded by its grants be made available to the public online at no charge within 12 months of publication. The Administration is seeking views as to whether this policy should be extended to other science agencies and, if so, how it should be implemented." Most national security and intelligence agencies, however, met the new Open Government Directive with silence, as if it did not concern them.

But many such agencies maintain unclassified databases that are potentially of great public interest, and that ought to be broadly accessible. We have nominated two candidates in particular for disclosure under the new open government policy.

First, there is CREST (CIA Records Search Tool), the CIA's database of declassified historical records. It contains millions of pages of redacted records that have already been processed for public release. CREST is available at the National Archives in College Park, MD. Yet the CIA has refused to publish CREST online, or to release a copy to others so that they could. Now would be an opportune time to do so. See "CREST Leaves Cavity in Public Domain," Secrecy News, April 6, 2009:

Another major record group that we believe ought to be public are the unclassified reports and analyses of the Director of National Intelligence's Open Source Center. This is a slightly more complicated case since many OSC products include copyrighted material that cannot readily be published without permission. But many other OSC products are purely discursive and analytical and could be published without difficulty if there were a will to do so. A selection of OSC products that were obtained by Secrecy News may be found here:

Writing on the White House blog yesterday, Special Counsel to the President Norm Eisen and Open Government Initiative Director Beth Noveck offered their view on "Why an Open Government Matters."


The inadvertent disclosure of a "sensitive" Transportation Security Administration manual on procedures for screening airline passengers has prompted renewed interest in legal remedies and penalties that may be available to the government to minimize the impact of such unauthorized disclosures.

In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security yesterday, several Republican lawmakers asked: What can be done to prevent the continued publication of such material on non-governmental web sites (such as and

"How has the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration addressed the repeated reposting of this security manual to other websites and what legal action, if any, can be taken to compel its removal?" wrote Reps. Peter T. King (R-NY), Charles W. Dent (R-PA) and Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL).

"Is the Department considering issuing new regulations pursuant to its authority in section 114 of title 49, United States Code, and are criminal penalties necessary or desirable to ensure such information is not reposted in the future?"

The short answer seems to be that existing legal authorities cannot easily be used to compel the removal of such records from public websites, and that any attempt to do so would likely be counterproductive, and would itself do damage to press freedom and other societal values.

Meanwhile, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh yesterday lashed out at the Federation of American Scientists in his own commentary on the TSA Manual disclosure.

"What an unmitigated disaster this is," he said. "Every day it's something, every day is an unmitigated disaster. 'The original version of the manual [is] still available online preserved by websites that monitor government secrecy and computer security' [quoting from the Washington Post December 9], which tells you all you need to know about the motives of these sites, such as the so-called watchdogs at the Federation of American Scientists."

This is not as gratifying as it might have been, since FAS had nothing to do with the disclosure of the TSA Manual. In fact, had we been the ones to discover the unredacted Manual, we probably would have refrained from publishing it.

In 2005, the National Security Agency published a tutorial on how to properly redact and publish sensitive documents. See "Redacting with Confidence: How to Safely Publish Sanitized Reports Converted From Word to PDF."


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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