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Magazines > Searcher > January 2006
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Vol. 14 No. 1 — Jan 2006

Shhh!!: Keeping Current on Government Secrecy
by Laura Gordon-Murnane

Since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, the Bush administration has issued important and far-ranging policy directives that include executive orders, memoranda, and new legislation, all designed to ensure the safety of the nation and protect the American public against future terrorist attacks.1 At the same time, these very policy changes have profoundly impacted how American citizens gain access to taxpayer-supported government information. Frequently, news stories highlight the removal of reports, database files, and documents once available to the American public that have become unavailable due to national security concerns.2

Since September 11, 2001, several important trends have affected access to federal documents and information. First and foremost, the federal government is keeping more information away from the public. In July 2005, The New York Times reported that the government in a single year (2004) classified more than 15 million pages, while declassifying only 28 million pages.3 Not surprisingly, the increased secrecy is very expensive and costly. The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) issued its 2004 Report on Cost Estimates for Security Classification Activities and found that "the total security classification cost estimates within Government for FY 2004 is $7.2 Billion." This represents an "11 percent increase above the cost estimates reported for FY 2003."5 Furthermore, in its 2004 Report to the President, ISOO warned that "over classification, besides needlessly and perhaps dangerously restricting information sharing, also wastes untold dollars."6 Secrecy is also costly in terms of sharing information and being prepared to deal with threats to national security. The 9/11 Commission identified over-classification of documents and the "need to know" culture as one of the serious problems that led to a failure of imagination.7

A government watchdog organization,, released its own Secrecy Report Card 2005 (see the sidebar on page 35) in September 2005, detailing the rising costs of secrecy and the increasing number of classified documents.8

A second trend has more and more Americans finding it necessary to file Freedom of Informatin Act (FOIA) requests to get access to government information. In May 11, 2005, testimony before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability, Linda D. Koontz, director, information management issues for the Government Accountability Office, stated that "the number of requests that agencies received increased by 71 percent from 2002 to 2004." Agencies also reported that "they have been processing more requests — 68 percent more from 2002 to 2004.... For 92 percent of requests processed in 2004, agencies reported that responsive records were provided in full to requesters."9 However, the GAO report noted that "the number of pending requests carried over from year to year — known as the backlog — has been increasing, rising 14 percent since 2002."10

The Society of Environmental Journalists released a report entitled "A Flawed Tool: Environmental Reporters’ Experiences with the Freedom of Information Act"11 (see the sidebar above left). Based on interviews with 55 reporters who use FOIA, the report "revealed growing shortcomings in the way the government is treating FOIA requests."

When it comes to FOIA requests, many government agencies employ a delaying strategy. And the strategy seems to be effective. Reports, articles, documentaries, news reports must be written and filed without requested FOIA information. The agencies can embrace this practice and suffer no penalties or consequences, even when the requests come from the press.

Federal agencies have also removed government documents from agency Web sites and databases (see the sidebar at left). Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy, wrote in Slate magazine that government agencies have "restricted access to unclassified information in libraries, archives, Web sites, and official databases."12 No complete list, inventory, or catalog of all the removed materials is available. In the absence of this inventory, Aftergood, OMBWatch, the Memoryhole,, and other groups have tried to publicize and make available documents and materials that have been removed.

The removal of unclassified documents has led to a fourth trend. More and more unclassified documents previously available "are now barred to the public and identified as ‘sensitive but unclassified’ or ‘for official use only.’"13 The federal government is employing strategies to keep unclassified information hidden from the American public by creating a whole new class of ill-defined, vague "classifications" that go far beyond the exemptions written into law by FOIA (see the sidebar on page 37). has compiled a list of 50 such vague classifications (see the sidebar on page 39) but speculates that there could be as many as 60 designations. In my own research, I have found a few more designations that did not include in their list. These designations are troubling and require continued scrutiny because "such unchecked secrecy threatens accountability in government and promotes conflicts of interest by allowing those with an interest in disclosure or concealment to decide between openness or secrecy."14

As a nation, we must wrestle with the very real concerns, challenges, and threats to our national security, but our deliberations and actions must work within the context of a democratic society that passionately embraces open and transparent government. We need an information access policy that is thoughtful, practical, and transparent. In a statement before Congress, Mr. William Crowell, former deputy director of the National Security Agency (NSA), argued that "we must shed our current cold-war need-to know mentality and replace it with a culture based on a need-to-share."16 A former executive of one of the nation’s leading intelligence agencies urges us to share information, not hide it.

