Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"Sensitive But Unclassified" Not Good Enough Anymore Says State Department

There is a minor, but interesting, administrative response resulting from the embarrassing cable from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad leaked to the press recently (see U.S. Embassy Cable Details Deteriorating Situation In Iraq).

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 word in Washington is that the "fuss at Foggy Bottom" had something to do with a deputy Secretary of State moving to a prestigious Wall Street firm.


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