Sensitive But Unclassified and Other Federal Security Controls on Scientific and Technical Information: History and Current Controversy
CRS Report for Congress
“Sensitive But Unclassified” and Other
Federal Security Controls on Scientific
and Technical Information:
Background on the Controversy
Updated February 20, 2004
Genevieve J. Knezo
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
“Sensitive But Unclassified” and Other Federal Security
Controls on Scientific and Technical Information:
Background on the Controversy
The U.S. Government has always protected scientific and technical information
that might compromise national security. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, controls
have been widened on access to information and scientific components that could
threaten national security. The policy challenge is to balance science and security
without compromising national security, scientific progress, and constitutional and
statutory protections. This report summarizes (1) provisions of the Patent Law;
Atomic Energy Act; International Traffic in Arms Control regulations; the USA
PATRIOT Act, P.L. 107-56; the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism
Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, P.L. 107-188; and the Homeland Security
Act, P.L. 107-296, that permit governmental restrictions on either privately generated
or federally owned scientific and technical information that could harm national
security; (2) the evolution of federal concepts of “sensitive but unclassified” (SBU)
information; (3) controversies about pending Department of Homeland Security
guidance on federal SBU and “Sensitive Homeland Security Information” (SHSI);
and (4) policy options.
Even before the terrorist attacks of 2001, federal agencies used the label SBU
to safeguard from public disclosure information that does not meet standards for
classification in Executive Order 12958 or National Security Decision Directive 189.
New Executive Order 13292 might widen the scope of scientific and technological
information to be classified to deter terrorism. SBU has not been defined in statutory
law. When using the term, some agencies refer to definitions for controlled
information, such as “sensitive,” in the Computer Security Act, and to information
exempt from disclosure in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy
Act. The identification of information to be released pursuant to these laws may be
discretionary, subject to agency interpretation and risk analysis. The White House
and the Department of Justice recently widened the applicability of SBU.
Critics say the lack of a clear SBU definition complicates designing policies to
safeguard such information and that, if information needs to be safeguarded, it should
be classified. Others say that wider controls will deny access to information needed
for oversight and scientific communication. P.L. 107-296 required the President to
issue guidance on safeguarding SBU homeland security information, a function
assigned to the Department of Homeland Security Secretary in Executive Order
13311; action is pending. Issues of possible interest to Congress include designing
uniform concepts and procedures to share and safeguard SBU information;
standardizing penalties for unauthorized disclosure; designing an appeals process;
assessing the pros and cons of wider SBU controls; and evaluating the implications
of giving some research agency heads original classification authority. On February
20, 2004, DHS published a rule to protect voluntarily submitted critical infrastructure
information. Some professional groups are starting to limit publication of some
“sensitive” privately controlled scientific and technical information. Their actions
may be guided by federal policy. This report will not be updated.
In troduction ......................................................1
Federal Controls on Privately Generated Scientific and Technical Information..1
Patent Law Secrecy............................................1
The Atomic Energy Act and “Restricted Data”.......................2
Export Control Regulations for Scientific and Technical Information ........3
Summary of Policies Regarding Classification of Scientific and Technical
Research Results and Information.................................6
Executive Order 12958, on “Classified National Security Information,”
as Amended by Executive Order 13292........................6
National Security Decision Directive 189 (NSDD 189)................7
Controls on Information in the USA PATRIOT Act and in the Public Health
Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002.......9
“Sensitive But Unclassified” Information Restrictions....................10
Summary of the Evolution of Policies Relating to “Sensitive But
Telecommunications Protection Policy (PD/NSC-24).............11
National Security Decision Directive 145 (NSDD-145)...........11
The Computer Security Act of 1987 (P.L. 100-235)..............13
Computer Security in Relation to the Freedom of Information Act..14
Federal Agencies’ Various Definitions of “Sensitive But Unclassified” ..16
In troduction .............................................16
SBU in the State Department and U.S. Agency for
Defense Agencies’ Use of SBU..............................18
Department of Energy.....................................20
Other Agencies’ Definitions of SBU, Including the General
Services Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration,
and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration......21
Equivalence Between “Sensitive” and “Sensitive But Unclassified”
White House Policy for “Sensitive but Unclassified” Information
Related to Homeland Security, March 2002 ....................23
Agencies Instructed to Use FOIA Exemptions to Control
Disclosure of Information..............................24
Policies for Control of Unclassified Information in P.L. 107-296............27
In troduction .................................................27
Protection of Critical Infrastructure Information.....................28
“Sensitive But Unclassified” Homeland Security Information..........29
Federal Agency Implementation Actions.......................29
National Academies’ Policy.................................33
Professional Groups Views That Scientists Should Voluntarily
“Self-Regulate” Research and Publications.................36
Policy Issues About “Sensitive But Unclassified” Information..............38
In troduction .................................................38
Historical Controversy About “Sensitive But Unclassified”............39
Critiques of the White House (Card) Memorandum ..................41
Policy Options for “Sensitive But Unclassified” Information...............42
Considerations Related to a Uniform Definition of SBU..........42
Factors Agencies Might Use in Developing Nondisclosure Policy
for SBU Information..................................46
The Potential to Classify More Research Information.............48
Appeals Process for SBU Information.........................50
Determination of “Tiered” Access to SBU Information...........50
Appendix 1. History of Atomic Energy “Restricted Data” Controls.....52
Appendix 2. Foreign Affairs Manual on SBU Information............54
Appendix 3. Excerpts From ISOO/OIP Guidance, March 18, 2002......56
Sensitive But Unclassified Information and
Other Federal Security Controls on
Scientific and Technical Information:
Background on the Controversy
This report (1) summarizes provisions of several laws and regulations, including
the Patent Law, the Atomic Energy Act, International Traffic in Arms Control
regulations, the USA PATRIOT Act (P.L. 107-56), the Public Health Security and
Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-188), and the
Homeland Security Act (P.L. 107-296), that permit the federal government to restrict
disclosure of scientific and technical information that could harm national security;
(2) describes the development of federal controls on “sensitive but unclassified”
(SBU) scientific and technical information; (3) summarizes current controversies
about White House policy on “Sensitive But Unclassified Information,” and
“Sensitive Homeland Security Information” (SHSI) issued in March 2002; and (4)
identifies controversial issues which might affect the development of Office of
Management and Budget (OMB) and agency guidelines for sensitive unclassified
information, which were expected to be released during 2003.
Federal Controls on Privately Generated Scientific
and Technical Information
Several laws permit the federal government to classify privately-generated
scientific and technical information that could harm national security, even when it
is not held by federal agencies. These laws deal with patent law secrecy and atomic
energy restricted data.
Patent Law Secrecy
Pursuant to 35 U.S.C. 181-188, the U.S. Patent Commissioner has the right to
issue patent secrecy orders to prevent disclosure of information about an invention
if disclosure by granting of a patent would be detrimental to the national security.
This provision is applicable to a patent for which the “government has a property
interest” and those privately developed inventions which the government does not
own. Thus, if a federal government agency has a “property interest” in the invention,
the agency head will notify the Patent Commissioner, who is to withhold the
publication of the application or the granting of a patent. If the government does not
have a property interest in the patent and the Commissioner decides that the granting
of a patent or publication of an application would be detrimental to the national
security, the Patent Commissioner is required to provide the patent application in
question for inspection to the Atomic Energy Commission [now the Secretary of
Energy], the Secretary of Defense, or the heads of other relevant agencies. If the
agency head determines that publication or disclosure by the grant of patent is
detrimental to the national security, the Patent Commissioner shall order that the
invention be kept secret, and “shall withhold the grant of a patent ... for such period
as the national interest requires....” The owner of the application may appeal the
decision to the Secretary of Commerce. The invention may be kept secret for one
year, but the Commerce Secretary may renew the secrecy order for additional periods
as instructed by the agency head who initially determined the need for secrecy.1
If a secrecy order is issued during time of war, it shall remain in effect for the
duration of hostilities and for one year following cessation of hostilities. If a secrecy
order is issued during a national emergency, it shall remain in effect for the duration
of the emergency and six months thereafter. The order may be rescinded by the
Patent Commissioner upon written notification of the agency head who requested the
In addition, to prevent circumventing the law, a license must be obtained from
the Patent Commissioner before a U.S. inventor files for a foreign patent application
or registers a design or model with a foreign patent office. Penalties for violation of
the law include a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than
two years, or both. During FY2002, 4,792 secrecy orders were in effect on patents
applications; most of these were recommended by and issued to federal agencies for
their own government-owned technical information; 37 were issued to individual
The Atomic Energy Act and “Restricted Data”
Because of potential national security implications, nongovernmental scientists
who conducted atomic energy research and development at the beginning of World
War II took actions to keep such research secret, except for those with a need to
know it. Strict governmental security during the war kept this knowledge limited,
and after the war’s end, the U.S. Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act of 1946,3
which created the Atomic Energy Commission and established policies for securing
atomic energy-related information. Atomic energy laws, as administered first by the
Atomic Energy Commission and now the Department of Energy, allow the federal
government to limit access to all atomic energy-related information, which is
automatically “born classified” and is categorized upon creation as “restricted data,”
(RD), even if it is developed by private researchers outside of government. At first,
access to this information was allowed only for defense purposes. Subsequent
1 Source: Title 35, U.S.C. Secs. 181-188 (2000 ed.)
2 Steven Aftergood, “New Invention Secrecy Orders Reported,” Secrecy News, Jan. 6, 2003
referencing “Invention Secrecy Activity(as reported by the Patent & Trademark Office),”
also available online from the Federation of American Scientists website at
[ h t t p : / / www.f a s .or g/ s gp/ ot he r gov/ i n ve nt i on/ s t a t s .ht ml ] .
3 60 Stat. 755.
modifications in law, principally the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, permitted certain
non-governmental persons, such as industrialists and foreign governments, to obtain
permits to access such “restricted data,” for the purposes of peaceful commercial
development of atomic energy or international cooperative programs if they could
obtain the necessary security clearances.
“Restricted data,” or RD, is defined as “all data concerning (1) design,
manufacture, or utilization of atomic weapons; (2) the production of special nuclear
material; or (3) the use of special nuclear material in the production of energy, but
shall not include data declassified or removed from the Restricted data category
pursuant to section 142 [42 USC 2162].”4 Current penalties for violating the law
include imprisonment for “any term of years,” a fine of $100,000, or both.5 The
development and history of these controls were explained in a document prepared in
1989 by Arvin S. Quist, a classification officer at the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion
Plant, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is operated on contract for the
Department of Energy. Excerpts from this document are included in Appendix 1.
Export Control Regulations for Scientific and
Both the Export Administration Act (50 U.S.C. App. 2401-2420)6 and the Arms
Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2751-2794) provide authority to control the
dissemination to foreign nationals, both in the United States and abroad, of scientific
and technical data related to items requiring export licenses according to the Export
Administration Regulations (EAR) or the International Traffic in Arms Regulations
(ITAR). Both laws regulate export of technical data.7 ITAR control the release of
4 Source: Atomic Energy General Provisions, 42 USC 2014 (2002), Definitions.
5 42 USC 2274 to 42 USC 2277, (2002).
6 The Export Control Act has expired and the export control regulations are now operating
under provisions of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)pursuant
to Executive Order 13222, issued August 17, 2001. For additional information on the
reauthorization of the Export Administration Act of 1979, see CRS Report RL31780, Trade
and the 108th Congress: Major Legislative and Oversight Initiatives, coordinated by
7 EAR define technical data as: “Information of any kind that can be used, or adapted for use
in the design, production, manufacture, utilization, or reconstruction of articles or materials.
The data may take a tangible form, such as a model, prototype, blueprints, or an operating
model; or they may take an intangible form such as technical service” (15 CFR 772.1). The
Department of Commerce implements the EAR regulations. ITAR define technical data as:
“Information which is directly related to the design, engineering, development, production,
processing, manufacture, use, operation, overhaul, repair, maintenance, modification or
reconstruction of defense articles. This includes, for example, information in the form of
blueprints, drawings, photographs, plans, instructions, computer software and
documentation. This also includes information which advances the state of the art of articles
on the U.S. Munitions List. This does not include information concerning general scientific,
mathematical, or engineering principles” (22 CFR 120.10). The Department of State
defense articles specified on the U.S. Munitions List (22 CFR 121) and technical data
directly related to them. EAR, among other things, control the export of dual-use
items (items that have both civilian and military uses) on the [Department of]
Commerce Control List (15 CFR Part 774) and technical data related to them.
Licenses are needed to export controlled items. The implementing regulations are
administered by the Department of Commerce, which licenses items subject to EAR,
and by the Department of State, which licenses items subject to ITAR and the
Munitions List of items.8 They apply to “exporters” of both private and federally
funded scientific and technical information. Fundamental research is excluded from
ITAR and EAR.
ITAR generally treats the disclosure or transfer of technical data to a foreign
national, whether in the United States or abroad as an export.9 Some academic
researchers believe they need to be registered with the State Department to hold
conversations or meetings with foreigners in the United States about scientific
developments.10 According to ITAR regulations, publicly available scientific and
technical information and academic exchanges and information presented at scientific
meetings are not treated as controlled technical data.11 Nevertheless, there has been
considerable ambiguity and confusion regarding these provisions at some academic
institutions because of uncertainties about which research projects might not be
excluded because they use space or defense articles, technologies, and defense
services on the Munitions List which is used to identify technologies requiring export
implements the ITAR regulations.
8 See, for instance Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), Defending Secrets, Sharing
Data: New Locks and Keys for Electronic Information, OTA-CIT-310, 1987, p. 142 and the
“Corson” report, Scientific Communication and National Security, Committee on Science,
Engineering, and Public Policy, National Academy Press, 1982.
9 See 22 CFR 120.17 (4).
10 This registration requirement applies only under the ITAR; however see the exception in
11 22 CFR 120.10(a)(5), 120.11. See also: International Traffic in Arms Regulations:
Exemptions for U.S. Institutions of Higher Learning, 22 CFR Parts 123 and 125, Federal
Register, Mar. 29, 2002, v. 67, no. 61, pp. 15099-15011. “Most notably, 22 CFR
122.1(b)(4) specifically exempts from the registration requirements of the ITAR ‘persons
who engage only in the fabrication of articles for experimental or scientific purpose,
including research and development.’ Further, specifically exempted from the definition of
technical data is ‘information concerning general scientific, mathematical or engineering
principles commonly taught in schools, colleges, and universities,’ 22 CFR 120.10(a)(5),
and information that is in the ‘public domain’ if published and generally available and
accessible to the public through, for example, sales at newsstands and bookstores,
subscriptions, second class mail, and libraries open to the public, 22 CFR 120.11.
Information is also in the public domain if it is made generally available to the public
‘through unlimited distribution at a conference, meeting, seminar, trade show or exhibition,
generally accessible to the public in the United States’ or ‘through fundamental research in
science and engineering at accredited institutions of higher learning in the U.S., where the
resulting information is ordinarily published and shared broadly in the scientific
community.’ 22 CFR 120.11(6), (8).”
licensing.12 The Export Administration regulations also categorize as “deemed”
exports communications to foreign nationals about technologies characterized as
“sensitive” or countries identified as “sensitive” under EAR rules.13 This is
declaimed by some as a hindrance to international science and supported by others
who view it as a needed national security protection.14
Since 1999, export of information about satellites and spacecraft instruments,
including technical discussions about them, has been under the jurisdiction of the
State Department and ITAR. Some academic researchers have complained that these
rules curtailed their presentations at meetings, their on-campus research, and
international collaborations because “research activity that once was subject to the
fundamental research exclusion under National Security Directive 189, [See the next
section for details] was, for the first time, formally regulated ....”15 Reportedly, some
foreign researchers at U.S. universities had not been able to access this information
and U.S. researchers believed they needed a license to discuss defense-related basic
research information with foreign colleagues. Universities sought clarifying rules.
Under a new rule issued in March 2002, the State Department clarified language
exempting U.S. universities from obtaining ITAR licenses for export of certain16
space-based fundamental research information or articles in the public domain to
certain universities and research centers in countries that are members of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union, or the European Space
Agency, or to major non-NATO allies, such as Japan and Israel. Also to be permitted
are exports of certain services and unclassified technical data for assembly of
products into scientific, research, or experimental satellites. The exemption does not
permit export of technical data for the integration of a satellite or spacecraft to a
launch vehicle or Missile Technology Control Regime controlled defense services
or technical data. A license will be needed for export of exempted information
(including discussions) and hardware to researchers from all other countries. In
addition, collaborators in approved countries would have to guarantee that
12 Eugene B. Skolnikoff, “Research Universities and National Security: Can Traditional
Values Survive?,” Branscomb Lecture, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard
University, Dec. 17, 2001, passim.
13 15 CFR 734.2(b).
14 John J. Hamre, “Science and Security at Risk,” Issues in Science and Technology Online,
Summer 2002. According to Section 734.2 of the Export Administration Regulations, any
release to a foreign national of technology or software subject to the regulations is deemed
to be an export to the home country of the foreign national. These exports are commonly
referred to as “deemed exports,” and may involve the transfer of sensitive technology to
foreign visitors or workers at U.S. research laboratories and private companies. Available
15 Association of American Universities, “ITAR and Universities: Universities Are
Educational Institutions, Not Munitions Manufacturers,” 2002 [http://www.aau.edu].
