Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You…

Posted by K.E. White on December 20, 2006

by kwhite, cross-listed at Campus Progress 

Last week, I heard former governor homeland security expert James Gilmore speak to Cato on improving our nation’s homeland security spending. He gave glowing comments to John Mueller’s recently published Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate the National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them. The Cato event centered around the book’s charge that domestic anti-terrorism spending is counter-productive to American security.

What did Gilmore–Chairman of USA Secure—-offer as a solution?

This dual-pronged approach: 1) greater emphasis on the citizen to learn how government is spending his or her money, and 2) more transparency from DHS on where funds are going.

As you might guess he was heavy on rhetoric, light on substance.

This led me to wonder, ‘Well, how transparent is DHS spending–or DHS in general?’

Finding this out proved more difficult than I first thought, but below is my first go-around answer.

First, a brief review:

The term classified information refers to materials the government keeps away from public view that may compromise national security. While it has its critics, it’s an established process that has been hammered out by the court system and our nation’s bureaucracy.

But did you know the government can keep unclassified out of the public eye?

There is exactly an umbrella of bureaucratic acronyms that each represent a certain perspective on what are known as “sensitive materials.”

This new batch of “sensitive” concealment-apparently 56 in all–has led some to complain of secrecy abuse, particularly by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Some allege DHS uses this nebulously defined category SSI (or “Sensitive Security Information”) to cloak embarrassing information.

While the most recent DHS appropriations bill (passed this October) did include a section clarifying what SSI meant, DHS still has a sweeping ability to keep information away from the public eye or even other government agencies.

Secrecy is clearly needed for aspects of our nation’s homeland security policies and spending. But this worry must be addressed: Is information that many would consider useful for the public to know about being concealed?

It appears the answer, at least as of September, is yes.

While I applaud Gilmore for pushing the administration–one he has ties to as former Chair of the Republican National Committee–to bring needed transparency to homeland security spending, I hope he offers more details on how to do this at his next public speaking event.

I hope by that time to understand our government’s “sensitive materials” mishmash.

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