Watchdog Group Removes Anti-Missile Report From Site

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The New York Sun

WASHINGTON — A scientific watchdog group has removed from its Web site an unclassified government report on anti-missile technology after receiving a warning letter from the Department of Homeland Security.

The Federation of American Scientists said yesterday that it decided to take down the report while reviewing the agency’s concerns.

“I have no interest in the absolute disclosure of absolutely everything,” the head of the association’s program on government secrecy, Steven Aftergood, said. “I think that’s a ridiculous position to hold.”

The organization’s decision to pull the report may be moot.As of yesterday afternoon, a cached copy of the document still was available through the leading Web search engine, Google.

“The disclosure process is effectively irreversible,” Mr. Aftergood observed. “That’s not necessarily a good thing.”

The 74-page report was delivered to Congress late last month and summarizes the Department of Homeland Security’s response to the threat posed by shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, referred to by specialists as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or Manpads.

On August 3, Mr. Aftergood posted the report to his organization’s Web site. Last week, the group’s president, Henry Kelly, received a letter from a Department of Homeland Security attorney, William Anderson.

“Due to the sensitive nature of the report, I request that your organization immediately remove the report from its Web site,” Mr. Anderson wrote. “If the report is not removed from your Web site within two business days, we will consider further appropriate actions necessary to protect the information contained in the report.”

Mr. Anderson acknowledged that the report was not classified, but said it carried a “for official use only” designation and should not have been released. He said the report contained sensitive information about anti-missile prototypes, including some based on military technology.

The letter, dated Wednesday, arrived via postal mail on Friday, Mr. Aftergood said.

Mr. Aftergood, who declined to say where he got the document, said it should have been classified if officials were so worried about its distribution. “It clearly does not reach a threshold of national security sensitivity even by their estimation,” he said.

A Homeland Security spokesman, Christopher Kelly, did not respond to questions for this article. It is unclear whether the agency approached the Associated Press, which obtained and wrote about the report on July 31.

Rep. Steven Israel, a Democrat of Long Island and a longtime advocate for anti-missile systems on commercial flights, said he was puzzled by the agency’s belated effort to get the report out of the public domain. “The DHS report told us what we already know: The threat of shoulder-fired missiles is real, and terrorist groups have tried to fire them at civilian airplanes at least 26 times,” Mr. Israel said. “If the terrorists know that already, who are we trying to hide this report from?”

Mr. Aftergood said his decision to acquiesce to the government’s request was influenced by a recent ruling in a criminal case against two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. Judge Thomas Ellis III declared that individuals could be prosecuted for obtaining or distributing closely held information related to national defense, even if it is unclassified.

Asked if the keeping the anti-missile report on the Web could have triggered criminal charges, Mr. Aftergood said, “Until last week, I would have laughed and said, ‘Of course not.'”

The scholar and critic of government classification policy said he is no longer so sanguine. “I could see a potential trap being set and I’m not interested in being a First Amendment martyr,” Mr. Aftergood said.

The New York Sun

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