16 Covered under category XV(a) or (e) of the U.S. Munitions List. These articles deal with
spacecraft and associated data. (See 22 CFR Parts 123 and 125.)
researchers from non-approved countries were not receiving restricted information.17
Some university researchers maintain that these rules do not go far enough in
clarifying the situation and that academic researchers will find it difficult to design
and implement campus controls and to bloc access to such information by students
and scientists from disallowed countries.18
Summary of Policies Regarding Classification of
Scientific and Technical Research Results and
Several laws and directives govern classification of federally owned or federally
funded scientific and technical research results or information. These are Executive
Order (E.O.) 12958, National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 189, and rules
related to pre-publication review.
Executive Order 12958, on “Classified National Security
Information,” as Amended by Executive Order 13292
Federal policy allows classification of federal information at three levels, “top
secret,” “secret,” and “confidential.” Until March 25, 2003, the most recent version19
of this policy was in Executive Order 12958, released on April 17, 1995. It
permitted classification of “scientific, technological, or economic matters relating to
the national security” (Sec. 1.5). But Section 1.8 (b) prohibited classification of
“basic scientific research information not related to the national security.” On March
25, 2003, the President issued a new Executive Order 13292 on classification, which
amended Executive Order 12958. It changed section 1.5 by adding a new clause,
permitting classification of “scientific, technological, or economic matters relating
17 “International Traffic in Arms Regulations; Exemptions for U.S. Institutions of Higher
Education,” Re: Department of State 22 CFR Parts 123 and 125 [Public Notice 3954],
Federal Register, Mar. 29, 2002, pp. 15099-15101.
18 Lawler, Andrew, “U.S. Export Controls: Rules Eased on Satellite Projects,” Science, Apr.
12, 2002, pp. 237-238 and Gary G. Yerkey, “Export Controls: U.S. to Lower Restrictions
on Trade in Products for Space-Based Research,” Daily Report for Executives, Apr. 1. 2002,
19 “Executive Order 12958, Classified National Security Information,” Apr. 17, 1995. “Sec.
1.3. Classification Levels. ... (1) “Top Secret” shall be applied to information, the
unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave
damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify
or describe. (2) “Secret” shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of
which reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security that
the original classification authority is able to identify or describe. (3) “Confidential” shall
be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be
expected to cause damage to the national security that the original classification authority
is able to identify or describe. (b) Except as otherwise provided by statute, no other terms
shall be used to identify United States classified information” (Federal Register, 60 FR
to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism”
(Sec. 1.4 (e) of Executive Order 13292).20 The amendment also added a new
category of information which may be classified, that is information that concerns
“weapons of mass destruction” (Sec. 1.4 (h)). The exemption for basic scientific
research not clearly related to national security remains (renumbered section 1.7).
National Security Decision Directive 189 (NSDD 189)
The policy embodied in Executive Order 12958 reflected prior policy expressed
in National Security Decision Directive 189, NSDD 189, issued on September 21,
1985,21 during the Reagan Administration. It says if federally funded basic scientific
and technical information produced at colleges, universities and laboratories is to be
controlled for national security reasons, it should be classified. But fundamental
research findings generally are not to be restricted. Specifically, NSDD 189 states:
... to the maximum extent possible, the products of fundamental research22
remain unrestricted. It is also the policy of this Administration that, where the
national security requires control, the mechanism for control of information
generated during Federally funded fundamental research in science, technology,
and engineering at colleges, universities, and laboratories is classification.
NSDD 189 made agencies sponsoring research responsible for determining,
before the award of a research contract or grant, whether classification is appropriate
and for periodically reviewing grants and contracts for potential classification.23 It
also said that “No restriction may be placed on the conduct or reporting of Federally
funded fundamental research that has not received national security classification,
except as provided in applicable U.S. statutes.” NSDD 189 is still in effect, as stated
in a letter issued by National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice on November 1,
The federal government exercises “pre-publication review” of some privately
published scientific and technical information by current and former employees and
contractors who worked for federal agencies and who had access to classified
20 (Emphasis added.) The White House, “Executive Order 13292, Further Amendment to
Executive Order 12958, as Amended, Classified National Security Information,” March 25,
21 See [http://www.aau.edu/research/ITAR-NSDD189.html].
22 NSDD 189 defines “Fundamental research” as “basic and applied research in science and
engineering, the results of which ordinarily are published and shared broadly within the
scientific community, as distinguished from proprietary research and from industrial
development, design, production, and product utilization, the results of which ordinarily are
restricted for proprietary or national security reasons.”
23 See OTA, Defending Secrets, Sharing Data: New Locks and Keys for Electronic
Information, OTA-CIT-310, 1987, p. 143.
24 See the letter at [http://www.fas.org/sgp/bush/cr110101.html].
information. For instance, the US Department of Agriculture issued the following
guidance to employees regarding pre-publication review:
In order to protect against the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,
you are required to submit for security review any material intended for public
release that might be based in any way on information you learned through your
access to classified information. This requirement covers all written materials,
including technical papers, books, articles, and manuscripts. It also includes
lectures, speeches, films, videotapes. It includes works of fiction as well as25
Pre-publication review controls for research and development information may
be written into federal government contracts. Typically the Defense Department
(DoD) includes “pre-publication review” clauses in government contracts for
extramural research that allow DoD to review research generated extramurally with26
federal support before it is published. These controls are used if classified
information was used in research or when the government seeks to prohibit release
of information deemed sensitive because of the way it is aggregated.
An agreement was initiated in 1980 with the American Council on Education
for all academic cryptography research to be submitted on a voluntary basis for pre-27
publication review to the federal government’s National Security Agency. Related
to this, the U.S. Government may enter into contracts to purchase exclusive rights to
commercial satellite imagery and has the ability to stop the collection and
dissemination of commercial satellite imagery for national security reasons.28
In February 2002, DoD released a draft report, Mandatory Procedures for
Research and Technology Protection Within the DOD, which would have required
researchers to obtain DoD approval to discuss or publish findings of all military-
sponsored unclassified research, a departure from existing policy guidelines. After
25 Source: [http://www.usda.gov/da/pdsd/Security%20Guide/S4self/Prepub.htm].
26 See “Pre-publication Review of Web Site Content,” available online at
[ h t t p : / / www.i war .or g.uk/ ecoespi onage / r e s o u r ces/ s ecur i t y-gui de/ S2uncl a s/ Websi t e .ht m#P
re-Publication], citing “Web Site Administration Policies and Procedures,” Nov. 25, 1998,
Office of the Assistant Secrecy of Defense (C3I).
27 Appendix E, in Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, Cryptography’s Role
in Securing the Information Society, National Academy of Sciences, 1996. The latest
available commentary on this agreement dated 1996, indicates little or no negative impact
on publication of cryptography research. For additional information, see: Chap. 5, in Codes,
Keys and Conflicts: Issues in U.S. Crypto Policy, Report of a Special Panel of the
Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., U.S. Public Policy Committee (USACM) June
28 James Randerson, New Scientist Online News, Oct. 17, 2001. See also Jessica Altschul,
“Commercial Spy Satellites Pose a Challenge to Pentagon Planners,” JINSA Jewish Institute
for National Security Affairs, Feb. 28, 2002. U.S. Government controls appear to be
authorized by Presidential Decision Directive 23 (PDD-23), Foreign Access To Remote
Sensing Space Capabilities, Mar. 10, 1994. See also CRS Report RL31218 Commercial
Remote Sensing by Satellite: Status and Issues.
academic objections, the draft was withdrawn; a revised and clearer set of new
regulations was planned.29
Controls on Information in the USA PATRIOT Act
and in the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism
Preparedness and Response Act of 2002
Before the 2001 terrorist attacks, U.S. laboratories that transported “select
agents,” that is, about 40 dangerous biological agents and toxins, had to register with
the federal government (42 CFR 72.6). Pursuant to the USA PATRIOT Act, P.L. 107-
56 and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act
of 2002, P.L. 107-188, and the Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002,
(which is part of P.L. 107-56), limits were placed on public access was extended to
an additional 60 select agents, defined as “certain biological agents and toxins,”30
whose misuse could pose security risks. Registration requirements were extended
to include registration of persons who used these agents. To prohibit potential
terrorists from access to these agents, controls were placed on access by selected
persons, including those who could be potential terrorists, including criminals, illegal
aliens, persons with mental defects, and or drug abusers; aliens not admitted for
permanent residence from certain countries “which the Secretary of State has made
a determination (that remains in effect) that such country has repeatedly provided
support for acts of international terrorism,”31 or persons who have been dishonorably
discharged from the Armed Services. These controls will be administered by the
Pursuant to these laws, the Departments of Health and Human Services and of
Agriculture, identified the new list of “select agents,” which was released in the
Federal Register on December 13, 2002.33 Under the interim final rule, which was
29 Ron Southwick, “Pentagon Backs Away From Strict Controls on Basic Research,”
Chronicle of Higher Education, May 31, 2002; interview with staff of International Security
Programs, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Policy Support), April 2003.
30 “Possession, Use, and Transfer of Select Agents and Toxins; Interim Final Rule,” Federal
Register, Dec. 13, 2002 (Vol. 67, No. 240), pp. 76885-76905.
31 “Possession, Use, and Transfer of Select Agents and Toxins; Interim Final Rule,” Dec.
32 See CRS Report RL31263, Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and
Response Act (P.L. 107-188): Provisions and Changes to Preexisting Law.
33 The list of agents published in the Federal Register, “Possession, Use, and Transfer of
Select Agents and Toxins; Interim Final Rule,” Dec. 13, 2002, op. cit. is available at
[http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/2002/12/hhs121302.html]. The Center for Disease Control
and Prevention’s (CDC) fact sheet is at [http://www.cdc.gov/od/sap/docs/faq.pdf].
amended on November 3, 2003,34 the laboratories that use such agents will need to
register and control access to such agents; scientists will have to register, submit to
background checks, and obtain prior approval to use, send, or receive select agents
used in experiments. Some say this process, while denying access to possible
terrorists, might prove costly and burdensome to some researchers (estimated in an
article by Malakoff at $700,000 per laboratory)35 and has the potential of limiting the
conduct of some scientific research that would otherwise be performed by such
persons, including some foreign researchers. In addition, privately funded scientists
will be subject to the same requirements as government-funded researchers who need
“prior approval from the DHHS ... for genetic engineering experiments that might
make a select agent more toxic or more resistant to known drugs.”36 Civilian and
criminal penalties for noncompliance apply to universities, private companies and
government laboratories. Laboratories that handle select agents were to be in
compliance with the new rules by fall 2003.
“Sensitive But Unclassified”
Over time some agencies have established procedures to identify and safeguard
“sensitive but unclassified information” (SBU), also called “sensitive unclassified
information.” Generally, this unclassified information is withheld from the public
for a variety of reasons, but needs to be accessible to federal agency personnel. As
will be discussed next in this report, the term SBU has been defined in various
presidential-level directives and agency guidances, but, some critics say, only
indirectly in statute. Agencies have given the term various meanings in their
implementing rules and regulations. Some agency guidance documents have started
to use interchangeably the terms “for official use only,” “limited use,” “sensitive,”
“sensitive but unclassified,” and related terms, and have defined SBU by referring to
such statutes as Privacy Act of 1974 (5 USC 552a),37 the Freedom of Information Act
(FOIA) of 1966 (5 USC 552 ), the Computer Security Act of 1987 (relevant portions
codified at 15 USC 278 g-3), and other language. Agencies have discretion to define
SBU in ways that serve their particular needs to safeguard information. There is no
uniformity in implementing rules throughout the government on the use of SBU.
Agencies also may assign various criminal and civilian penalties to improper release
of “sensitive but unclassified” information.
34 “Possession, Use, and Transfer of Select Agents and Toxins; Interim Final Rule and
Request for Comments,” Federal Register, Nov. 3, 2003 (Vol. 68, No. 212) pp. 62245-
35 David Malakoff, “New U.S. Rules Set the Stage for Tighter Security, Oversight,” Science,
Dec. 20, 2002, p. 2304.
36 Malakoff, Dec. 20, 2002, op. cit.
37 P.L. 93-579, which prohibits the release of individual personal information held by the
federal government pertaining, but not limited to “education, financial transactions, medical
history, and criminal or employment history and that contains his name, or the identifying
number, symbol, or other identifying particular assigned to the individual, such as a finger
or voice print or a photograph.”
Summary of the Evolution of Policies Relating to “Sensitive
But Unclassified” Information
Official definitions of SBU were issued as early as 1977 and over the years
Telecommunications Protection Policy (PD/NSC-24). In 1977, in one
of the earliest references to SBU, a Presidential Directive on Telecommunications
Protection Policy (PD/NSC-24) mandated protection of unclassified, but sensitive
communications “that could be useful to an adversary.” It did not define the term
National Security Decision Directive 145 (NSDD-145). In 1984,
National Security Decision Directive 145 (NSDD-145) directed that “sensitive, but
unclassified, government or government-derived information, the loss of which could
adversely affect the national security interest ...” should be “protected in proportion
to the threat of exploitation and the associated potential damage to the national
security.” NSDD-145 did not define the term, “sensitive, but unclassified,” but
explained that even unclassified information in the aggregate can “reveal highly
classified and other sensitive information ...” harmful to the national security39
The absence of a precise definition was widely criticized, especially by the
General Accounting Office (GAO)40 because of concern that the 1984 definition of
38 Presidential Directive/National Security Council-24 (PD/NSC-24), signed by President
Jimmy Carter in 1977, has been partially unclassified. “PD/NSC-24 directed Federal
department heads to protect unclassified, but sensitive communications, and it assigned
responsibility to DoD for the security of classified communications and for unclassified, but
sensitive communications related to national security” (OTA, Defending Secrets...., p.137).
39 National Security Decision Directive (NSDD-145), on “National Policy on
Telecommunications and Automated Information Systems Security,” Sept. 17, 1984,
essentially replaced PD/NSC-24. It was developed by DoD and it “authorized the Director
of the National Security Agency to review and approve all security-related standards for
information systems, including those set by the National Institute of Standards and
Technology in the Department of Commerce. (U.S. General Accounting Office,
Communications Privacy: Federal Policy and Actions,” Report to the Honorable Jack
Brooks, Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives,” Nov. 1993,
GAO/OSI-94-2, p. 15.) It also established policy and an interagency organizational structure
to guide the conduct of national activities to safeguard systems that process, store, or
communicate sensitive information. The interagency structure, headed by the presidential
advisor for National Security Affairs, included not only defense and intelligence agencies,
but some civilian agencies. Its responsibilities were to implement information classification
policies and to develop computer security protections for information security.
40 In congressional testimony in 1985, GAO complained that this directive could possibly
give national security agencies control of the management systems of civilian agencies and
private commercial interests “... because it established a new category of ‘sensitive,
unclassified government or government-derived information, the loss of which could
adversely affect the national security interest....’ without clearly defining the types of
SBU could include national security-related as well as possibly innocuous
information needed to make policy. For instance, a GAO witness testified, “...
unclassified sensitive civil agency information affecting national security interests
could include hazardous materials information held by the Department of
Transportation, flight safety information held by the Federal Aviation
Administration, and monetary policy information held by the Federal Reserve.” He
recommended that the Administration “needs to clearly define the types of
information that fall under the coverage of NSDD-145.”41
National Policy on Protection of Sensitive, but Unclassified Information in
Federal Government Telecommunications and Automated Information Systems,
NTISSP No. 2 On October 29, 1986, President Reagan’s National Security Advisor,
John Poindexter,42 issued a document, entitled National Policy on Protection of
Sensitive, but Unclassified Information in Federal Government Telecommunications
and Automated Information Systems, NTISSP No. 2, that widened the rationale for
safeguarding “sensitive, but unclassified” information for reasons of national
security, as in NSDD-145, to include also “other government interests.” Specifically,
Sensitive, but unclassified information is information the disclosure, loss,
misuse, alteration or destruction of which could adversely affect national security
or other Federal Government interests. National security interests are those
unclassified matters that relate to the national defense or the foreign relations of
the U.S. Government. Other government interests are those related, but not
limited to the wide range of government or government-derived economic,
human, financial, industrial, agricultural, technological, and law enforcement
information, as well as the privacy or confidentiality of personal or commercial
proprietary information provided to the U.S. Government by its citizens.
information in this category.”(GAO/OSI-94-2, p. 15.) Except for activities mandated by it
and by Presidential Directive-24 (issued by President Carter in 1977) pertaining to
telecommunications information protection activities, NSDD-145 was rescinded by National
Security Directive 42 (National Policy for the Security of National Security
Telecommunications and Information Systems), July 5, 1990. (Kenneth W. Dam and
Herbert S. Lin, eds., Cryptography’s Role in Security the Information Society, National
Academy of Sciences, 1996. Full text of NSDD-145 is available from the American
Federation of Scientists at [http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/nsdd145.htm].
41 “The Potential Impact of National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 145 on Civil
Agencies,” Warren G. Reed, GAO, before the Subcommittee on Transportation, Aviation,
and Materials, Committee on Science and Technology, June 17, 1985.
42 Currently head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Total Information
Awareness research program. See: Shane Harris, “Senate Moves to Block Pentagons Anti-
terror Data Mining Effort,” GovExec.com. Jan. 24, 2003. On the TIA program, see CRS
Report RL31730, Privacy: Total Information Awareness Programs and Related Information
Access, Collection, and Protection Laws.
This policy was to be applicable to all federal executive departments and
agencies, including their contractors, which electronically transferred, stored,
processed, or communicated sensitive, but unclassified information.43
During 1986-1987, criticisms about NTISSP No. 2 focused on both the scope
of information to be restricted and the responsibility given to the intelligence
community over civilian information activities. These led to the withdrawal of both
NTISSP No. 2 in 1987 (attendant to passage of the Computer Security Act of 1987)
and to official use of this definition of “sensitive, but unclassified.”44 (However, as
will be noted below, some agencies, notably the Department of Energy, still use this
broad conceptualization of SBU.)
