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 organizationThe 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 U.S. Department of Defense 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 the 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 U.S. 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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