Librarians and information professionals excel at sharing information and resources with clients, customers, patrons, researchers, scientists, journalists, and students. In the interest of sharing information, here is a list of Web sites, blogs, listservs, and newsletters that could help clients needing access to government documents but who might experience difficulty locating that information. The list is arranged by government watchdog sites, sites that provide access to government documents, sites that document government secrecy, and advocacy groups that report on FOIA news. I hope that you find this list useful for you, your colleagues, and your patrons.

Government Watchdog Groups

Annenberg Political Fact Check — Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania

Director: Brooks Jackson

E-mail alert sign up:

No RSS feeds

A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the Annenberg Political Fact Check provides an independent examination of statements and policies made by government officials, members of Congress, and advocacy organizations. It checks the accuracy of the statements made.

Blog — SecrecyBlog (updated irregularly):

E-mail alerts available

No RSS feeds is a project run by Public Citizen. The site focuses on four topics: regulatory deception, executive privilege, FOIA, and national security. It provides access to letters from senators to the administration, GAO reports, EPA reports, Justice Department memos, and the FOIC Agency FOIA database. It also links to the Public Citizen’s FOIA home page, FOIA regulations, FOIA annual reports, e-mail addresses, and FOIA contact information.

Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT)

Executive director: James X. Dempsey

Open Government:


E-mail alerts:

Join the Activist Network:

RSS Feed:

The Center concentrates on the law, technology, and policy within the context of promoting democratic values and constitutional liberties in the digital age. CDT’s site is very active. If you want to learn about Congressional activities in relation to technology, visit this site regularly. It provides headlines and news and has an interesting section called "Ten Most Wanted Documents" []. It also carries news and links to pending legislation, reports published by CDT, and testimony and speeches. The site has started a podcast with discussions of important issues relating to government, technology, and privacy. The site also has an "Open Government" section that details government activities, legislation, and news.

Coalition of Journalists for Open Government

Coordinator: Pete Weitzel

No e-mail alerts (but an e-mail address is available)

Site is searchable

No RSS feeds

"The Coalition of Journalists for Open Government is an alliance of more than 30 journalism-related organizations concerned about secrecy in government and the increasing closure of public records and meetings at all levels of government." The CJOG has a very useful Web site that combines current headlines on FOIA and government secrecy, FOIA and secrecy stories from inside and outside the "Beltway," and stories about new and existing legislation. The site identifies useful resources, including Web sites, experts, reports, sources, and how to find government documents. Such an active site with such a wealth of useful FOIA news and reports from around the country cries out for an RSS feed or at least an e-mail alert service.

Under Reports and Resources you will find a list of reports from other organizations as well as a list of newsletters and listservs [].


Owner: John Young

No: e-mail alerts

RSS feed:

"Cryptome welcomes documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance — open, secret and classified documents — but not limited to those." The site has many links to Federal Register documents that might have gone unnoticed or unreported. It also links to new stories, government documents, photos, and videos.

Early Warning, William Arkin, National and Homeland Security (Blog)


No e-mail alerts

No RSS feeds

Journalist and author, William Arkin, has started a new blog called "Early Warning." He plans to use the blog to "report daily on the comings and goings of the security community — military, special ops, intelligence, homeland security." He also uses the blog as an archive for posting documents that have come into his possession. He plans to use the blog to go into more detail on stories and issues that are no longer front-page material for the mainstream media.

Federation of American Scientists (FAS)

President: Henry Kelly

News section (main page):

"The Federation of American Scientists is a nonprofit, tax-exempt, 501c3 organization founded in 1945 as the Federation of Atomic Scientists." The Federation tackles many different issues, including U.S. chain of command, arms trade, nuclear weapons, terrorism, nanotechnology, and government secrecy. The site links to news stories and recently published reports.

FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Director: Stephen Aftergood

Secrecy News Archive:

Electronic Newsletter — Secrecy News and Security News;

sign up:

The project "works to challenge unwarranted secrecy and to promote reform of national security information policy and practice." Aftergood is an active believer in representative and democratic government with a voice both passionate and thoughtful. He believes that democratic government has a responsibility to be truthful and honest to its citizens, but he also believes that some information should be classified. He aims for a balance between what government should keep classified and what the American public should be able to see. The site is very active with new information provided on a regular basis.

Aftergood is real fan of librarians and believes that librarians play a very important and active role in providing help and assistance to the public looking for hard-to-find government information.