The Computer Security Act of 1987 (P.L. 100-235). In the Computer
Security Act of 1987 (P.L. 100-235, 101 Stat. 1724-1730), 40 USC 1441, Congress
declared: “... improving the security and privacy of sensitive information in Federal
computer systems is in the public interest, and hereby creates a means for
establishing minimum acceptable security practices for such systems, without
limiting the scope of security measures already planned or in use” (Section 2,
Purpose). The law authorized creation of a computer standards program within the
National Bureau of Standards, now called the National Institute of Standards and
Technology (NIST)), actions to enhance Government-wide computer security, and
training in security matters for persons who are involved in the management,
operation, and use of Federal computer systems.
P.L. 100-235 also addressed some of the criticisms raised about NTISSP No. 2.
It defined the term “sensitive” as
any information, the loss, misuse, or unauthorized access to or modification of
which could adversely affect the national interest or the conduct of Federal
programs, or the privacy to which individuals are entitled under section 552a of
title 5, United States Code (the Privacy Act), but which has not been specifically
authorized under criteria established by an Executive order or an Act of Congress
to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy” (Section 3).
The last clause of this definition specifically limited the definition of “sensitive”
to information that was not classified. Agencies were given discretion to identify
information that was sensitive and risks accompanying release of it. The report
accompanying the bill said that each individual federal agency should make a
43 Appendix B. “National Policy on Protection of Sensitive, but Unclassified Information
in Federal Government Telecommunications and Automated Information Systems, National
Telecommunications and Information Systems Security Policy, “NTISSP No. 2, Oct. 29,
44 This occurred after congressional hearings in February and March 1987 following
negotiations between executive branch officials and Members of Congress and committees
having jurisdiction over H.R. 145, a bill which became the Computer Security Act of 1987,
P.L. 100-235. Subsequently “the National Security Council initiated a review of NSDD-145
aimed at reducing or eliminating its operational role” and the civilian agency participation
in the NTISSC was expanded (Defending Secrets..., pp. 144, 148).
determination of which unclassified information in its systems was sensitive in
accord with the definition of sensitive in the law and the purposes of the law.45
Federal agencies were given responsibility for developing plans “commensurate with
the risk and magnitude of the harm resulting from the loss, misuse, or unauthorized
access to or modification of the information being protected,” and are responsible for
protecting such “sensitive” information.46
In 1992 the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued
guidance about agency implementation of systems to protect sensitive information
pursuant to P.L. 100-235. It reiterated that,
Interpretation of the Computer Security Act’s definition of sensitive is,
ultimately, an agency responsibility. Typically, protecting sensitive information
means providing for one or more of the following: Confidentiality: disclosure of
the information must be restricted to designated parties; Integrity: The
information must be protected from errors or unauthorized modification;
Availability: The information must be available within some given time frame
(i.e., protected against destruction).”47
The NIST document urged agency information owners to “use a risk-based approach
to determine” harm of inadequate protection of information. In defining this
discretionary process, it emphasized,
Information ‘owners,’ not system operators, should determine what protection
their information requires. The type and amount of protection needed depends
on the nature of the information and the environment in which it is processed.
The controls to be used will depend on the risk and magnitude of the harm
resulting from the loss, misuse, or unauthorized access to or modification of the48
information contained in the system.
Because P.L. 100-235 applied to “sensitive” information that is not classified,
some say, in effect, it defined “sensitive but unclassified.”
Computer Security in Relation to the Freedom of Information Act.
The Freedom of Information Act of 1966 (FOIA) was enacted to ensure public access
to certain types of information held by federal agencies. However, it permits
agencies to exempt from public disclosure nine types of information:
45 Section 6 of P.L. 100-235 and Section on “Training,” in U.S. Congress, House,
Committee on Science and Technology, Computer Security Act of 1987, Report to
Accompany H.R. 145, June 11, 1987.
46 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Science and Technology, Computer Security Act of
47 CSL Bulletin: “Advising Users on Computer System Technology,” Nov. 1992
[http://nsi.org/Library/Compsec/sensitiv.txt]. (Emphasis added.) This is published by NIST.
48 CSL Bulletin: “Advising Users on Computer System Technology,” Nov. 1992.
(1) information classified in the interest of national defense or foreign
(2) internal personnel rules and practices of an agency,
(3)information specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,
(4) trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a
person and privileged or confidential,
(5) inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters reflecting
(6) personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which
would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,
(7) specified types of law enforcement records or information,
(8) financial institution regulation or supervision reports, and49
(9) geological and geophysical information and data concerning wells.
As noted above, the definition of “sensitive” in the Computer Security Act cited
three reasons to categorize non-classified information as sensitive: adverse effects on
the national interest, adverse effects on the conduct of federal programs, and privacy.
It included explicit provisions saying it was not authority to withhold information
sought pursuant to “section 552 of title 5, United States Code [the Freedom of
Information Act]....”50 This was reiterated in 1992 when the National Institute of
Standards and Technology issued guidance about agency implementation of systems
to protect sensitive information pursuant to P.L. 100-235.51 Neither the Computer
Security Act nor the accompanying report indicated that information exempt from
FOIA was to be designated as “sensitive.” Also, the report accompanying the
legislation said specifically, “The designation of information as sensitive [or as
subject to protection] under the Computer Security Act is not a determination that the
information is not subject to public disclosure.”52
However, major federal agencies started to apply the label SBU to information
defined as “sensitive” in the Computer Security Act and to information exempt from
disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (especially as governed by
provisions 2 and 4). In fact, some agencies have declared that these acts define SBU,
a statement which is open to debate.
49 Source: 5 USC 552.
50 According to “Sec. 8. Rules of Construction of Act. Nothing in this Act, or in any
amendment made by this Act, shall be construed — (1) to constitute authority to withhold
information sought pursuant to section 552 of title 5, United States Code; or (2) to authorize
any Federal agency to limit, restrict, regulate, or control the collection, maintenance,
disclosure, use, transfer, or sale of any information (regardless of the medium in which the
information may be maintained) that is — (A) privately-owned information; (B) disclosable
under section 552 of title 5, United States Code, or other law requiring or authorizing the
public disclosure of information; or (C) public domain information.”
51 The guidance said: “The Computer Security Act did not alter the Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA); therefore, an agency’s determination of sensitivity under this definition does
not change the status of releaseability under the FOIA.” (CSL Bulletin: “Advising Users
on Computer system Technology,” Nov. 1992 [http://nsi.org/Library/Compsec/sensitiv.txt].
52 H.Rept. 100-153, Part I, June 11, 1987.
Federal Agencies’ Various Definitions of “Sensitive But
Introduction. Even before the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and actions
taken by the White House during 2001 and 2002 to safeguard “sensitive but
unclassified” information, federal agencies had implemented a variety of procedures
to safeguard information. While they have used classification categories to withhold
information classified pursuant to Executive Order 12958, they also use a variety of
administrative control markings and procedures to control access to unclassified
information to which public access is restricted, such as privacy data, law
enforcement information, health information, and information exempt from
disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and “sensitive”
information. According to a report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing
Government Secrecy, 1997, “... at least 52 different protective markings [are] being
used on unclassified information, approximately 40 of which are used by departments
and agencies that also classify information. Included among these are widely-used
markings such as ‘Sensitive But Unclassified,’ ‘Limited Official Use,’ ‘Official Use
Only,’ and ‘For Official Use Only.’ ”53 Other notable categories are Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) sensitive information, and DoD Unclassified
Controlled Nuclear Information.54
There is no uniformity in Federal agency definitions, or rules to implement
safeguards for “sensitive but unclassified” information. Over time the term
“sensitive but unclassified” has come to be used to encompass information subject
to control pursuant to the Computer Security Act, as well as information determined
to be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 USC 552.
This is further complicated by the fact that, as noted above, agencies were given
discretion under the Computer Security Act of 1987 to do risk analysis to identify
information to be safeguarded as sensitive. In addition , as will be described below,
since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the Bush Administration has given agencies
discretion to make nondisclosure decisions under FOIA in relation to homeland
security and the thwarting of terrorist attacks.
SBU in the State Department and U.S. Agency for International
Development. In its Foreign Affairs Manual, issued on October 1, 1995, the
Department of State said it would stop using the designation “limited official use,”
(LOU), which it had applied to information exempt from FOIA disclosure, and in its
place would use the term “sensitive but unclassified” (SBU).55 This appears to have
been one of the earliest instances of an agency declaring that SBU applies to
53 Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, 1997, Senate
Document 105-2 (1997), Chap. II, Section on “Protecting Other Government Information,”
available online from the FAS website at [http://www.fas.org/sgp/library/moynihan/
chap2.html]. This is also called the Moynihan Commission Report on Government Secrecy.
54 See [http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/dod/5200-1r/appendix_c.htm].
55 Foreign Affairs Manual: SBU Information, available online from the Department of State
information exempt from disclosure under the Privacy Act as well as under the
Freedom of Information Act:
a. SBU describes information which warrants a degree of protection and
administrative control that meets the criteria for exemption from public
disclosure set forth under Sections 552 and 552a of Title 5, United States Code:
the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act. (12 FAM 540, Sensitive but
Unclassified Information (SBU), (TL: DS-61; 10-01-1999) 12 FAM 541 SCOPE,
(TL: DS-46; 05-26-1995).
The State Department declared that,
b. SBU information includes, but is not limited to:
(1) Medical, personnel, financial, investigatory, visa, law enforcement, or other
information which, if released, could result in harm or unfair treatment to any
individual or group, or could have a negative impact upon foreign policy or
relations; and (2) Information offered under conditions of confidentiality which
arises in the course of a deliberative process (or a civil discovery process),
including attorney-client privilege or work product, and information arising from
the advice and counsel of subordinates to policy makers. (12 FAM 540, Sensitive
but Unclassified Information (SBU), (TL: DS-61; 10-01-1999) 12 FAM 541
SCOPE, (TL: DS-46; 05-26-1995).
In an explanatory telegram sent to U.S. embassies, the department explained
why it would use the SBU category instead of the LOU category and it declared that
SBU covered information exempt from FOIA. It said, “Sensitive but unclassified is
not a classification level for national security information, but is used when it’s
necessary to provide a degree of protection from unauthorized disclosure for56
unclassified information as set forth in 12 FAM 540.” It explained that it would use
the category of SBU for two reasons: “... to keep classified material to a minimum
and to be able to pass-on relevant, but sensitive information to individuals (including
FSNS [Foreign Service National staff]) on a need to know bases (sic).”57 Public
access to “sensitive but unclassified” information would be limited to those with a
need to know and would be subject to provisions which govern disclosure and
exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act; unauthorized
56 “Dept. of State Telegram, to All Diplomatic and Consular Posts US Office Pristina
Special Embassy Program Executive Order 12958: N/a Tags: Acoa Subject: Guidance for
Drafting SBU,” Telegram Ref: 95 State 232445, (Source: Federation of American Scientists
57 “Dept. of State Telegram, to All Diplomatic and Consular Posts US Office Pristina
Special Embassy Program Executive Order 12958: N/a Tags: Acoa Subject: Guidance for
Drafting SBU,” Telegram Ref: 95 State 232445, (Source:
[http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/2000/02/sbu.html]). It described this designation as an
“administrative control marking” to protect “documents that do not contain national security
information but must be protected from disclosure. This control designation must appear
at the top and bottom of any cover, title page, first page, and last page of the document.”
FAH-1-H-135, Administrative Control Marking,” in U.S. Department of State, Foreign
Affairs Handbook, Correspondence, p. 3 of 3.
disclosure would be subject to criminal penalties, including “criminal and/or civil
penalties. Supervisors may take disciplinary action, as appropriate.”58
In 1995, the U.S. Agency for International Development equated “sensitive”
with “sensitive but unclassified” and linked procedures needed to protect “sensitive
but unclassified” to protections required by FOIA and the Computer Security Act.59
Defense Agencies’ Use of SBU. DoD’s guidance for “controlled
unclassified information,” issued in 1997, stated that “For Official Use Only
(FOUO)” designations should be used for unclassified information that should be
protected, that this includes “information that may be exempt from mandatory release
to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)” and “sensitive but
unclassified” information that the Department of State formerly designated as
Limited Official Use (which meets the criteria for exemption from mandatory public
disclosure under FOIA), and “there must be a legitimate Government purpose served
58 “12 FAM 545, Responsibilities,” U.S. Department of State, Foreign Affairs Handbook,
p. 2 of 2.
59 The U.S. Agency for International Development issued a general notice on November 9,
1995, subsequently reprinted in 1997 as “USAID/General Notice M/IRM, 2/3/97,” which
said, “... AID ... has adopted the term “sensitive but unclassified (SBU)”.... [T]he term
“SBU” supersedes the terms “sensitive data” or “sensitive information.”[A]lways considered
SBU information is “procurement source evaluation and source selection, company
proprietary, investigative, restricted scientific/technical information, and travel plans of
USAID employees to or through a high or critical terrorist threat environment. The
following categories of information are considered potential SBU information: legal,
financial, budget projections, medical, contractual, procurement, intellectual property,
agency-critical or foreign government. Each creator or handler of potential SBU information
must make the sensitive/non-sensitive determination on a case-by-case basis.” Disclosure
of such information was authorized “on a clearly demonstrated need to know or need to use”
basis. If the information were transmitted electronically, it would have to be encrypted and
staff were warned that “ ... unauthorized disclosure of SBU information may result in
criminal and/or civil penalties.” The document also listed the nine exemptions permitted
by FOIA and emphasized that “... section (3) of the FOIA has been interpreted to include
statutes such as the Computer Security Act of 1987....” Information owners who choose to
exempt their information for very specific reasons from public disclosure under a FOIA
request are required by the SBU policy to consider their exempted data SBU information
and protect it accordingly.” ([http://csrc.nist.gov/fasp/FASPDocs/systemsec-plan/
USAIDSecurityPlanBSPT 5.htm] .)
by withholding it.”60 This same DoD directive limited dissemination of information
labeled “for official use only” including “sensitive but unclassified” information to:
... within the DoD Components and between officials of the DoD Components
and DoD contractors, consultants, and grantees as necessary in the conduct of
official business. FOUO information may also be released to officials in other
Departments and Agencies of the Executive and Judicial Branches in
performance of a valid Government function. (Special restrictions may apply to
information covered by the Privacy Act.) Release of FOUO information to
Members of Congress is covered by DoD Directive 5400.4, and to the General61
Accounting Office by DoD Directive 7650.1.”
According to the U.S. Army, citing DoD Regulation 5200.1 and Army
Regulation 25-55, SBU information is information exempted from disclosure under
FOIA. Also, Army Regulation 380-19, Section 1-5, “gives some examples of SBU
as information that: (a) involves intelligence activities, (b) involves cryptological
activities related to national security, (c) involves command and control of forces, (d)
is contained in systems that are an integral part of weapon or a weapon system; (e)
is contained in systems that are critical to the direct fulfillment of military or
intelligence missions, (f) involves processing of research, development, and
The U.S. Army Materiel Command encrypts certain categories of SBU data,
including “logistics, medical care, personnel management, Privacy Act data,
contractual data, and “For Official Use Only Information.”63 Since there is no one
source for a definition of SBU, according to this source, “Other factors such as risk
management, consideration of the effects of unauthorized disclosure, and an
examination of the timeliness of information, should be taken into account as well.
Ultimately level of sensitivity of the information should be determined by
60 “Appendix 3C, Controlled Unclassified Information,” In DoD 5200.1-R, Information
Security Program, Jan. 1997, issued by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command,
Control, Communications and Intelligence. It also said that if Department of State SBU
information were included in a DoD document, it should be “marked as if the information
were “For Official Use Only.” Other kinds of unclassified but controlled information that
are to be handled as FOUO information, according to DoD are Drug Enforcement
Administrative Sensitive Information, DoD Unclassified Controlled Nuclear Information,
and Sensitive Information, as defined by the Computer Security Act of 1987. (Secs. 2 and
[http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/dod/5200-1r/appendix_c.htm]. See also Guidance for
Telework Involving Sensitive-Unclassified information, prepared by Naval Air Warfare
Center Aircraft Division, [http://hro.navair.nay.mil/telework/sensunclass.htm].
61 2-202 Access to FOUO Information, from the Federation of American Scientists at
[ h t t p : / / www.f a s.or g/ i r p/ doddi r / dod/ 5200-1r / a ppendi x_c.ht m] .
62 Cited in Stuart D. Smith, “Sensitive But Unclassified Data; Identification and Protection
Solutions,”Prepared for U.S. Army Material Command Information Assurance Program
Manager, July 2002, pp. 4-5.
63 Smith, op. cit., p. 5.
owner/creator of the data.”64 A matrix presented that guides the definition of SBU
follows. Note that certain research and development data are included:
The matrix below provides a general guide on the data categories and description
of the types of data that should be considered Sensitive But Unclassified. This
matrix should not be considered authoritative or all-inclusive.
FOIA ExemptedAny information that is exempted from mandatory disclosure underthe Freedom of Information Act.
Information that involves or is related in intelligence activities,
Intelligence Activitiesincluding collection methods, personnel, and unclassified
info r matio n.
Information that involves encryption/decryption of information;
Cryptologic Activitiescommunications security equipment, keys, algorithms, processes;information involving the methods and internal workings of
Command and ControlInformation involving the command and control of forces, troopmovements.
