Editorial: Security, not secrecy

No elite group of experts, however bright they might be, can match the collective wisdom of the security industry

Contrary to the Bush administration’s apparent perception, security and transparency are not necessarily incompatible goals.

As is well known, in January, the administration launched the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, an effort to tighten the security of government networks and other elements of the country’s critical infrastructure. But that is all that is well known.

During the past nine months, the broad outline of the initiative has emerged slowly, but details about specific components remain closely guarded, ostensibly in the interest of national security. Congress and government watchdog organizations have begun to question whether the secrecy is needed — or wise. 

In its report on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009, the Senate Armed Services Committee criticized the Bush administration for moving aggressively on such an ambitious plan with so little review and debate, either by Congress or in the public.

The committee is particularly concerned about the initiative’s potential legal and privacy ramifications. But the lack of oversight is not the only danger.

In keeping the program under such tight wraps, the administration misses an opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of security experts nationwide. No doubt the Homeland Security Department, which oversees the program, consulted with the best and brightest in industry and academia in developing the initiative. But that is not enough.

The next step is to vet that strategy with the broader community, giving experts from different fields an opportunity to pick apart or refine various components. Such a process would not be neat and tidy, nor would it be fast, but it would produce a much better initiative in the end. No elite group of experts, however bright they might be, can match the collective wisdom of the security industry.

Of course, it truly might be in the interest of national security to keep some elements of the strategy classified. But it is in the nation’s best interest to ensure that the strategy as a whole is given the thorough analysis that it deserves. 

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