This is one of the most important sites on the Internet, maintaining a fresh and current archive of government documents that have been removed from the Web. If you are interested in government secrecy issues, visit this site regularly. Sign up for Secrecy News — "an e-mail publication of the FAS Project on Government Secrecy. It provides informal coverage of new developments in secrecy, security and intelligence policies, as well as links to new acquisitions on our Web site. It is published 2 to 3 times a week, or as events warrant."

Freedom of Information Clearinghouse

E-mail alerts available:

No RSS feeds

The Freedom of Information Clearinghouse is a joint project of Public Citizen and Ralph Nader’s Center for Study of Responsive Law. The site provides an introduction to FOIA; Drafting FOIA requests; Legal Research and Litigation Resources; and Speeches, Reports, Comments on Agency Rules. It also includes specific sections on the FOIA and Government Secrecy [
; Presidential Records Access [
; and Briefs, Testimony, Memoranda [].

Director: John E. Pike

E-newsletter available:

No RSS feeds

Launched in 2000, provides access to military news around the world. The site includes a section called Hot Docs, which links to documents from DOD, FBI, and congressional votes. If you are interested in global security issues, this is a great place to start.

Internet Archive

Digital librarian, director, and co-founder: Brewster Kahle

Founded in 1996, "The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded to build an ‘Internet library,’ with the purpose of offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format." This ever-growing site includes archived Web pages, texts, audio, moving images, and software downloads. It is an invaluable source of information and a great place to search and browse for previously released documents, particularly using its "Wayback Machine."


Owner: Russ Kick

E-mail updates: Weekly Government Secrecy News []

Blog — Memoryholeblog []

RSS feed:

"The Memory Hole exists to preserve and spread material that is in danger of being lost, is hard to find, or is not widely known." This site provides access to a wide range of documents, including government files, corporate memos, court documents (e.g., lawsuits and transcripts), police reports and eyewitness statements, congressional testimony, reports (governmental and nongovernmental), maps, patents, Web pages, photographs, video, and sound recordings, news articles, books (and portions of books). The site updates regularly.

National Security Archives

Director: Thomas S. Blanton

Subscribe to the National Security Archive e-mail alert:

FOIA section:

Document section:

Section on Government Secrecy:

No RSS feeds

"The National Security Archive is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)." If you are looking for government documents, visit this site.

"The Archive’s holdings include more than two million pages of accessioned material in over 200 separate collections. Supporting some 30 terminals, the Archive’s computer system hosts major databases of released documents (over 100,000 records), authority files of individuals and organizations in international affairs (over 30,000 records), and FOIA requests filed by Archive staff and outside requesters on international affairs (over 20,000 records)." Subject areas include Europe, Latin America, Nuclear History, China and East Asia, U.S. Intelligence, Middle East and South Asia, The September 11th Sourcebooks, Humanitarian Interventions, and Government Secrecy [].

The site is a constant mix of newly available historical documents, news articles on government secrecy, and links to documents. An invaluable site for those doing historical research.

National Security Whistleblowers Coalition (NSWBC)

President: Sibel Edmonds

E-mail address and contact information available:

No RSS feeds

Founded in August 2004, the Coalition is an independent and nonpartisan alliance of whistle-blowers who felt compelled to reveal problems, abuse, fraud, and waste within the federal government. The site links to congressional testimony, letters, members’ Op-Ed articles, reports from the Department of Justice, and current news articles.

OMB Watch

Executive Director: Gary Bass

Section on Information Access News:

OMB Watch List of e-mail newsletters:

•   OMB Watcher (biweekly newsletter):

•   Budget and Tax Policy:

•   Estate Tax:

•   Information & Access List:

•   Government Grant Streamlining:

•   Nonprofit Advocacy:

•   Public Right to Know: Community Toxics Watch

•   Regulatory Issues:




No RSS feeds for any of the blogs

OMB Watch was formed in 1983 and oversees federal regulation, the budget, information collection and dissemination, proposed legislation, testimony by agencies, and much more [].

Topics within Information Access News include Homeland Security, Environmental Right to Know, Data Quality Act, Peer Review, Politics & Science, Freedom of Information, Whistleblowers, and State Policies. This section is very active and OMB Watch provides an e-mail alert service to keep readers current on new articles, news, reports, and hearings that relate to access to government information. A very important site. See the sidebar on page 41 for other OMB resources.

All recent reports:

All recently added:

RSS feeds

Recently, the above-mentioned Center for Dem­ocracy and Technology created this new site with a collection of more than 8,000 Congressional Research Service reports and a searchable archive.

The University of North Texas (UNT) Libraries has also launched it own archive of CRS Reports [http://digital.]. This archive is larger than, with a searchable and browseable archive.

