The website of the NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS), a massive collection of aerospace-related records, was disabled in March due to congressional concerns that it had inadvertently disclosed export-controlled information. (“NASA Technical Reports Database Goes Dark,” Secrecy News, March 21; “Database Is Shut Down by NASA for a Review,” New York Times, March 22.)
The site is now active again, though hundreds of thousands of previously released documents have been withheld pending review.
Rather than conducting a focused search for actual export-controlled information and then removing it, as would have seemed appropriate, NASA blocked access to the entire collection. The agency acted under pressure from Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) of the House Appropriations Committee while it assessed the situation.
Now many of the NTRS records have been restored, including open literature publications, magazine articles, and other documents that were already in the public domain in any case. But hundreds of thousands of others still await a formal export control review to certify them for public release. The multi-phase process was described in a NASA email exchange that was released under the Freedom of Information Act.
An air of futility surrounds the whole exercise. Much of the NASA collection has been mirrored on foreign websites, wrote Keith Cowing of NASA Watch, while other withheld reports can be purchased in hardcopy on eBay.