Weapon and WeaponInformation that deals with the design, functionality, and capabilities
Systemsof weapons and weapon systems both fielded and un-fielded.
Research, development, and engineering data on un-fielded products,
RD&Eprojects, systems, and programs that are in the development or
LogisticsInformation dealing with logistics, supplies, materials, parts and partsrequisitions, including quantities and numbers.
Medical Care/HIPAAInformation dealing with personal medical care, patient treatment,prescriptions, physician notes, patient charts, x-rays, diagnosis, etc.
Personnel ManagementInformation dealing with personnel, including evaluations, individualsalaries, assignments, and internal personnel management.
Privacy Act DataInformation covered by the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. § 552A)
Contractual DataInformation and records pertaining to contracts, bids, proposals, andother data involving government contracts.
Information and data pertaining to official criminal and civil
Investigative Datainvestigations such as investigator notes and attorney-client
Department of Energy. The Department of Energy (DOE) uses a definition
of “sensitive but unclassified” which is identical to the 1986 Poindexter definition
that Congress had the Administration withdraw. It is:
Sensitive Unclassified Information: Information for which disclosure, loss,
misuse, alteration, or destruction could adversely affect national security or
governmental interests. National security interests are those unclassified matters
that relate to the national defense or foreign relations of the U.S. Government.
64 Smith, op. cit., p. 6.
65 Smith, op. cit., p. 13.
Governmental interests are those related, but not limited to the wide range of
government or government-derived economic, human, financial, industrial,
agriculture, technological, and law-enforcement information, as well as the
privacy or confidentially of personal or commercial proprietary information66
provided to the U.S. Government by its citizens.
Guidance used by the DOE laboratories refers to this concept and cites, as authority,
Executive Order 12958 and DOE regulations.67
Other Agencies’ Definitions of SBU, Including the General Services
Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration. Other agencies have issued directives
to define and prescribe safeguards that should be taken and penalties used for
releasing SBU information. For instance, in 2002 the General Services
Administration (GSA) defined SBU to include information that could possibly
benefit terrorists, such as equipment plans, building designs, operating plans, the
locations of secure facilities or functions within GSA buildings, utility locations, and
information about security systems or guards.68 The Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) issued regulations to safeguard unclassified but “sensitive security
information,” which may be developed from security or research and development
activities and whose release, the Administration determines, could be an invasion of
personal privacy, reveal private or financial information, or could “be detrimental to69
the safety of passengers in transportation.”
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) labels
nonclassified sensitive information as “administratively controlled information
(ACI),” and describes procedures for controlling it under the same heading that it
uses to describe procedures to control classified national security information
Such information and material, which may be exempt from disclosure by statute
or is determined by a designated NASA official to be especially sensitive, shall
be afforded physical protection sufficient to safeguard it from unauthorized
disclosure. Within NASA, such information has previously been designated “For70
Official Use Only.”
The statutes cited as justification are the Export Administration Act of 1979, the
Arms Export Control Act, and section 303 (b) of the Space Act. NASA also cited
66 U.S. Department of Energy, Safeguards and Security: Glossary , Dec. 18, 1995, p. 132.
67 Source: Executive Order 12958, “Classified National Security Information,” Apr. 17,
1995 and DOE O 471.2A, Information Security Program, Mar. 27, 1997, at
[http://www.oa.doe.gov/sse/directives/o4712a.pdf], and Draft DOE Glossary,
68 General Services Administration, Public Buildings Services Order 3490.1, Mar. 8, 2002.
69 Authorized by Title 49 U.S.C. 40119; regulations were included in Title 14 CFR Part
70 Section 184.108.40.206 of Chap. 4, “Information Security,” in NASA Security Procedures and
Guidelines With Change 1, Sept. 13, 2002.
as justification the exemption criteria of the Freedom of Information Act, and
information designated by NASA officials, such as predecisional and not-yet-released
materials relating to national space policy, pending reorganization plans, or sensitive
In some agencies, the official responsible for guiding and developing agency
policy and procedure for classified information also has responsibility for control and
decontrol of sensitive but unclassified information.71
Equivalence Between “Sensitive” and “Sensitive But
By 1997, the Department of the Navy had issued guidance that said explicitly
that the Computer Security Act of 1987 defined the requirements for “sensitive but
unclassified” information and further that “all business conducted within the federal72
government is sensitive but unclassified.”
71 “Delegation of Authority for Physical Security Programs,” Department of the Army,
Directive 71-08, Apr. 26, 1999.
72 According to the Navy, the nature of its mission, “accompanied by connectivity and data
aggregation issues, has led to the determination that all unclassified information processed
by DON information systems is sensitive” (“Fundamental Infosec Policy,” Department of
the Navy Information Systems Security (INGODSRV) Program, SECNAVINST 5239.3,
July 14, 1995. The source is [http://www.fas.org/irp/doddir/navy/secnavinst/5239_3.htm].
Also available from the Department of the Navy’s Science and Technology web page at
The Navy’s Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System documentation,
said that: “The Computer Security Act of 1987 defines the requirements for Sensitive But
Unclassified data (SBU) and supports the premise that essentially all business conducted
within the federal government is SBU. SBU is to be protected in federal computer systems
(including contractors). ... SECNAVINST 5239.3 ... defines SBU....” According to this
system, the Navy has defined nine categories of “sensitive but unclassified” information as
— Proprietary Data: Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained
from a person and privileged or confidential.
— For Official Use Only: Categories of information exempt from public release under
the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. Documents containing FOIA
exempt information are identified by the caveat “For Official Use Only.”
— Treaties & International Agreements:Information which must be protected in
accordance with the stipulations of a particular treaty or international agreement such
as the Chemical Weapons Compliance Treaty or North American Free Trade
— Technical Military Data: Technical data with military or space application which may
not be exported lawfully outside the U.S. without prior approval, authorization, or
license under the Export Act of 1979 or the Arms Export Control Act.
— Export Control Data: Data which is subject to export controls (international traffic in
arms regulation, export control act, U.S. munitions list).
— Competition Sensitive Data: Data associated with ongoing procurement of
In 1998, the equivalence between “sensitive” and “sensitive but unclassified”
was codified by DoD in administrative law in 32 CFR 149.3, relating to technical
surveillance countermeasures used by all federal agencies that process SBU. DoD
defined “sensitive but unclassified” by using the definition of “sensitive” that
appeared in the Computer Security Act of 1987.73
In 2002, the Department of the Interior issued guidance that “... all unclassified DOI
systems are considered SBU.”74
White House Policy for “Sensitive but Unclassified”
Information Related to Homeland Security, March 2002
On March 19, 2002, the White House released a memo, signed by Chief of Staff
Andrew Card, entitled “Action to Safeguard Information Regarding Weapons of
Mass Destruction and other Sensitive Documents Related to Homeland Security.”
It called for agencies to reconsider current measures for safeguarding information
regarding weapons of mass destruction and other sensitive documents related to
homeland security and “information that could be misused to harm the security of our
government supplies, services or equipment to include contractor bids and proposals
and associated government documents.
— Privacy Act: Information which must be protected from public release to protect the
privacy of the individual (social security number, investigative data, payroll records,
disciplinary records, etc.).
— Investigative and Inquiry Data: Information associated with or resulting from criminal,
civil, security, inspector general, flight safety, or other investigations or inquiries
which must be protected from public release.
— Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information: Information concerning the design and
operation of Naval nuclear reactors and associated equipment which does not meet the
criteria for classification under Executive Order 12958. (“Contractor Performance
Assessment Reporting System, Frequently Asked Questions Page,”
[http://cpars.navy.mil/cparsfiles/sbu.asp].) CPARS is the Department of the Navy’s
Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System, maintained by the Naval Sea
Logistics Center, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
73 “National Policy on Technical Surveillance Countermeasures,” issued by the Office of the
Secretary, Department of Defense, Federal Register, v. 63, no. 20, Jan. 30, 1998, pp. 4582-
4583, referring to 32 CFR part 149 1998;63 FR 4583, Jan. 30, 1998, citing authority as
Executive Order 12968 (69 FR 40245, 3 CFR 1995 Comp., p. 391.) The regulation defined
SBU as in the Computer Security Act of 1987 as: “Sensitive but Unclassified. Any
information, the loss, misuse, or unauthorized access to or modification of which could
adversely affect the national interest or the conduct of federal programs, or the privacy to
which individuals are entitled under 5 U.S.C. 552a, but which has not been specifically
authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order or an Act of Congress to be kept
secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.” “Technical Surveillance
Countermeasures” was defined as “Techniques and measures to detect and nullify a wide
variety of technologies that are used to obtain unauthorized access to classified national
security information, restricted data, and/or sensitive but unclassified information.”
74 Section 19.3, Scope, in section 375 DM 19, Department of the Interior, Departmental
Manual, effective date: 4/15/02. Available at [http://elips.doi.gov/elips/release/3397.htm].
Nation and the safety of our people.” Agencies were required to examine their
policies and holdings in accord with an accompanying memos issued by the National
Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Information Security Oversight
Office (ISOO) and the Department of Justice’s Office of Information and Privacy
(OIP) to determine if information should be classified, including previously
unclassified or declassified information, or handled as sensitive but unclassified
information and report the status of their review to the White House, via the Office
of Homeland Security, within ninety days.75
Agencies Instructed to Use FOIA Exemptions to Control Disclosure
of Information. The accompanying ISOO and OIP memo included a section titled
“sensitive but unclassified information,” (SBU), which instructed agencies to
safeguard “sensitive information related to America’s homeland security”(SHSI),
and told them to consider all applicable FOIA exemptions if FOIA requests are76
received for such information. The memo urged agencies to consider using
specifically FOIA exemptions 2 and 4 when determining whether to categorize
information as “sensitive but unclassified.” Exemption 2 refers to “(2) internal
personnel rules and practices of an agency,” while Exemption 4 deals with “trade
secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and
privileged or confidential.” The ISOO/OIP memo cautioned that “The need to
protect such sensitive information from inappropriate disclosure should be carefully
considered, on a case-by-case basis, together with the benefits that result from the
open and efficient exchange of scientific, technical, and like information.” See
Appendix 3 for excerpts of the memo.
As further justification, the memo referred agencies to guidance on FOIA that
had been issued by Attorney General Ashcroft in October 2001. This memorandum
expressed the Administration’s intent to comply with FOIA while, at the same time,
instructing agencies, when undertaking discretionary disclosure determinations under
FOIA, to consider protecting values and interests to which the Bush Administration
is committed, including “safeguarding our national security, enhancing the
effectiveness of our law enforcement agencies, protecting sensitive business
75 White Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies From Andrew
H. Card, Jr., The White House, Subject: “Action to Safeguard Information Regarding
Weapons of Mass Destruction and Other Sensitive Documents Related to Homeland
Security,” Mar. 19, 2002. Available from the Department of Justice website at
[http://www.usdoj .gov/oip/foi apost/2002foiapost10.htm] .
76 “Safeguarding Information Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction and Other Sensitive
Records Related to Homeland Security,” Memorandum for Departments and Agencies,
From Laura L.S. Kimberly, ISOO, NARA, and Richard L. Huff, and Daniel J. Metcalfe,
OIP, Dept. of Justice, Subject; “Safeguarding Information Regarding Weapons of Mass
Destruction and Other Sensitive Records Related to Homeland Security,” Mar. 19, 2002.
Available at [http://www.usdoj.gov/oip/foiapost/2002foiapost10.htm].
information, and, not least, preserving personal privacy.”77 In explaining the intent
of the memo, the Department of Justice said
In replacing the predecessor FOIA memorandum, the Ashcroft FOIA
Memorandum establishes a new “sound legal basis” standard governing the
Department of Justice’s decisions on whether to defend agency actions under the
FOIA when they are challenged in court. This differs from the “foreseeable
harm” standard that was employed under the predecessor memorandum. Under
the new standard, agencies should reach the judgment that their use of a FOIA
exemption is on sound footing, both factually and legally, whenever they
withhold requested information.
In the predecessor memorandum issued by Attorney General Janet Reno in 1993,
agencies were encouraged to release documents even if the law provided a way to
withhold information, if there was no “foreseeable harm” from doing do. The
October 2001 memo underscored the need to ensure that information about agency
deliberations not be made public and encouraged agencies to make disclosure
determinations under FOIA “only after full and deliberate consideration of the
institutional, commercial, and personal privacy interests that could be implicated by
disclosure of the information.”78
Also, referring to the need for heightened sensitivity after the September 2001
terrorist attacks, the October 2001 memo instructed agencies to utilize FOIA
exemptions when making an agency “assessment of, or statement regarding, the
vulnerability of ... a critical asset ...”79 or the need to protect critical infrastructure
information, referenced in the memo as “critical systems, facilities, stockpiles, and
other assets from security breaches and harm — and in some instances from their
potential uses weapons of mass destruction in and of themselves. Such protection
efforts, of course, must at the same time include the protection of any agency
information that could enable someone to succeed in causing the feared harm.”80
The Attorney General’s October 2001 memorandum instructed agencies to
interpret FOIA exemption 2 broadly to permit withholding of a document, which if
released would allow circumvention of an agency rule, policy or statute, thereby
impeding the agency in the conduct of its mission. (This is generally referred to as
77 “New Attorney General FOIA Memorandum Issued,” FOIA Post, Oct. 15, 2001. This
Department of Justice release includes “Memorandum for Heads of all Federal Departments
and Agencies, From: John Ashcroft, Attorney General, Subject: The Freedom of Information
Act, Oct. 15, 2001.”Available at [http://www.usdoj.gov/oip/foiapost/2001foiapost19.htm]
78 “New Attorney General FOIA Memorandum Issued,” FOIA Post, Oct. 15, 2001.
79 “New Attorney General FOIA Memorandum Issued,” FOIA Post, Oct. 15, 2001.
80 “New Attorney General FOIA Memorandum Issued,” Oct. 15, 2001. For additional
analysis, see CRS Report RL31547, Critical Infrastructure Information Disclosure and
Homeland Security. For additional explanation of the Administration’s objectives in
releasing this guidance, see: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Information and Privacy,
Freedom of Information Act Guide and Privacy Act Overview, May 2002, ed., pp. 16-17,
the high profile interpretation of exemption 2.)81 It said that agencies should “avail
themselves of the full measure of exemption 2's protection for their critical
infrastructure information as they continued to gather more of it, and assess its
heightened sensitivity, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.”82 The
memo referred to guidance that was issued in 1989 describing the sensitivity of
vulnerability assessments and the need to exempt such information from disclosure
Pursuant to the Card memo, and attachments, the information to be covered by
the Administration’s “sensitive but unclassified” homeland security information
seems to include records that deal with the agency, public infrastructure the agency
might regulate or monitor, some internal databases (reports, data the agency has
collected, maps, etc.), vulnerability assessments, some internal deliberations, and
information provided to the government by private firms, such as chemical
com p ani es.84
Although most of this information is not classified, it appears as if security
clearances may be required for access to some SHSI and certain types of SBU
information. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) included
81 See U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Information and Privacy, Freedom of
Information Act Guide and Privacy Act Overview, May 2002, ed., pp. 16-17, 124-127 and
“New Attorney General FOIA Memorandum Issued,” FOIA Post, Oct. 15, 2001, which
hotlinks to other explanatory documents cited.
82 “New Attorney General FOIA Memorandum Issued,” FOIA Post, Oct. 15, 2001.
83 Excerpts from the 1989 guidance follow: “When processing records for disclosure under
the Freedom of Information Act, it is sometimes difficult for FOIA officers to immediately
recognize the sensitivity of information warranting protection under the Act’s exemptions.
One type of record for which that should not be so, however, is a record in which an agency
specifically assesses its vulnerability (or that of another institution or installation) to some
form of outside interference or other wrongful harm. Indeed, vulnerability assessments can
be among the most sensitive records maintained by federal agencies.
Vulnerability assessments generally are designed to ensure the security of an
institution or installation by safeguarding against possible interference, circumvention or
unlawful action by outsiders. Typically, a vulnerability assessment first seeks to identify
an institution’s assets, programs or systems that are deemed to be most sensitive. In so
doing, it usually pays particular attention to the ones that are believed to be, for one reason
or another, especially vulnerable to external harm. Further, in analyzing an item of
identified vulnerability, such an assessment commonly will describe the specific security
measures (as well as possible countermeasures) that can be employed to combat that
Thus, by its very nature, a vulnerability assessment necessarily consists of sensitive
information that, in the wrong hands, can itself do great harm.” (“OIP Guidance: Protecting
Vulnerability Assessments Through Application of Exemption Two,”FOIA Update, Summer
84 “New Attorney General FOIA Memorandum Issued,” Oct. 15, 2001. For additional
analysis, see also: CRS Report RL31547, op. cit., and Freedom of Information Act Guide
and Privacy Act Overview, May 2002, ed., op. cit., pp. 16-17, 124-127.
in its Annual Performance Plan, FY2003,85 a goal of training state and local officials
in the proper handling of classified and sensitive homeland security information. The
document stated that this included the objectives of obtaining Top Secret security
clearances for state and local officials who need such clearances to handle classified
or sensitive homeland security information, and also of developing “a training
program at the state and local level for the proper use and handling of classified and
sensitive but unclassified homeland security information for all officials with Top
Secret security clearances and other officials who have access to sensitive
information. Finally ISOO will ensure that Federal agencies have the necessary
classification authority for homeland security information.”
