Hit & Run

Secrecy vs. Security

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"George W. Bush's White House has pushed like few before it to put government information out of the public's grasp," Noah Shachtman reports today in Wired News. "Moves to classify documents are up 400 percent from a decade ago, to more than 23 million such actions in 2002, according to the Information Security Oversight Office, a division of the National Archives."

Opposition to this is coming from some surprising quarters:

several of the country's leading spies, past and present, aren't happy about the rush to make things secret. To counter far-reaching, stealthy terrorist cabals, the country needs more openness, not less, they said Wednesday at Geo-Intel 2003, a first-of-its-kind conference here on the use of satellites in war, intelligence and homeland security….

Case in point: The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, prepared a report last year for firefighters and other so-called "first responders" on how to react to a chemical weapons attack. But when the paper was completed, the Defense Department classified it, CSIS analyst Jim Lewis noted. Now, the firefighters will never get the benefit of that information.

In July, a George Mason University graduate student mapped out in his dissertation the details of the country's fiber optic network. Using information publicly available online, he spotted vulnerable spots where terrorists might strike. The paper could have been used to shore up weak links in the country's infrastructure. Instead, the government immediately suppressed it.

Shachtman quotes Thomas Behling, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, on how a better system would look:

"Rather than putting data into separate partitions, where only a few people have access to it," he noted, authorities need to make information available "by job" to whoever needs it -- regardless of their security clearance.