Thursday, March 03, 2005

Secrecy Hurts Security

A post in Defense Tech cites comments by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT), a long-time critic of the Bush administration's urge to declare off-limits to the public all the information it possibly can.

"Yesterday, Shays, who heads the Goverment Reform Committee's national security panel, gave one of the best speeches yet about the dangers of overclassification, just before lanuching into a hearing on the subject. 'The Cold War cult of secrecy remains largely impervious to the new security imperatives of the post-9/11 world. Overclassification is a direct threat to national security. Last year, more federal officials classified more information, and declassified less, than the year before. In our previous hearing on official secrecy policies, the Department of Defense (DOD) witness estimated that fully half of all the data deemed "Confidential," "Secret" or "Top Secret" by the Pentagon was needlessly or improperly withheld from public view. Further resisting the call to move from a "need to know" to a "need to share" standard, some agencies have become proliferators of new categories of shielded data. Legally ambiguous markings like "Sensitive but Unclassified", "Sensitive Homeland Security Information" and "For Official Use Only" create new bureaucratic barriers to information sharing. These pseudo-classifications can have persistent and pernicious practical effects on the flow of threat information. "The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States" (the 9/11 Commission) concluded that, "Current security requirements nurture overclassification and excessive compartmentation of information among agencies. Each agency's incentive structure opposes sharing, with risks (criminal, civil and internal administrative sanctions) but few rewards for sharing information." ' "

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