It should be noted that, on March 12, 2002, and again on June 23, 2003, the
House oversight committee on FOIA, the Committee on Government Reform, called
the Attorney General’s October 2001 memorandum into question and specifically
rejected its standard to allow the withholding of information sought under FOIA
whenever there is merely a “sound legal basis” for doing so.86 The committee
directed agencies to withhold documents only in those cases when the agency
reasonably foresees that disclosure would be harmful to an interest protected by an
ex em pt i on. 87
Policies for Control of Unclassified Information in
The dilemma about balancing security and science is reflected in the Homeland
Security Act, P.L. 107-296, signed November 2, 2002. Among other things, it
required that research conducted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
created by the law “shall be unclassified to the greatest extent possible” (Sec. 306
(a)). Nevertheless, in a signing statement, the President reiterated that the executive
branch had the right to implement this provision (and others) in a manner which
would protect information “...the disclosure of which could otherwise harm the88
foreign relations or national security of the United States.”
85 Submitted to Congress on Feb. 4, 2002. The goal was part of “Long Range Performance
Target 2.4, which focused on developing “a uniform sampling system for collecting
information about classification activity within the executive branch.”
86 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Government Reform, A Citizen’s Guide on Using the
Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records,thnd
87 H.Rept. 107-371, 2002, op. cit., p. 3. This language is also included in a report with the
same title, reported June 23, 2003, in the 108th Congress, 1st sess., H.Rept. 109-172.
88 See [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/11/20021125-10.html].
Protection of Critical Infrastructure Information
P.L. 107-296, also included prohibitions against disclosure under FOIA of
“critical infrastructure information” regarding to the security of critical infrastructure
and protected systems submitted voluntarily by private companies. Criminal
penalties for disclosure by affected employees include fines, dismissal, or
imprisonment for up to a year (Section 214).89 The statute also provided for the
preemption of state freedom of information laws regarding the public disclosure of
such information if it is shared with a state or local government official in the course
of DHS’s activities.90 Subsequently, the Department of Defense issued a memo on
March 25, 2003 which applied prohibitions like those in P.L. 107-296 to critical
infrastructure information voluntarily submitted to DoD.91 On April 15, 2003, the
Department of Homeland Security published interim rules in the Federal Register
which implement the critical information infrastructure protection provisions of P.L.
107-296, and which would extend the rules to other agencies by requiring them to
pass similar information that they receive to DHS.92 DHS published a final rule and
to established the “Protected Infrastructure Information (PCII) Program on February
18, 2004.93 The submitted information will be withheld from public disclosure under
FOIA and “Initially, the PCII Program Office will limit the sharing of PCII to IIAP
[DHS’s Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate] analysts,”94
and then, if accepted as appropriate to be safeguarded pursuant to the law and
regulations, to other federal agencies. Submitters are to certify, under penalty of
fine or imprisonment, that the submitted information is not subject to disclosure
under the rules of another department, such as to meet health, safety, or
environmental regulations. This later provision is intended to allay some of the fears
of groups that suspect companies will submit to DHS information they do not want
to be disclosed in order to hide from the public information about pollution, new
facilities, or security gaps.
89 For additional analysis, see CRS Report RL31547, Critical Infrastructure Information
Disclosure and Homeland Security, op. cit.
90 See also, “Homeland Security Law Contains New Exemption 3 Statute,” FOIA Post, Jan.
91 Memo from H.J. McIntyre on “FOIA Requests for Critical Infrastructure Information,”
described in Steven Aftergood, “DOD on Critical Infrastructure Info,” Secrecy News, Apr.
May 5, 2002.
92 “6 CFR Part 29, Procedures for Handling Critical Infrastructure Information; Proposed
Rule, Department of Homeland Security,” Federal Register, Apr. 15, 2003, pp.
18523-18529. For additional information, see: CRS Report RL30153, Critical
Infrastructures: Background, Policy, and Implementation, by John Moteff.
93 The implementing regulations are contained in the Code of Federal Regulation (6 CFR
Part 29). (Source: Department of Homeland Security, “DHS Launches Protected Critical
Infrastructure Information Program to Enhance Homeland Security, Facilitate Information
Sharing,” Press Release, Feb. 18, 2004 and attached information sheet “Protected Critical
Infrastructure Information (PCII) Program. See the Federal Register, Feb. 20, 2004, pp.
94 Press release, Feb. 18, 2004, op. cit.
“Sensitive But Unclassified” Homeland Security Information
P.L. 107-296 also required the President to “prescribe and implement
procedures” for federal agencies to, among other things, identify, safeguard, and
share with appropriate federal, state, and local agencies “homeland security
information that is sensitive but unclassified” (Sec. 892). This is often abbreviated
SHSI. “Homeland security information” was defined as
any information possessed by a Federal, State, or local agency that — (A) relates
to the threat of terrorist activity; (B) relates to the ability or prevent, interdict, or
disrupt terrorist activity; (C)would improve the identification or investigation of
a suspected terrorist or terrorist organization; and (D) would improve the
response to a terrorist act (Sec. 892(f)(1)).
The law did not define sensitive or “sensitive but unclassified.” It stated that,
in sharing sensitive but unclassified information with state and local persons, it is the
sense of Congress that the procedures developed to share information that is sensitive
but unclassified may include requirements for “entering into nondisclosure
agreements with appropriate State and local personnel” (Sec. 892(c)(2)(B)).
On July 29, 2003, the President assigned his responsibility to provide such
procedural guidance to federal agencies and most other responsibilities of sections
892 and 893 of P.L. 107-296 to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland
Security (pursuant to Executive Order 13311).95 DHS was tasked with developing
such guidance; no guidance for identifying and sharing sensitive unclassified
homeland security information has been issued yet.. Also, DHS is drafting the report
on implementation of section 892 of P.L. 107-296, as required by Section 893 of the
Federal Agency Implementation Actions. After the release of the
Ashcroft and Card memos some agencies started to respond to this issue in its
broadest sense. Some issued policy statements or rules relating to SBU even before
passage of P.L. 107-296 or the issuance of the guidance Congress mandated in the
Reportedly, some agencies are increasingly inserting restrictions based on the
category “sensitive but unclassified” into contracts for unclassified research
negotiated with some universities. This has not only raised questions about whether
the term should be better defined before it is more widely used but has caused some
95 The Executive Order was printed in the Federal Register, July 29, 2003, pp. 45149-45150.
The President retained responsibility to “ensure that such procedures apply to all agencies
of the Federal Government” as specified in P.L. 107-296, Sec. 892(a)(2) and responsibilities
given to federal agencies to review and share information sharing systems, as specified in
P.L. 107, Sec. 892 (b) (7).
universities to object to such clauses and have refused to accept federal contract
funds for unclassified research that contain them.96
Some agencies have defined “sensitive” information that will be protected from
public disclosure or might be exempt from disclosure under FOIA, and have
developed procedures to share this information with appropriate officials in federal
state and local agencies. Several federal agencies have developed guidance or
regulations to define SHSI or SBU and protect it from public release. The Nuclear
Regulatory Commission’s guidance, which it described as interim pending a final
Administration definition for SHSI, was released on April 4, 2002. It includes such
things as “plan specific information, generated by NRC, our licensees, or our
contractors, that would clearly aid in planning an assault on a facility.... Physical
vulnerabilities or weaknesses of nuclear facilities.... Construction details of specific
facilities.... Information which clearly would be useful to defeat or breach key
barriers at nuclear facilities,” and “Information in any type of comment (e.g. plant
status report, press release) that provides the current status or configuration of
systems and equipment that could be used to determine facility vulnerabilities if used
by an adversary.”97
The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued Regulation 3440-002 on “Control
and Protection of ‘Sensitive Security Information,’ “ on January 30, 2003. It said it
applied to “...the identification of unclassified but sensitive information as ‘Sensitive
Security Information,’ “....98 The definition applies generally to facilities, critical
infrastructure and cyber-based systems (Sec. 6). This information is to be made
available only to individual who have a “need-to-know,” and the regulation provided
procedures to protect it (Secs. 11 and 12 of the regulation).
Pursuant to the Transportation Security Regulations,99DHS’s Transportation
Security Administration (TSA) has defined the types of information that are
categorized as “sensitive security information,” (SSI) and to be protected from
disclosure and be exempted from FOIA. There are also reports that the TSA has
sought to remove unclassified congressional testimony tht was already published, “in
which a government contractor described security problems at the Rochester, N.Y.
airport” on the grounds that it included “sensitive security information.”100
96 Anne Marie Borrego, “Colleges See More Federal Limits on Research,” The Chronicle
of Higher Education, Nov. 1, 2002.
97 Found in U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Withholding Sensitive Homeland
Security Information From the Public,” Memorandum [to the Commission Members] From
William D. Travers, April 4, 2002, COMSECY-02-0015.
98 U.S. Department of Agriculture. Departmental Regulation 32440-0002, Subject “Control
and Protection of ‘Sensitive Security Information,’ “ January 30, 2003. Available at
[http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/usda3440-02.html] or start at
99 U.S. Department of Transportation, “Civil Aviation Security Rules,” Federal Register,
v. 67, no. 36, Feb. 22, 2002 and 49 C.F.R. 1520.7.
100 Jeff Stein, “TSA Asks Media to Expunge Public Testimony on Airport Security
Reportedly, the testimony was removed from some, but not all, sources. The TSA
has defined the types of of information that are SSI and to be protected from
disclosure and exempted from FOIA.
Some federal agencies have withdrawn from their websites information they
have categorized as SBU and that might prove to be useful to terrorists, but which
would appear to be accessible to the public under existing laws such as the
Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act of 1986 (42 U.S.C.
11049), which environmental advocates often cite to obtain information. For
instance, reportedly, the Department of Energy “removed environmental impact
statements which alerted local communities to potential dangers from nearby nuclear
energy plants, as well as information on the transportation of hazardous materials.”101
Reportedly, some agencies may be withholding some information that normally
would be made available under FOIA requests.102 According to one report, the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has removed documents from its website
and the Defense Department has removed more than 6,000 documents in response
to the memo.103 The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reported to have removed
documents from its website.104 State governments have removed data from public
websites, including “hospital security plans and information on energy stockpiles of
pharmaceuticals” in Florida.105 The Secretary of Defense was reported to have said
a review of information accessible on DOD websites indicated over 1,500 instances
where posted data were insufficiently reviewed for sensitivity or not adequately
protected. He said the trend should be reversed and he advised that “ ‘Thinking
about what may be helpful to an adversary prior to posting any information to the
web could eliminate many vulnerabilities....’ “106 One critic said in response,
“However, such guidance, taken by itself, would dictate the elimination of nearly all
accurate information from DoD web sites since practically anything could be of use
to an adversary in some conceivable scenario.”107 It has been reported that some
information which researchers have sought and that agencies removed from their
websites is being advertised to researchers through commercial vendors on CD and
hard copy. Some researchers now fear that the deleted information, including USGS
Problems,” CQ Homeland Security, Feb. 4, 2004.
101 Marylaine Block, “Vanishing Act: The U.S. Government’s Disappearing Data, ExLibris,
Dec. 6, 2002.
102 “Results of OMB Watch FOIA Request on Information Withheld,” OMB Watch, May 15,
2002, [http://www.ombwatch.org/article/articleview/735/1/104/]. See also, “Researchers
Stymied by Block on Government Documents,” CNN.Com, Oct. 15, 2002.
103 “The Bush Administration’s Secrecy Policy: A Call to Action to Protect Democratic
Values,” OMB Watch, Oct. 25, 2002.
104 Block, op. cit.
105 Block, op cit.
106 Steven Aftergood, “Rumsfeld Wants More Info Off the Web, Secrecy News, Jan. 16,
107 Steven Aftergood, “Rumsfeld Wants More Info Off the Web, Secrecy News, Jan. 16,
topographic map information will “become unavailable due to tighter security .... “108
This might deny public access to such information of could possibly resulting in a
“commercialization of information similar to what happened with Landsat data in the
1980s, when the satellite imagery became privatized, dramatically raising the cost of
Some assessments made so far of the changes to agency FOIA procedures based
on the Ashcroft October 2001 guidance, which restricted discretionary disclosures
under FOIA, indicate that the new policies appear not to have had a major impact on
agency activities. Preliminary analysis issued by the National Security Archive
regarding implementation of this guidance in 35 agencies indicated that while a few
agencies, such as NASA, EPA, and the Departments of the Interior and Navy, had to
undertook significant activities to comply, most did not. Some agencies reported that
the Card memo, rather than the Ashcroft memo, would appear to have had more
significant effects on disclosures requested via FOIA.110 According to a GAO
assessment, released in September 2003, the Ashcroft memo appears to have had
only limited impact on the processing of FOIA requests. GAO reported that 48% of
the FOIA officers surveyed “... did not notice a change with regard to the likelihood
of their agencies’ making discretionary disclosures. About one third of the FOIA
officers reported a decreased likelihood; of these officers, 75 percent cite the new
policy as a top factor influencing the change.”111
In contrast, others have concluded that the effects are serious. For instance, the
Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, in a 2003 report, described as an example,
DOD refusal to release an unclassified conference report on lessons learned from the
2001 anthrax attacks and concluded “The ‘homeland security information’ provision
represents a sweeping new delegation of authority to expand secrecy well beyond
formal classification procedures in a manner that is likely to further impair Congress’
oversight responsibilities. Whether Congress will step in to try to mitigate this
potential remains uncertain.” 112
Some speculate that less unclassified information will be made available since
passage of Section 214 of P.L. 107-296, relating to critical infrastructure information.
This has been viewed as a controversial provision. Critics say while it would protect
sensitive information submitted to the government about dams, buildings, electric
108 Lisa M. Pinsker, “Science Policy, Mapping Secure Boundaries for Data.” Geotimes, Apr.
109 Pinsker, 2003, op. cit.
110 See: “The Ashcroft Memo: ‘Drastic’ Change or ‘More Thunder Than Lightning’?, The
National Security Archive Freedom of Information Audit, “Preliminary Findings Regarding
Implementation of White House Guidance Regarding FOIA,” Phase One Presented Mar. 14,
111 U.S. General Accounting Office. Freedom of Information act, Agency Views on Changes
REsulting from New Administration Policy, Report to the Ranking Minority Member,
Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, Sept. 2003, Highlights page, GAO-03-981.
112 Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Assessing the New Normal: Liberty and Security
for the Post-September 11 United States, 2003, p. 8.
power lines, pipelines, rail transit and so forth. Others say that it “... could make
government officials fearful of disclosing information about corporate activities that
pose risks to the public.”113 Reportedly, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
was concerned “... that companies could ensure secrecy for a wide range of
information provided to the government simply by declaring that it involves critical
infrastructure and then demanding confidentiality.”114 It also “contended that the ...
law could prevent the disclosure of potential health risks from uranium stored at
private sites or of defects in railroad tracks ... [or] ...that the law might discourage
whistle-blowers from coming forward with revelations about corporate
wrongdoing.”115 Supporters of withholding this kind of information cite the
potential threats to homeland security that may be incurred if such information is
allowed to remain widely accessible. They say that potential terrorists could use
information about critical U.S. public and private infrastructure to design and
implement attacks that could destroy U.S. power, communications, transportation
and public works networks and facilities. Access to this kind of information, they
say, should be given only to those with a need to know.
Concerns About Sensitive Information in Non-
governmental Research and Scientific Publications
Acknowledging the serious potential threats from release of certain kinds of
“sensitive” privately developed research information, professional scientific societies
and groups have considered developing ways to regulate, review, identify and deal
with publication of “sensitive” journal articles.116 Some believe that private scientific
publishers and editors will feel compelled to model their publications policy for
sensitive papers on guidelines that the federal government develops for release of
agency documents. There is considerable controversy about this issue.
National Academies’ Policy. The National Academy of Sciences says it
voluntarily deleted from a public version of a report, and put into a separate
appendix, certain information on vulnerabilities of U.S. croplands after review by the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, the sponsoring agency.117 The rationale was that
113 Dan Morgan, “Disclosure Curbs in Homeland Bill Decried: Information From Companies
at Issue,” Washington Post, Nov. 16, 2002, p. A13. See also: Barbara Yuill, “Experts
Discuss Privacy Impacts of Newly Signed Homeland Security Act,” Daily Report for
Executives, Dec. 11, 2002. See also: “Reaction to Passage of Homeland Security Bill: All
Aboard the Homeland Security Express, Bill Creates Dangerous New FOIA Exemption,”
OMB Watch, Nov. 20, 2002.
114 Morgan, Nov. 16, 2002.
115 Morgan op. cit. See also CRS Report RL31530, Chemical Plant Security.
116 See, for example, Richard Monastersky, “Publish and Perish?,” Chronicle of Higher
Education, Oct. 11, 2002 and William J. Broad, “Researchers Say Science Is Hurt by
Secrecy Policy Set Up by the White House,” New York Times, Oct. 19, 2002.
