Reading the Classifieds

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The State Department's Information Systems and Services office reminded everyone last week that putting SBU (Sensitive But Unclassified) on cables and e-mails is useless in terms of actually keeping the information from the public.

Worse yet, the folks at ISS said in a June 22 announcement, putting SBU on a document "DOES NOT by itself" protect the information from release under the dread Freedom of Information Act.

So if you want to keep it from getting to the public, you need to classify it as secret, top secret, eyes only, and so on. (Another problem with using SBU is that passing such information on is not a security violation, so the divulgers can't be punished.)

This useful reminder was issued only five days after The Washington Post published a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad recounting the daily hardships and dangers confronting Iraqi embassy employees. Every paragraph of that cable was marked SBU.

ISS assures us the new guidance had nothing to do with the publication of that cable, which apparently caused a bit of a fuss at Foggy Bottom. ISS says it periodically reissues such guidance.

We certainly believe them, though we hear no one at the State Department does. The new guidance almost surely means more secrecy.

"From their point of view, SBU is an informal 'we don't want to tell you' designation," said Steven Aftergood , a secrecy specialist at the Federation of American Scientists. The State Department apparently thinks "too much information is getting out."

Well, an informed public can be a real pain.

They're Baaaaaack . . .

This just in from Arab News, an English-language daily in the Middle East: "Saudis Offered Scholarships for Aviation Courses in US," says the headline.

"The Ministry of Higher Education and the General Authority of Civil Aviation are offering scholarships to Saudi men and women to study majors related to civil aviation in the United States," according to a bylined article from Jeddah, and application forms are on the ministry's Web site.

"The scholarships are available in majors such as communications, electrical and computer engineering . . . air traffic control, flight safety, and other majors related to the airline transport industry," we're told.

The Saudis are offering scholarships this year for study in Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States.

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