Pentagon Proposes New Info Access Restrictions

The Department of Defense has asked Congress to enact two expansive new provisions in the FY 2008 defense authorization act to help it restrict public access to information.

One of the provisions would create a new exemption to the Freedom of Information Act for certain unclassified information related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The other would establish civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized publication or sale of maps and images (“geodetic products”) that the Secretary of Defense has designated for “limited distribution.”

The proposed exemption for unclassified WMD information, which was proposed and rejected by Congress last year, is exceptionally broad in scope.

Its definition of “weapons of mass destruction” even extends to devices that are not lethal, as long as they may cause “serious bodily injury to a significant number of people” (50 U.S.C. 2302).

The Pentagon’s argument for the exemption is further undermined by the assertion that without it, unclassified information could “easily” assist a terrorist to make or use a weapon of mass destruction. The notion that terrorism is “easy,” popular with some New York Times op-ed writers and other lazy persons, was memorably dissected by George Smith of GlobalSecurity.org and the Dick Destiny blog.

The second provision to penalize “inappropriate disclosures” of geodetic information, “including postings of such products on the internet,” originated with the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), which said it could not effectively protect these unclassified maps and images without a new criminal prohibition.

“For several years, products bearing the LIMDIS [limited dissemination] caveat have wrongfully been offered for sale to the public … on eBay or displayed on internet sites. To date, DCIS efforts to prosecute the eBay sellers have not been successful.”

An organization that engaged in unauthorized disclosure or dissemination of such materials would be subject to a penalty of “not more than $500,000 for each violation….”

The text of the two proposed Pentagon access restrictions, with accompanying explanation and justification, may be found here.

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