117 Peg Brickly, “New Antiterrorism Tenets Trouble Scientists,” The Scientist, Oct. 28, 2002,
referring to a Sept. 19, 2002 Academy press release. See also Jeffrey Mervis and Erik
terrorists might be able to exploit information on vulnerabilities. The information
is being made available “on a need-to-know basis” to a select list of persons
including “federal, state, and local government workers, officials involved in
homeland security, and animal and plant health scientists, but not members of the
media or the general public. Anyone interested in the appendix has to file a written
request.... Academy staff members then call applicants, ascertain their identify, and
ask why they need the report....”118 Reportedly, the Academy cited FOIA exemption
2, “which protects matters ‘related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices
of an agency’ “ in justifying this procedure.119 Regarding another Academy report,
DoD’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate reportedly took several months to
review a study on non-lethal weapons, finally released in November 2002. But there
are “conflicting opinions of that review, including whether it was used improperly
to suppress NAS’ criticism of DoD’s non-lethal weapons program.”120
On October 18, 2002, the three presidents of the National Academies issued a
statement121 which sought to balance security and openness in disseminating
scientific information. It summarized the policy dilemma by saying that
“Restrictions are clearly needed to safeguard strategic secrets; but openness also is
needed to accelerate the progress of technical knowledge and enhance the nation’s
understanding of potential threats.” The statement encouraged the government to
reiterate that basic scientific research should not be classified, that nonclassified
research reporting should not be restricted, and that vague and poorly defined
categories of research information, such as sensitive but unclassified, should not be
used. “Experience shows that vague criteria of this kind generate deep uncertainties
among both scientists and officials responsible for enforcing regulations. The
inevitable effect is to stifle scientific creativity and to weaken national security.” The
statement outlined “action points” for both government and professional societies to
consider when developing a dialogue about procedures to safeguard scientific and
technical information which could possibly be of use to potential terrorists.
The National Academies held a workshop on this subject early in 2003122 in
cooperation with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.123 Reportedly,
Stokstad, “NAS Censors Report on Bioterrorism,” Science, Sept. 19, 2002.
118 Martin Enserink, “Science and Security: Entering the Twilight Zone of What Material
to Censor,” Science, Nov. 22, 2002, p. 1548.
119 Enserink, Nov. 22, 2002, op. cit.
120 Christopher Castelli, “NAS Study Shows Messy Reality Tied To Balancing Security,
Openness,” Inside the Navy, Dec. 2, 2002.
121 “Presidents Statement on Science and Security in an Age of Terrorism, From Bruce
Alberts, William A. Wulf, and Harvey Fineberg, Presidents of the National Academies,”
Oct. 18, 2002. See also, “Background Paper on Science and Security in a Age of
Terrorism,” issued by the Academies with the statement.
122 Atlas, op. cit., Oct. 25, 2002.
123 “The National Academies and CSIS to Host Jan. 9 Meeting On National Security and
during this meeting, Administration officials, stated the view that scientists should
voluntarily craft a policy that protects sensitive information and that they should
assist the government “... to help it identify and censor truly sensitive findings,”
especially in the biological sciences.124 One result is that the CSIS and the
Academies established a “Roundtable on Scientific Communication and National
Security,” a working group composed of scientific and security leaders which will
hold continuing discussions to try to develop a workable publications policy.125
Other Groups. Some scientists, including Dr. Ronald Atlas, President of the
American Society for Microbiology,126 have suggested that the scientific community
should come together to discuss the issue of balancing secrecy in science and
scientific publication in a move similar to the 1975 Asilomar conference, which
helped to develop guidelines for information communication and institutional review
boards to monitor and control the development of genetically modified organisms.
Some suggest that perhaps the National Academy of Sciences or a committee of a
relevant professional society be established to evaluate whether parts of methodology127
of especially sensitive research should be published. Reportedly, Dr. Anthony
Fauci, Director of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
(NIAID), which is receiving the bulk of funds allocated to NIH for counterterrorism
R&D, said on October 3, 2002, that while transparency in publication should be the
norm, consideration should be given to developing a “specially appointed committee
to determine whether publication is appropriate.” He suggested the formation of a
panel to determine whether it is appropriate to pursue certain types of biomedical
research,” similar to the Asilomar Conference.128 Others have suggested that only
certain kinds of sensitive research be restricted or classified, such as research relating
to the “weaponization of biological and toxin agents....”129
Scientific Openness,” Press release, Dec. 12, 2002, available on the NAS website at
124 David Malakoff, “Researchers Urged to Self-Censor Sensitive Data,” Science, Jan. 17,
125 Malakoff, Jan. 17, 2003, p. 321; Lum, Jan. 21, 2003, op. cit. See also:”Roundtable on
Scientific Communication and National Security,” A Collaborative Project of the Center for
Strategic and International Studies and the National Academies, Charter Statement.
126 Atlas, Oct. 25, 2002.
127 Daniel S. Greenberg, “Self-Restraint by Scientists Can Avert Federal Intrusion,”
Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 11, 2002.
128 Benjamin Y. Lum, “Security Exceptions to Transparency in Publishing NIH-funded
Research Will Be Rare, Fauci Says,” Washington Fax, Oct. 11, 2002.
129 Raymond A. Zilinskas and Jonathan B. Tucker, “Limiting the Contribution of the Open
Scientific Literature to the Biological Weapons Threat,” Journal of Homeland Security,
The International Council for Science (ICSU), an international non-
governmental scientific association,130 announced that it will review threats to
scientific freedom, including limitations or restrictions being placed on the conduct
and communication of scientific information and the freedom of movement of
scientific materials.131 The Council of the American Library Association adopted a
resolution at its June 2002 meeting that urged that the provisions relating to
“Sensitive but Unclassified” information be dropped from the Card memorandum
and that urged “government agencies ... ensure that public access to government
information is maintained absent specific compelling and documented national
security or public safety concerns.”132 The American Association of University
Professors (AAUP) announced on September 11, 2002, that it was creating a
committee to review and analyze “post-September 11 developments which impinge
on academic freedom.”133
In January 2004, the American Physical Society (APS) Council released a
statement which concluded, “Restricting exchange of scientific information based
on non-statutory administrative policies is detrimental to scientific progress and the
future health and security of our nation. The APS opposes any such restrictions, such
as those based on the label ‘sensitive but unclassified’....”134
Professional Groups Views That Scientists Should Voluntarily
“Self-Regulate” Research and Publications. Some professional scientific
groups, such as the American Society for Microbiology, have called upon their
members to be cautious about releasing or publishing information which might be
useful to potential terrorists, including specifically the “methodology” sections of
some scientific papers, and have established publication review committees to135
evaluate the sensitivity of articles presented for publication in their journals. The
society has established procedures to have an editorial panel review for sensitivity
130 ICSU “is a non-governmental organization founded in 1931 to bring together natural
scientists in international scientific endeavour. It comprises 101 multi-disciplinary National
Scientific Members, Associates and Observers (scientific research councils or science
academies) and 27 international, single-discipline Scientific Unions to provide a wide
spectrum of scientific expertise enabling members to address major international,
interdisciplinary issues which none could handle alone. ICSU also has 24 Scientific
Associates.” See: [http://www.icsu.org/].
131 “Freedom in the Conduct of Science: ICSU Examines Current Issues Around the Globe,”
Public Release, Oct. 10, 2002.
132 “Actions of the ALA Council, 2002 Annual,” June 13-19, 2002, Atlanta, GA.
133 See [http://www.aaup.org/newsroom/press.2002/911com.htm].
134 American Physical Society, “Council ‘Deplores Restriction of Non-Classified Scientific
Information,” APS News Online, Jan. 2004, available at
135 Ronald M. Atlas, “National Security and the Biological Research Community,” Science,
Oct. 25, 2002.
manuscripts which deal with “select agents.” So far, reportedly only one paper has
been asked to be revised.136
In February 2003, shortly after the Academies/CSIS 2003 meeting, 32 journal
editors and scientists, including officials with the American Association for the
Advancement of Science and the American Society of Microbiology, issued a
statement on “Statement on Scientific Publications and Security,” published in
Science, Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, saying
that they would take security issues into account when reviewing research papers for
publication. Each scientific publication will develop its own process to review
papers submitted for publication.137
A National Academy of Sciences report, entitled Biotechnology Research in an
Age of Terrorism: Confronting the “Dual Use” Dilemma, published in 2003 and
dubbed the “Fink” report for its chairman, called for greater self-regulation by
scientists, using institutional biosafety committees at academic and research
institutions, for research that could possibly aid terrorists. It also urged creation of
a new federal National Science Advisory Board for Biodefense to provide guidance
to nongovernmental researchers. But it did not propose government control of such
Partly in reaction, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
Special Committee on Academic Freedom and National Security in a Time of Crisis,
in a report issued in 2003, urged a note of caution regarding self-restraint by the
scientific community: “the academic community must be careful not to impose on
itself a regulatory burden that differs from the government’s only in the locus of
administration.”139 Although there has been no evidence of negative effects on
scientific research so far, “ a realistic appraisal of what the scientific community is
doing to monitor its own members requires us to be aware of the possibility that
researchers and journal editors might exercise their responsibilities with too much
rigor and thus inadvertently give too little attention to freedom’s needs.”140
Policy Options. Congress has also expressed interest in this topic. Shortly
after publication on July 1, 2002, in Science magazine online, of a controversial
scientific paper that described the synthesis of an infectious polio virus from mail
136 Benjamin Y. Lum, “Journal Editors Caution Against Overly Restrictive Policies Based
on Security,” Washington Fax, Jan. 21, 2003.
137 Alan Boyle, “Science Journals Join Bioterror Fight,” MSNBC News, Feb. 15, 2003. For
the statement, entitled “Statement on Scientific Publication and Security,” and list of
signatories, see [http://www.sciencemag.org], Feb. 21, 2003.
138 The report is available at [http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10827.html]. See also, David
Malakoff and Martin Enserink, “Researchers Await Government Response to Self-
Regulation Plea,” Science, Oct. 17, 2003, pp. 368-369.
139 AAUP, Academic Freedom and National Security in a Time of Crisis, Section III. 2003,
available at [http://www.aaup.org/statements/REPORTS/911report.htm].
140 AAUP, Academic Freedom and National Security in a Time of Crisis, Section III. 2003,
available at [http://www.aaup.org/statements/REPORTS/911report.htm].
order components, Congressman Weldon introduced H.Res. 514 (107th Congress).
It expressed “serious concern” about the paper, which was funded by the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and called for tighter controls on
the publication of certain scientific research. It also sought to have the scientific
community and the executive branch ensure that information that may be used by
terrorists is not made widely available, or is properly classified.141 The resolution
was not reported from the committee.
For additional information see CRS Report RL31695, Balancing Scientific
Publication and National Security Concerns: Issues for Congress.
Policy Issues About “Sensitive But Unclassified”
As explained above, some federal agencies use the definition of “sensitive” in
the Computer Security Act of 1987 as the basis for identifying information to label
SBU. Other agencies have expanded the definition of sensitive in various ways, with
some agencies including information exempt from release under FOIA and others
including other kinds of information determined to be sensitive to a particular
agency’s activities. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the
Administration instructed agencies to withhold more information when undertaking
discretionary disclosure deliberations under FOIA. Agencies were instructed to
balance access to information with the needs to protect critical infrastructure
information, national security, law enforcement effectiveness, agency deliberations
and decision-making, and related values and interests, and to use specifically FOIA
exemptions 2 and 4. When making such deliberations, they were also told to
consider, on a case by case basis, “benefits that result from the open and efficient
exchange of scientific, technical, and like information.”
These actions have raised significant policy issues, such as allegations that the
terms sensitive and SBU are ambiguous because they are subject to agency
interpretation. This, some say, makes it difficult to identify and safeguard such
information, while raising questions about the need for uniformity in standards.
Some say expanded interpretation of FOIA exemptions 2 and 4 to identify SBU
divides those who want increased security of information from those who want
public access to the information now exempted in order to protect public and
community oversight, civil liberties, and accountability, to promote the conduct of
science, or to monitor private sector activities. The procedures mandated in P.L. 107-
share, and safeguard sensitive but unclassifed homeland security information. As
will be discussed below, there has been considerable debate about this content of
these proposed guidelines.
141 See Congressional Record, July 26, 2002.
Historical Controversy About “Sensitive But Unclassified”
Even before the terrorist attacks of 2001, there had been considerable
controversy about the meaning and use of the term SBU. One position is that
agencies should interpret the term more broadly to categorize and safeguard more
information as SBU; alternatively, others say that this category is often imprecise and
leads to indiscriminate withholding of information from the public.
For instance, a February 28, 1994 report, Redefining Security, by the Joint
Security Commission prepared for the Director of the CIA and the Secretary of
Defense, which according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) “was the
first significant post-cold war examination of government security policies and
practices,”142 estimated that as much as 75% of all government-held information may
be sensitive and unclassified. It recommended that more attention should be paid to
protecting such information and labeling it as SBU within the defense, intelligence
and other sectors of government as well as “... information that, while neither
classified nor government-held, is crucial to U.S. security in its broadest sense.”
Continuing, it said,
We have in mind information about, and contained in, our air traffic control
system, the social security system, the banking, credit, and stock market systems,
the telephone and communications networks, and the power grids and pipeline
networks. All of these are highly automated systems that require appropriate143
security measures to protect confidentiality, integrity and availability.”
In a contrasting position, the aforementioned Moynihan commission report,
entitled Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy,
1997, noted that agencies often use different types of mandates to justify protecting
unclassified information and these range from the very broad to specific. This causes
“... [V]irtually any agency employee can decide which information is to be so
regulated;” there is no oversight of this categorization and agencies control
access “though a need-to know process,” and “... the very lack of consistency
from one agency to another contributes to confusion about why this information
is to be protected and how it is to be handled. These designations sometimes are
mistaken for a fourth classification levels, causing unclassified information with144
these markings to be treated like classified information.”
As a result, the Commission concluded that more information is protected than is
142 Section on “Dealing with Sensitive but Unclassified Information,” Redefining Security,
Feb. 28, 1994, [http://www.fas.org/sgp/library/jsc/].
143 See, [http://www.fas.org/sgp/library/jsc/].
144 Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, 1997, op.
An attempt had been made in December 1994, the report said, to develop a
policy to address sensitive but unclassified information, but it “met with great
resistance by both the civilian side of the Government and industry” because the
process was controlled by the Security Policy Board, which dealt largely with
classified information and was controlled by the defense and intelligence
community.145 The report also found that overzealous labeling of information as
SBU could be avoided if more attention were devoted to improving the security of
government computer-information systems146 to prevent unauthorized access.
Critiquing the wide scope of the current DOE definition of SBU (see above
under the section, “Department of Energy”), a Center for Strategic and International
Studies (CSIS) commission dealing with DOE laboratories reported in 2002:
The Department’s official definition is so broad as to be unusable. ...There is no
... common understanding of how to control ... [SBU] ..., no meaningful way to
control it that is consistent with its level of sensitivity, and no agreement on what
significance it has for U.S. national security. Sensitive unclassified information
is causing acute problems at DOE. ... Security professionals find it difficult to
design clear standards for protection. Scientists feel vulnerable to violating rules
on categories that are ill defined. Without clear definition or standards for
protection, those who oversee implementation for the Department find it
extremely difficult to measure laboratory performance.
... Yet the Department tends to treat this information as if subject to security
measures not unlike those for classified information. It is considered when
developing background checks for foreign visitors and when reviewing
presentations that may involve sensitive unclassified information.
... The lack of management discipline around sensitive unclassified information
both hinders the scientific enterprise and reduces the ability of security and147
counterintelligence professionals to control information where necessary.
The CSIS commission recommended that DOE avoid using the definition and
label “SBU.” “By avoiding these labels,” it said, “the Department can depart from
treating unclassified information as if subject to national security controls. The
Department should have just three classes of information: (1) classified; (2)
unclassified but subject to administrative controls; and (3) unclassified, publicly
145 Chap. V. Information Age Insecurity, in Report of the Commission on Protecting and
Reducing Government Secrecy, 1997, op. cit. The board was created by Presidential
decision directive 29 issued by President Clinton in September 1994 and abolished on April
24, 2001, pursuant to National Security Presidential Directive 1
[ h t t p : / / www.f a s .or g/ s gp/ s pb/ ] .
146 Chap. II, section on “Enhancing Congressional Oversight and Policy Formulation” of
Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, 1997, op. cit.
147 Commission on Science and Security, John J. Hamre, chairman, Science and Security in
the 21st Century: A Report to the Secretary of Energy on the Department of Energy
Laboratories, Apr. 2002, Washington, D.C., Center for Strategic and International Studies,
releasable.”148 DOE should also avoid use of a sensitive subjects list or change its
name, since the list deals primarily with items and technology potentially subject to
export control.149 “If information is not classified but requires administrative
control,” DOE should consider using “the category of information designated official
use only (OUO)....” “A single office within DOE administers OUO, which has
guidelines established in law and unclassified information could be reviewed for
applicability under the OUO statutes. Existing statutes governing certain types of
sensitive unclassified information could remain unchanged and distinct from OUO
(i.e. unclassified but controlled nuclear information [UCNI]), as long as they provide
sufficiently clear guidelines for control.”150
During the 107th Congress, congressional interest in this topic was reflected in
a recommendation made by the congressional Joint Inquiry Into September 11, which
among other things recommended a review encompassing the concepts of sensitive
or classified information:
Congress should also review the statutes, policies and procedures that govern the
national security classification of intelligence information and its protection from
unauthorized disclosure. Among other matters, Congress should consider the
degree to which excessive classification has been used in the past and the extent
to which the emerging threat environment has greatly increased the need for
real-time sharing of sensitive information. The Director of National Intelligence,
in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the
Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Attorney General, should review and
report to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on proposals for a new
and more realistic approach to the processes and structures that have governed
the designation of sensitive and classified information. The report should
include proposals to protect against the use of the classification process as a151
shield to protect agency self-interest.
