Holding the Government Accountable

"Sensitive But Unclassified" Categories Hindering Congressional Oversight?

Some supplementary information in an item in Steve Aftergood's Secrecy News today merits some attention. Regarding an initial Federation of American Scientists decision to take down a "For Official Use Only" Department of Homeland Security report on the state of defenses from man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), aka shoulder-fired missiles, a congressional staffer wrote to Aftergood:

"You took it offline? I'm surprised," said one Congressional staffer who obtained the DHS report to Congress via FAS.

He said that executive branch restrictions on unclassified information had become a growing hindrance to Congressional oversight. If the document is really sensitive, he suggested, "it should be classified." [emphasis POGO's]

DHS requested that FAS take down the report because of alleged sensitivities contained within. FAS is reviewing the document and may put it back online or not. POGO agrees with the staffer that if the report truly should be kept secret then it should be protected under the appropriate collateral national security information categories of either Confidential, Secret or Top Secret. However, given the penchant for overclassification, along with the fact that it was designated FOUO--almost a default government label these days--may be an indication that the report did not contain information that really should be secret.

Have others in Congress made the same observation as the above staffer regarding (lack of) access to either so-called "sensitive but unclassified" information or classified information? Let me know at Nick AT Pogo DOT Org (sorry to do that, but I'm already being spammed to death).

SBU categories are also wreaking havoc within the executive branch as well. As POGO wrote in a letter in July:

The vague or non-existent policies associated with SSI and other �sensitive but unclassified� secrecy categories are not only hampering public knowledge, but �have, in some instances, had the effect of deterring information sharing for homeland security purposes,� according to CRS [Congressional Research Service] (report # RL33494).