By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2008
The Army has shut down public access to the largest online collection of its doctrinal publications, a move criticized by open-government advocates as unnecessary secrecy by a runaway bureaucracy.
Army officials moved the Reimer Digital Library ( http://atiam.train.army.mil) behind a password-protected firewall on Feb. 6, restricting access to an electronic trove that is popular with researchers for its wealth of field and technical manuals and documents on military operations, education, training and technology. All are unclassified, and most already are approved for public release.
"Almost everything connected to the Army is reflected in some way in the Reimer collection," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the nonprofit Federation of American Scientists. "It provides the public with an unparalleled window into Army policy. It provides unclassified resources on military planning and doctrine."
Aftergood, a daily user of the library until he was shut out by the new firewall two weeks ago, said the collection offers specialized military manuscripts that do not appear on the shelves of local libraries. These include documents on the Army's use of unmanned aircraft; tactics and techniques for the use of nonlethal weapons; a field manual for non-engineers on the fundamentals of flight; and a manual on working dogs in the military.
"All of this stuff had been specifically approved for public release," Aftergood said. "I think it's a case of bureaucracy run amok. And it's a familiar impulse to secrecy that needs to be challenged at every turn."
For years, open-government advocates have complained about the Bush administration's penchant for confidentiality, from the White House's long-standing refusal to release lists of presidential visitors to the secrecy surrounding the administration's warrantless wiretapping program and Vice President Cheney's energy policy task force.
In 2006, the National Archives acknowledged that the CIA and other agencies had withdrawn thousands of records from the public shelves over several years and inappropriately reclassified many of them. Early in 2002, then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft issued a memo urging federal agencies to use whatever legal means necessary to reject Freedom of Information Act requests for public documents.
Army officials said yesterday that they were compelled to limit access to the Reimer library site to comply with Department of Defense policies that call for tightening the security of military Web sites and to keep better track internally of who is accessing them and why.
"You've got to be a member of the military or a Department of Defense worker to have access to it," and not all of them can get in, said Ray Harp, a spokesman for the Army Training and Doctrine Command, which oversees and maintains the Reimer collection. "They did this to make sure they are in line with the current DOD and DA [Department of the Army] information assurance policies."
Harp said some of the documents in the collection still are available to the public through the Army Publishing Directorate ( http://www.usapa.army.mil). That is not good enough, according to Aftergood, who said many of the most important documents on that site are password-protected, as well, despite having been cleared for public release. His group recently filed a FOIA request for all of the unclassified documents in the Reimer collection in order to replicate the archive on its own publicly accessible Web site.
"They can configure Army Web sites however they like," Aftergood said. "What they cannot do is to withhold information from the public that is subject to release under the FOIA. . . . What we really want to do is to persuade them to adopt a reasonable policy of openness, not to provide an alternative -- unless we have to."