Critiques of the White House (Card) Memorandum
While many observers agree with the objectives and implementation of the
March 2002 Card memorandum in order to lessen potential terrorist attacks, some
critics have urged caution in interpreting it and the accompanying guidance which
appears to allow agencies to widen types of information to be exempt from disclosure
under FOIA. It has been argued that “Several of the new restrictions on information
148 Science and Security in the 21st Century, op. cit., p. 62.
149 Science and Security in the 21st Century: op. cit., p. 62.
150 Science and Security in the 21st Century, op. cit., p. 57. OUO information is defined: “A
designation identifying certain unclassified by sensitive information that may be exempt
from public release under the Freedom of Information Act. Source: DOE 471.2A,
Information Security Program, 3-27-97 and Draft DOE Glossary.” from
151 Recommendations of the Final Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Joint Inquiry into the Terrorist
Attacks of September 11, 2001, Dec. 10, 2002. Available at
are not congruent with the existing legal framework defined by the Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA) or with the executive order [Executive Order 12598] that
governs National Security classification and declassification.”152 Some have
questioned the authority of national security directives pertaining to “sensitive, but
unclassified” information or say that where Congress has statutorily prescribed policy
contrary to information management policy prescribed in presidential directives or
agency regulations, the supremacy of statutory law would seemingly prevail. One
critic of the March 2002 White House memo cautioned that the term “sensitive but
unclassified” may be “the most dangerous level of secrecy, because it was not
defined [in the past] and there were no channels of appeal.”153 Similarly, others say
that “... no administrative mechanisms have been developed to allow those who
disagree with the decision to withhold information to challenge the decision or to
seek some remedy to the decision. To make this policy work, the federal government
needs to develop procedures that will allow citizens the ability to disagree with the
conclusions of the agency denying or withholding the information.”154
Policy Options for “Sensitive But Unclassified”
Some who seek to clarify policies for controlling public or private scientific
information that is not classified believe that scientific progress and innovation, and
even the fight against terrorism, will be harmed by limiting information flow. Yet
these critics share the goal of trying to keep potential terrorists from obtaining
information that could be used to threaten the United States. Some have called for
closer cooperation between the scientific and intelligence community to draft
guidelines relating to safeguarding scientific information that might be useful to
potential terrorists.155 These conflicting objectives raise perplexing dilemmas for
policymakers and scientists alike. Policy options discussed below focus on several
parts of this debate, including establishing uniformity in definitions and
implementing guidelines; establishing an appeals process for SBU information; and
the potential to classify or label as SBU more research information.
Considerations Related to a Uniform Definition of SBU. Since
agencies define the term SBU differently, various interpretations could lead to the
possibility that information that should not be released to the public because of its
potential value to terrorists might be released; that agencies might not release SBU
information to other agencies, or to state or local officials; or that the public may be
denied access to information whose release might be permitted. Questions about
152 Steven Aftergood and Henry Kelly, “Making Sense of Information Restrictions After
September 11,” FAS Public Interest Report, Mar./Apr. 2002.
153 “Science and Technology: Secrets and Lives; Academic Freedom,” The Economist, Mar.
154 Laura Gordon-Murnane, “Access to Government Information in a Post 9/11 World,”
Searcher, June 1, 2002.
155 See, for instance, James B. Petro and David A. Relman, “Understanding Threats to
Scientific Openness,” Science, Dec. 12, 2003, p. 1898.
ambiguities in the definition of the term SBU may raise interest about legislating, or
overseeing the process of developing, uniform criteria for SBU, especially since, in
P.L. 107-296, Congress encouraged nonfederal first responders to safeguard such
information via nondisclosure agreements.156
In order help set standards for SBU and SHSI, and to resolve policy dilemmas
surrounding definitions and procedural controls, after release of the Card
memorandum in March 2002, the White House Office of Homeland Security was
reported to have drafted a definition for SHSI,157 and that “originally, there was an
initiative to issue a Presidential Directive on unclassified but Homeland Security-
sensitive information.”158 This was never publically released, but several agencies,
including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, utilized it when developing criteria
to define SHSI as discussed in the Card and Ashcroft memos.159 Subsequently the
Office of Homeland Security asked the White House Office of Science and
Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget to develop
guidance, which had been expected to be released in 2002 or 2003. An objective of
the proposed guidance was to withhold information from persons who should not
have access to it, but to allow such information to be shared with those who might
have a need for it, such as law enforcement and emergency response personnel.160
OMB and OSTP met with stakeholder groups, including academics and
scientists, to obtain their views about how to develop guidance.161 During a meeting
156 For an assessment of these issues, see: “Sensitive But Unclassified Provisions in the
Homeland Security Act of 2002,” June 11, 2003, OMB Watch.
157 Discussed in U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Withholding Sensitive Homeland
Security Information From the Public,” Memorandum [to the Commission Members] From
William D. Travers, April 4, 2002, COMSECY-02-0015.
158 “Challenges in Disseminating Homeland Security Information,” Discussion with Steve
Cooper, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Information Integration,
White HOuse Office of Homeland Security, CENDI Participants and Alternates Meeting
Minutes, Oct. 22, 2002, available at [http://www.dtic.mil/cendi/minutes/pa_1002.html].
159 COMSECY-02-0015, op. cit.
160 Statement of Hon. John H. Marburger, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Before the Committee on Science, Oct. 10, 2002. Dr. Marburger said, OHS asked OMB to
develop guidance for Federal agencies “to ensure consistency of treatment of this
information within the government and by recipients, such as first responders. See also:
“OMB Tackles Sensitive But Unclassified Information,” Secrecy News, Sept. 3,2002.
Daniel J. Chenok, is the OMB official cited as explaining that OMB was developing
guidance and that an objective was to permit the sharing of information with first
161 See: “Challenges in Disseminating Homeland Security Information,” Discussion with
Steve Cooper, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Information
Integration, White House Office of Homeland Security, CENDI Participants and Alternates
Meeting Minutes, Oct. 22, 2002, available at
[http://www.dtic.mil/cendi/minutes/pa_1002.html]; “Sensitive but Unclassified,” OMB
Watch, Sept. 3, 2002. See also Statement of Hon. John H. Marburger, Director, Office of
Science and Technology Policy Before the Committee on Science, Oct. 10, 2002; “OMB
held in late August 2002, with academic and scientific officials and others discussing
the March 2002 memos, their implementation, and definitions, “[a]cademic and
scientific representatives ... argued [that] basic and applied research, even research
performed by the government, should not be subject to [sensitive but unclassified
homeland security information] SHSI guidelines and advocated following existing
rules for the handling of sensitive information, such as the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for the handling of select agents.”162
Academic officials reportedly left the meeting convinced that the March memo
applied only to “information that was generated and owned by the government, and
not university research,” nor to university research funded by federal government
grants.163 During hearings on Conducting Research During the War on Terrorism:
Balancing Openness and Security, held by the House Science Committee on October
10, 2002, White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) Director John
Marburger testified that the Administration wants “to ensure an open scientific
environment” while maintaining homeland security. He said SHSI would apply to
federal intelligence, law enforcement and public health information that generally
is not made public, but would not necessarily include research results.164 Several
other witnesses endorsed this position.
According to OSTP Director Marburger, SBU information related to homeland
security “... may be withheld from public disclosure only when it warrants protection
under one of the nine exceptions of the Freedom of Information Act.”165 The
relationship between FOIA and the Administration’s homeland security information
policies was the theme of a conference held by the Department of Justice’s Office of
Information and Privacy for FOIA officers during June 25, 2004.166 The topics of the
meeting were summarized in a FOIA Post article, but the discussion summaries were
not released to the public.
Tackles Sensitive But Unclassified Information,” Secrecy News, Sept. 3,2002; and “Remarks
by Secretary Ridge tot he Association of American Universities,” DHS Press Release. Apr.
162 Lum, op. cit., Oct. 11, 2002.
163 Anne Marie Borrego, “White House Gets Input from Universities As It Drafts New Rules
on Disclosure of Some Sensitive Research,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 23, 2002.
164 For reports on the hearing, see: Anne Marine Borrego, “In Testimony, University
Officials Reject ‘Sensitive’ Designation for Scientific Research,” Chronicle of Higher
Education, Oct. 11, 2002, “Impact of Homeland Security on Research and Education,” FYI,
American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News, Oct. 18, 2002, and Cheryl
Bolen, “Panel Considers Difficult Balance Between Open Research, Security,” Daily Report
for Executives, Oct. 11, 2002.
165 Answer to question Q5, in “Answers to Post-Hearing Questions,” Responses by Dr., John
H. Marburger, Director, OSTP [before the House Science Committee, 2002], available at
[http://commdocs.house.gov/ committees/science/hsy82178.000/hsy82178_1.HT M ].
166 “FOIA Officers Conference Held on Homeland Security,” FOIA Post, 2003, available
Despite many meetings in 2002 and 2003 with various stakeholders and
apparent attempts to draft policy, no SBU or SHSI policy guidance was issued.
Before July 2003, the OMB/OSTP guidance had been expected to constitute the
President’s instructions to federal agencies to “prescribe and implement procedures”
to “identify and safeguard sensitive homeland security information that is sensitive
but unclassified,” and to share this information with other federal agencies and
appropriate State and local personnel, as required by section 892 (a) (1) (A)(B) of
P.L. 107-296. The Secretary of DHS was assigned these functions pursuant to
Executive Order 13311, July 29, 2003 and the DHS Office of General Counsel was,
reportedly, developing the guidelines mandated by P.L. 107-296. It is not known
which perspectives will be used in guidance to federal agencies — the limited
definition of sensitive as in the Computer Security Act of 1987, the more expansive,
but somewhat limited, conceptualization of SBU in the Card memorandum and
attachments, or the broader conceptualization of SBU used by the Department of
Energy. It is expected that the definition will extend beyond SHSI per se, that is,
beyond information not routinely released to the public, such as law enforcement
data, personnel information, and information on computer vulnerabilities, to include
also a conceptualization of SBU information that could extend to some kinds of
scientific and technical data.
Some have speculated that the delay in issuing guidance is due to disagreement
about whether there should be public comment — which might involve discussions
raised by critics relating to ensuring allowing public access to information that could
be used to continue to permit public and community oversight of governmental and
industrial activities. Another concern that might be raised by the public in
commenting on proposed regulations could focus on penalties for violating
nondisclosure agreements that might affect unsuspecting recipients of SBU
information.167 Others say the delay “... may be ... a recognition of the voluntary
restraints the academic community has imposed on itself,” referring specifically to
professional groups’ activities in support of voluntary self-restraint168 for sensitive
scientific information. Although the law does not require public comment, an OMB
official169 and a Department of Justice release had said that SHSI guidance would be
subject to public notice comment before the regulation was implemented.170 It is not
clear whether the Department of Homeland Security will seek public comment now
167 See: “Groups Demand Pubic Input in Writing ‘Sensitive But Unclassified’ Procedures,”
OMB Watch, Aug. 27, 2003 and letter sent by these groups to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge
on Aug. 27, 2003. In the letter to Secretary Ridge, the groups alleged that the procedures
develop “would prohibit public disclosure of information subject o agreements between the
government and those receiving ;sensitive but unclassified’ information. One recent
analysis estimates that roughly four million people — including pubic health officials not
employed by government at any level — could be asked ...to sign formal nondisclosure
agreements. Those agreement s would be enforceable through civil and criminal sanction.”
168 AAUP, Academic Freedom and National Security in a Time of Crisis, Section III. 2003,
available at [http://www.aaup.org/statements/REPORTS/911report.htm].
169 Interview with OMB official, May 29, 2003.
170 “FOIA Officers Conference Held on Homeland Security,” FOIA Post, 2003, available
that it has been given responsibility to draft the regulations.171 Over 75 public
groups, “representing journalists, scientists, librarians, environmental groups, privacy
advocates, and others” wrote to DHS Secretary in August 2003, urging that he allow
public input on procedures to be prescribed and implemented for identifying,
safeguarding, and sharing the sensitive but unclassified homeland security
information referenced in section 892.172
Factors Agencies Might Use in Developing Nondisclosure Policy for
SBU Information. The Card and Ashcroft memos, together with section 892 of
P.L. 107-296, have given agencies a basis to make decisions about restricting access
to certain electronic and hard copy information that previously may have been
accessible to the public, but whose continued distribution might be detrimental to
homeland security. But it is unclear what conceptualizations agencies and the DHS
guidance will use. As noted above, agencies have discretion to identify and
withhold from the public, as sensitive or as sensitive but unclassified, information
which they determine is subject to nondisclosure (pursuant to both the Computer
Security Act of 1987 and the Administration’s interpretation of FOIA). Since the
basis of these determinations is subject to interpretation, both agency program
managers and the public who might seek access to such information may confront
ambiguity in definitions and different kinds of balancing tests. There are questions
about the uniformity of definitions used by different agencies and which values or
objectives should be encompassed in a risk analysis on which such nondisclosure
determinations might be based.
The definition of what information is SBU, at a minimum, is likely to
encompass concepts that are defined as sensitive in the Computer Security Act 1987,
that is to protect information whose disclosure “could adversely affect the national
interest or the conduct of Federal programs, or the privacy to which individuals are
entitled under ... the Privacy Act.” Also, it may encompass the NIST criteria for
sensitive information protection: confidentiality, integrity, and availability.173
Additionally, among the topics the Administration instructed agencies to consider
when making “discretionary disclosures” of SBU homeland security-related
information that could be exempt from FOIA is the “need to protect critical systems,
facilities, stockpiles, and other assets from security breaches and harm — and in
some instances from their potential use as weapons of mass destruction in and of
themselves.”174 The Administration also stressed that agencies, when applying
171 Sharing &Protecting Homeland Security Information: Avoiding Conflict Between the
Media and the Government: A Panel Discussion Made Possible by the Annenberg Public
Policy center With a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, National Press Club,
Washington, D.C., June 11, 2003, p. 5.
172 See: “Groups Demand Pubic Input in Writing ‘Sensitive But Unclassified’ Procedures,”
OMB Watch, Aug. 27, 2003; “IRE [Investigative Reporters and Editors] Supports Public
Comments on Homeland Security Information Sharing Act,” Aug. 19, 2003, available at
[ h t t p : / / www.i r e .or g/ f o i / s ha r i nga c t .ht ml ] .
173 CSL Bulletin: “Advising Users on Computer System Technology,” Nov. 1992.
[http://nsi.org/Library/Compsec/sensitiv.txt]. (Emphasis added.)
174 Freedom of Information Act Guide and Privacy Act Overview, May 2002, edition, op. cit.,
exemption 2, should consider the needs for an informed citizenry to ensure
accountability, “safeguarding our national security, enhancing the effectiveness of
our law enforcement agencies, protecting sensitive business information, and not
least preserving personal privacy.”175 Also to be considered were “ ... benefits that
result from the open and efficient exchange of scientific, technical, and like
information.” Criteria for sensitive but unclassified SHSI also are likely to reference
the types of information P.L. 107-296 identifies as “homeland security information”
— “any information possessed by a Federal, state, or local agency that — relates to
the threat of terrorist activity; relates to the ability to prevent, interdict, or disrupt
terrorist activity; would improve the identification or investigation of a suspected
terrorist or terrorist organization, or would improve the response to a terrorist act”
(Sec. 892 (f)).
Because of the difficulty of balancing the needs for information with security,
some critics of the White House March 2002 memo have focused on the need for
developing guiding principles. According to Steven Aftergood and Henry Kelly, “In
deciding how to treat such information, the administration should enunciate a clear
set of principles, as well as an equitable procedure for implementing them and
appealing adverse decisions,” with the appeals procedure “outside the originating
agency.”176 They said that “The guiding principles could be formulated as a set of
questions, such as:
Is the information otherwise available in public domain? (Or can it be readily
deduced from first principles?) If the answer is yes, then there is no valid reason
to withhold it, and doing so would undercut the credibility of official information
Is there specific reason to believe the information could be used by terrorists?
Are there countervailing considerations that would militate in favor of disclosure,
i.e., could it be used for beneficial purposes? Documents that describe in detail
how anthrax spores could be milled and coated so as to maximize their
dissemination presumptively pose a threat to national security and should be
withdrawn from the public domain. But not every document that has the word
“anthrax” in the title is sensitive. And even documents that are in some ways
sensitive might nevertheless serve to inform medical research and emergency
planning and might therefore be properly disclosed.
Is there specific reason to believe the information should be public knowledge?
It is in the nature of our political system that it functions in response to public
concern and controversy. Environmental hazards, defective products, and risky
corporate practices only tend to find their solution, if at all, following a thorough
p. 17, with the discussion based on Ashcroft memorandum of Oct. 15, 2001 and White
House Card Memorandum of March 19, 2002.
175 Freedom of Information Act Guide and Privacy Act Overview, May 2002, edition, op. cit.,
pp. 16-17 with the discussion based on Ashcroft memorandum of Oct. 15, 2001 and White
House Card Memorandum of March 19, 2002.
176 Aftergood and Kelly, Mar./Apr. 2002, op. cit.
public airing. Withholding controversial information from the public means
short-circuiting the political process, and risking a net loss in security.
Given the contending values and factors that affect a workable definition and
implementing rules, Congress may monitor the guidance that DHS develops to assist
agencies in identifying sensitive homeland security information and SBU. Because
of the potential implications of the forthcoming DHS concepts for private scientific
publications policy, various constituencies and scientific groups will undoubtedly
seek to examine the balance between security and access to information in these
The Potential to Classify More Research Information. Several
activities have occurred that might increase the amount of scientific research
information that is classified. As noted above, NSDD 189 and Executive Order
12958 both prohibit classification of certain kinds of federal scientific research
information except for reasons of national security. NSDD 189 deals with basic
research and Executive Order 12958 applies the prohibition to fundamental, or what
it defines as basic and applied, research. During 2001 and 2002, the heads of several
federal agencies with substantial research responsibilities, who did not have
classification authority under Executive Order 12958, the prevailing executive order
on classifying information,177 were given original classification authority. These178179
include the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and of Agriculture, and
also the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.180 Some of the
agencies with new classification authority, especially Health and Human Services and
Agriculture, support substantial amounts of counterterrorism research, as well as of
fundamental research in a variety of scientific and technical areas, often performed
on an extramural basis by researchers in colleges and universities.181
New Executive Order 13292, issued on March 25, 2003, amends Executive
Order 12958 on classified national security information. The amendment permits
classification of “scientific, technological, or economic matters relating to the
national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism” (new
clause in italics, sec. 1.4 (e)). The amendment appears to highlight that national
security-related scientific, technological, and economic information dealing with
defense against international terrorism may be classified. Given that the definition
177 A new executive order on classification was issued on March 25, 2003. See: “Executive
Order 13292, Further Amendment to Executive Order 12958, as Amended, Classified
National Security Information,” White House Press Release, Mar. 25, 2003.
