Internet enables surfing for secrets

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

divulging secrets.

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

federation.

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

on declassification.

"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."

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