Internet enables surfing for secrets
- By Dan Verton
- Aug 28, 2000
A study conducted for the Pentagon has singled out the Internet as one of
the primary vehicles by which classified information related to weapons
of mass destruction often falls into the wrong hands.
The study, conducted in 1998 for the Pentagon's Office of Command, Control,
Communications and Intelligence by Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., looked
at declassified documents from Pentagon intelligence and security organization
The Pentagon released the study last week as a result of a Freedom of Information
Act request made by the Federation of American Scientists. It examined how
declassification efforts throughout the Defense Department could be unwittingly
The study's authors argued that information contained in four particular
documents could easily have been made available on the Internet and enable
adversaries, such as Iraq, to advance their own nuclear weapons programs.
"There appears to be a high probability that a good deal of simulation testing
could be accomplished based upon the research and formulae provided," the
study stated. "The era of information sitting in some archive available
only to some scholarly researcher digging through a mountain of paper is
in the past."
The study recommended that DOD conduct a full review of the Internet's impact
on declassification activities and how overlooked secrets might be leaking
out around the world in electronic format. The Pentagon released the study
last week as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request made by the
One of the study's more unusual recommendations called for the government
to use the Internet to "reduce the unrestrained public appetite for "secrets'
by providing good faith distraction material." The Internet, according to
the study's authors, could be used to help "channel public interest toward
already appropriately declassified material and possibly lessen FOIA requests."
Defense agencies are required by executive order to regularly review documents
for possible declassification and public release.
Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists' Project
on Government Secrecy, said he does not think the "good faith distraction"
approach recommended by the study represents the current thinking in government
"But the very concept reflects an attitude that seeks to evade public scrutiny
and to discourage public inquiry," Aftergood said. "Also, the "good faith
distraction' notion reminds me that [the National Security Agency], for
example, has taken some trouble to post UFO documents on its Web site — as if this were somehow responsive to the public interest."