178 “Order of December 10, 2001 — Designation Under Executive Order 12958, Federal
Register, Dec. 12, 2001, Volume 66, Number 239, pp. 64345-64347.
179 “Order of September 26, 2002 — Designation Under Executive Order 12958,” Federal
Register, Sept. 30, 2002, Volume 67, Number 189, pp. 61463-61465.
180 “Order of May 6, 2002 — Designation Under Executive Order 12958,” Federal Register,
May 9, 2002, Volume 67, Number 90, p. 31109.
181 See CRS Issue Brief IB10088, Federal Research and Development: Budgeting and
Priority-Setting Issues, 108th Congress, and CRS Report RS21270, Homeland Security and
Counterterrorism Research and Development: Funding, Organization, and Oversight.
of “national security,” in the two executive orders is not changed and that definition
could have encompassed matters related to transnational terrorism, it is unclear if the
amended order widens the scope of scientific, technological, and economic
information to be classified.182
In addition, the Department of Defense reportedly plans to reissue its guidelines
relating to pre-publication review of extramural research that it funds outside of its
own laboratories. Recently several university groups wrote a letter to the Director
of the Office of Science and Technology Policy complaining that more agency
program officials are inserting pre-publication review clauses into contracts,
including for fundamental research, without explanation as to their justification. This
has a “pernicious effects,” they said, “not only with regard to the freedom to publish
but also with regard to employment of foreign-born students and researchers on
federally funded research projects. If the contract clauses require blanket screening
of any and all foreign-born scientists, universities will object.”183
Agencies which were given original classification authority in the last few years
are now developing implementing guidelines and appointing security officers in
operating units. Given the long-standing federal policy embodied in Executive Order
12598 and in NSDD 189 of not classifying basic scientific research, except if release
would threaten national security, the balance between science and security in agency
guidelines will remain a topic of interest and concern. Interest in this topic may be
heightened because of the recent changes made in Executive Order 13292 to the
definition of the kinds of scientific, technological, and economic information that
may be classified.
The scientific and academic communities are expected to pay close attention to
these issues. Among the questions that may be raised are:
!Will new controls be placed on federally funded research, including
both intramural research conducted in an agency’s laboratories, and
on extramural research, that might be federally funded but conducted
in nonfederal academic and industrial research laboratories?
!Will controls encompass both classification levels and use of
designations such as sensitive and sensitive but unclassified?
!Will designation of a controlled research project be made before the
award of funds and the start of a project, or after a project is
completed and during a pre-publication review phase?
!What kinds of requirements will be placed upon nonfederal
researchers to safeguard research information?
!How will such controls affect the conduct of academic research for
the federal government?
182 The definition of “national security” is the same in both executive orders. It reads:
“National security means the national defense or foreign relations of the United States.”
183 “AAU/COGR/NASULGC Letter to OSTP Director on Scientific Openness,” Jan. 31,
2003, from President, Association of American Universities, President, National Association
of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, and President, Council on Governmental
!How will such controls differ from the controls on proprietary
research information that are deemed acceptable by most academic
institutions eager to receive financial support from industry?
!Will research agencies with original classification authority modify
their long-standing policies of encouraging publication and
dissemination of federally funded research results?
!Under the expanded definition of scientific and technological
information subject to classification in Executive Order 13292, will
agencies classify information that might have otherwise been
categorized as SBU?
Appeals Process for SBU Information. Another continuing issue is
expected to be an appeals process for designating information as SBU. Stephen
Aftergood, with the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), suggested that “ ... An
appeals panel that is outside of the originating agency and that therefore does not
have [the] same bureaucratic interests at stake would significantly enhance the
credibility of the deliberative process. The efficacy of such an appeals process has
been repeatedly demonstrated by an executive branch body called the Interagency184
Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP).” Another suggested approach is
that “To solve disputes that develop out of the new category of ‘sensitive but
unclassified’ information, one could allow the Information Security Oversight Office
(a part of the Executive Branch) to receive appeals to review disputes and challenges
to executive agency decisions regarding the release of documents and reports The
Office would oversee the appeals, it would have another set of eyes that would
examine the requested information and review it in a different context that the
executive agency. The ISOO might be able to work with both the agency involved
and those requesting the information to reach a compromise that everyone could
accept. It would also have the effect of keeping the oversight of the information in185
the hands of the executive branch.”
Determination of “Tiered” Access to SBU Information. Some agencies
have discussed developing procedures to permit “tiered,” or selective, access to
qualified and pre-screened individuals for some scientific and technical information,
that could be categorized as SBU or SHSI. Reportedly, EPA requires researchers to
obtain sponsorship from a senior EPA official, have their requests approved in
advance and register before using the Envirofacts database.186 EPA also has issued
instructions to utilities to submit threat or vulnerability assessments to the agency.
Using a protocol issued in December 2002, reportedly, EPA “... will keep sensitive
information in the assessments secure. The documents will be kept in one location
under lock and only individuals designated by EPA will have access to them.”187
EPA also will release other agency information to selected individuals only in hard
184 Steven Aftergood, “Making Sense of Government Information Restrictions,” Issues in
Science and Technology, Summer 2002.
185 Gordon-Murnane, op. cit., June 1, 2002.
186 Mary Graham, “The Information Wars,” The Atlantic Monthly, Sept. 2002, pp. 36-38.
187 “EPA Issues Instructions to Utilities on Submitting Threat Assessments,” Daily Report
for Executives, Jan,. 8, 2003, p. A-24.
copy at EPA offices and libraries throughout the nation.188 The Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a final rule, effective April 2, 2003, which
limits release of its critical energy infrastructure information on a selective or “tiered”
basis to members of the public based on their need to know and the legitimacy of
their need as determined by the Commission.189 FERC said it would not alter its
responsibilities under FOIA, but appears to be broadening, or at a minimum,
reinterpreting implementation of exemptions to disclosure under FOIA.190 The U.S.
Geological Survey has announced that it will implement four levels of control for its
a. No sensitivity is determined. No restriction is required. b. Product is
determined to be sensitive. Do not distribute. c. Sensitivity has been
determined for a previously distributed product that is widely available.
Withdrawal would be ineffective. Continue distribution of current version.
Restrict distribution of new features to updates for l year. d. Product is restricted
according to directive from another agency with specific authority for public
safety or national security.191
The equity of procedures for “tiered” or selective access; the need to create
public and or private panels to examine controls on the release of some information;
and the need to clarify relationships between the private sector and the government
with respect to safeguarding information in scientific publications to protect the
public interest are issues which may be raised in the legislative context.
188 See, for instance, Meredith Preston, “Researchers Says Work May Be Impeded By
Restrictions on Environmental Database,” Daily Report for Executives, Mar. 28, 2002. See
also CRS Report RL31354, Possible Impacts of Major Counter Terrorism Security Actions
on Research, Development, and Higher Education.
189 “Critical Energy Infrastructure Information,” Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Final Rule, Federal Register: Mar. 3, 2003, pp. 9857-9873 and “Amendments to Conform
Regulations With Order No. 630 (Critical Energy Infrastructure Information Final Rule)
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” Federal
Register, Apr. 16, 2003, pages 185638-18544.
190 “FERC Rulemaking to Restrict Information Access,” OMB Watch, Sept. 16, 2002.
191 Gordon-Murnane, op. cit.
Appendix 1. History of Atomic Energy “Restricted Data”
The development and history of atomic energy restricted data controls were
explained in a document prepared in 1989 by Arvin S. Quist, a classification officer
at the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which
is operated on contract for the Department of Energy.192 Excerpts below from the
Quist document explain the relevant provisions of these laws.
In the ... Atomic Energy Act of 1946, Congress established a special
category of information called “Restricted Data.” Restricted Data was defined
to encompass “all data concerning the manufacture or utilization of atomic
weapons, the production of fissionable material, or the use of fissionable193
material in the production of power.” Thus, by operation of law, nearly all
atomic (nuclear) energy information fell within the definition of RD. The
Atomic Energy Act authorized the AEC to control the dissemination of RD,
specifying as a prerequisite to access to this information that an individual must
have a security clearance ....
... Two particularly unique and significant aspects of RD warrant emphasis.
First, a positive action is not required to put information into the RD category.
If information falls within the Act’s definition of RD, it is in this category from
the moment of its origination; that is, it is “born classified.” The government has
no power to determine that information is RD ... only the power to declassify
RD. [In practice, the Government (Department of Energy) determines whether
information falls within the definition of Restricted Data.] ... The “born
classified” concept is unique with RD. This concept assumes that newly
discovered atomic energy information might be so significant with respect to the
nation’s security that it requires immediate and absolute control. ...National
Security Information is not so designated until an original classifier makes a
positive determination that the information falls within the definition of NSI ....
Although RD is said to be born classified, the Atomic Energy Act does not
specifically designate it as “classified” information. The Act defines RD and
prescribes very strict methods for its control without stating that it is “classified”
information. However, the Act does describe declassification of RD; therefore,
by implication, RD is “classified.” A second unique aspect of RD is that
information does not have to be owned or controlled by the government to be
classified as RD. ... The circumstance could even arise in which an individual
could originate RD and then not be allowed to possess it because of lack of
security clearance or “need to know.” The Atomic Energy Act does not forbid
an individual to generate RD, but, once RD is generated, the Act prohibits its
communication to persons not authorized to receive it.
192 Source: Arvin S. Quist, [Classification Officer, Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant Oak
Ridge National Laboratory], Security Classification of Information, Volume 1. Introduction,
History, and Adverse Impacts, Prepared by the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Oak
Ridge, Tennessee 37831-7101, operated by Martin Marietta Energy Systems, Inc. for the
U.S. Department of Energy, under contract DE-AC05-84OR21400, Prepared Sept. 1989,
193 Emphasis added.
In 1951, Congress amended the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 to make certain
atomic energy information available to other countries for purposes of weapons
development, but the National Security Council had to approve these information
flows. The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 amended the 1946 act to include “an
increased emphasis on wider dissemination of atomic energy information, to make
more of it accessible to U.S. industry and to the world in order to permit the
development of nuclear reactors for commercial production of electric power ... as
a consequence of President Eisenhower’s  Atoms For Peace initiative ....” The
Quist document says:
With respect to the control of information, the 1954 Act stated:
“It shall be the policy of the Commission to control the dissemination and
declassification of Restricted Data in such a manner as to assure the
common defense and security. Consistent with such policy the Commission
shall be guided by the following principles:
(a) Until effective and enforceable international safeguards against the use
of atomic energy for destructive purposes have been established by an
international arrangement, there shall be no exchange of Restricted Data
with other nations except as authorized by section 2164 of this title; and
(b) The dissemination of scientific and technical information relating to
atomic energy should be permitted and encouraged so as to provide that
free interchange of ideas and criticism which is essential to scientific and
industrial progress and public understanding and to enlarge the fund of
technical information. ...[42 U.S.C. sec. 2161.]”
... The 1954 Act added “industrial progress,” “public understanding,” and
“enlarge the fund of technical information” as reasons to disseminate atomic
energy information. Those additions provided the basis for the subsequent
declassification or downgrading of much atomic energy information.
... The 1946 Act had permitted declassification of RD only when the AEC
determined that it could be published without “adversely affecting the common
defense and security .... The 1954 Act changed “adversely affecting” to “undue
risk,” thereby shifting the balancing test towards declassification of more
information .... The increased emphasis of the 1954 Act in disseminating atomic
energy information is further exemplified by a continuous review requirement...:
... Prior to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, private persons could not have access
to RD for commercial purposes (e.g., development of commercial nuclear power
reactors). The only reason for allowing private persons to have access to such
data was on a need-to- know basis, in connection with national defense work.
Although the 1954 Act envisioned the commercial development of nuclear
energy, the Act contained no express provisions permitting access to RD for
commercial purposes. This hurdle was overcome in 1956 when the AEC used its
administrative powers to establish an Access Permit Program ... Under this
program, a permitted is able to have access to RD “applicable to civil uses of
atomic energy for use in his business, trade or profession.”
Appendix 2. Foreign Affairs Manual on SBU Information194
a. SBU describes information which warrants a degree of protection and
administrative control that meets the criteria for exemption from public
disclosure set forth under Sections 552 and 552a of Title 5, United States Code:
the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.
b. SBU information includes, but is not limited to:
(1) Medical, personnel, financial, investigatory, visa, law enforcement, or other
information which, if released, could result in harm or unfair treatment to any
individual or group, or could have a negative impact upon foreign policy or
(2) Information offered under conditions of confidentiality which arises in the
course of a deliberative process (or a civil discovery process), including attorney-
client privilege or work product, and information arising from the advice and
counsel of subordinates to policy makers.
Previous regulations regarding LOU material are superseded and LOU becomes
SBU as of the date of this publication.
a. U.S. citizen direct-hire supervisory employees are responsible for access,
dissemination, and release of SBU material. Employees will limit access to
protect SBU information from unintended public disclosure.
b. Employees may circulate SBU material to others, including Foreign Service
nationals, to carry out an official U.S. Government function if not otherwise
prohibited by law, regulation, or interagency agreement.
c. SBU information is not required to be marked, but should carry a distribution
restriction to make the recipient aware of specific controls. To protect SBU
information stored or processed on automated information systems, the
requirements found in 12 FAM 600 (Information Security Technology) must be
SAFEGUARDING/STORAGE, AND DESTRUCTION (TL:DS-47; 06-08-
a. Regardless of method, transmission of SBU information should be effected
through means that limit the potential for unauthorized public disclosure. Since
information transmitted over unencrypted electronic links such as telephones
may be intercepted by unintended recipients, custodians of SBU information
should decide whether specific information warrants a higher level of protection
accorded by a secure fax, phone, or other encrypted means of communication.
b. SBU information may be sent via the U.S. Postal Service, APO, commercial
messenger, or unclassified registered pouch, provided it is packaged in a way that
does not disclose its contents or the fact that it is SBU.
c. During nonduty hours, SBU information must be secured within a locked
office or suite, or secured in a locked container.
194 Source is: [http://foia.state.gov/docs/12fam/12m0540.pdf].
d. Destroy SBU documents by shredding or burning, or by other methods
consistent with law or regulation.
Unauthorized disclosure of SBU information may result in criminal and/or civil
penalties. Supervisors may take disciplinary action, as appropriate. State offices
responsible for the protection of records are outlined in 5 FAM. See 3 FAM for
regulations and process on disciplinary actions. (12 FAM 550 provisions
regarding incidents/violations do not pertain to SBU.)
Appendix 3. Excerpts From ISOO/OIP Guidance, March 18,
III. Sensitive But Unclassified Information
In addition to information that could reasonably be expected to assist in the
development or use of weapons of mass destruction, which should be classified
or reclassified as described in Parts I and II above, departments and agencies
maintain and control sensitive information related to America’s homeland
security that might not meet one or more of the standards for classification set
forth in Part 1 of Executive Order 12958. The need to protect such sensitive
information from inappropriate disclosure should be carefully considered, on a
case-by-case basis, together with the benefits that result from the open and
efficient exchange of scientific, technical, and like information.
All departments and agencies should ensure that in taking necessary and
appropriate actions to safeguard sensitive but unclassified information related to
America’s homeland security, they process any Freedom of Information Act
request for records containing such information in accordance with the Attorney
General’s FOIA Memorandum of October 12, 2001, by giving full and careful
consideration to all applicable FOIA exemptions. See FOIA Post, “New Attorney
General FOIA Memorandum Issued” (posted 10/15/01) (found at
www.usdoj.gov/oip/foiapost/2001foiapost19.htm), which discusses and provides
electronic links to further guidance on the authority available under Exemption
2 of the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)(2), for the protection of sensitive critical
infrastructure information. In the case of information that is voluntarily
submitted to the Government from the private sector, such information may
readily fall within the protection of Exemption 4 of the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552
As the accompanying memorandum from the Assistant to the President and Chief
of Staff indicates, federal departments and agencies should not hesitate to consult
with the Office of Information and Privacy, either with general anticipatory
questions or on a case-by-case basis as particular matters arise, regarding any
FOIA-related homeland security issue. Likewise, they should consult with the
Information Security Oversight Office on any matter pertaining to the
classification, declassification, or reclassification of information regarding the
development or use of weapons of mass destruction, or with the Department of
Energy’s Office of Security if the information concerns nuclear or radiological
195 Source: “Safeguarding Information Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction and Other
Sensitive Records Related to Homeland Security,” Memorandum for Departments and
Agencies, From Laura L.S. Kimberly, Information Security Oversight Office, National
Archives and Records Administration, and Richard L. Huff, and Daniel J. Metcalfe, Office
of Information and Privacy, Dept. of Justice, Subject; “Safeguarding Information Regarding
Weapons of Mass Destruction and Other Sensitive Records Related to Homeland Security,”
March 19, 2002.