Project on Government Oversight — POGO

Executive director: Danielle Brian

E-mail alert sign up: a very active and informative blog, well worth subscribing to [
signup/signUp.jsp?key=36 POGOBlog:]

Specific e-mail alerts: List includes e-mail alerts in these areas: Global News List; Defense News List; Energy & Environment News List; Open Government News List; Contract Oversight News List.

RSS feed is available for all investigations:

RSS feed — Katrina Contracting:

Founded in 1981, POGO investigates corruption, waste, and fraud in the areas of defense, energy and environment, contract oversight, and open government. Links to news stories as well as original reports. The section on Open Government includes information on campaign finance disclosure and reporting, the False Claims Act, FOIA, government reform, government secrecy, and protecting whistleblowers. This section also provides access to news articles and commentary, congressional letters, panel discussions, POGO investigations, Federal Register notices, memos, and congressional testimony [].

Washington Watch Dog

Includes RSS Feeds for each area of interest:

No information on who runs this site, but a Whois search revealed that OMBWatch and Les Blomberg, executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, hold the domain name. The site carries new federal documents published within the last 14 days in the areas of Critical Energy Infrastructure Information, Critical Information, Data and Information Quality, E-Government, Information Policy, Right-to-Know, Sensitive but Unclassified, and Whistleblowers. Great way to stay current.



Executive director: Anthony D. Romero

Blog — Reform the Patriot Act:

RSS feeds available for blog

Sign up for e-mail alerts:

RSS feeds for news alerts and action alerts: and

The ACLU was founded in 1920 as a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization to promote and defend civil liberties. The ACLU concentrates on many different areas, including but not limited to, Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Disability Rights, Free Speech, Immigrants Rights, Lesbian and Gay Rights, National Security, Safe and Free, and Voting Rights. This is a very active site and provides access to documents requested by the ACLU under FOIA. The section Safe and Free covers topics that include PATRIOT Act, Secrecy, Dissent, Surveillance, No Fly Lists, and Detentions [].

The section on National Security [] concentrates on individual rights and open government.

Brechner Center for Freedom of Information (University of Florida)

Executive director: Sandra F. Chance

No e-mail alert

No RSS feeds

No blog

"The Brechner Center answers queries about media law from journalists, attorneys, and other members of the public." A collection of FOIA resources includes an eclectic list that links to FOIA organizations, electronic records, the Brechner Center’s own database collections, Brechner reports, and FOIA guides
[]. The site concentrates on Florida but has links to national and international FOIA organizations.

The Citizen Access Project at the University of Florida

Project director: Bill Chamberlin

A related site to the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, the Citizen Access Project offers state-by-state comparisons on access to government information. A useful site if you need to learn more about state FOIA laws and filing state FOIA requests.

Common Cause

President and CEO: Chellie Pingree

Section on Government Accountability:

Section on Open Government:

E-mail updates available

No RSS feeds for site or blog

Common Cause, founded in 1970, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization that works to keep government officials accountable to the public. Common Cause works in the areas of government accountability, election reform, media and democracy, and money in politics. The site’s press center provides access to press releases, released letters, and congressional testimony. The site also provides links to Common Cause’s own reports and studies as well as documents/reports from other organizations.

The Common Blog [] is an active blog and anyone is free to comment. It deals with all areas of interest to Common Cause. E-mail alerts are available.

Counsel for a Livable World — The National Security Legislative Calendar

E-mail alert: subscription

RSS/Atom feeds:;

The Counsel for a Livable World was founded in 1962 by nuclear physicist Leo Szilard. Its mission is to educate Senators and members of Congress on nuclear weapons, strategic and conventional weapons, the military budget, and United Nations’ peacekeeping operations. The Counsel publishes a National Security Legislative Calendar every Monday when Congress is in session [].

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Executive director: Marc Rotenberg

EPIC FOIA Notes [] is an online newsletter that provides access to documents obtained by EPIC under FOIA. An e-mail subscription to FOIA Notes is available.

EPIC e-mail alert: The biweekly alert [] covers issues related to privacy and civil liberties in the information age

No RSS feeds

"EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values." Latest privacy news appears in the center column. Policy Issues includes a section on Open Government. The site includes EPIC’s FOIA docket, news, selected FOIA documents, FOIA Guides, and Legal documents on FOIA [].

Freedom of Information Center

Executive director FOI Center: Charles N. Davis

No RSS feeds

Established in 1958, the Center has an impressive collection of more than 1 million documents from state, federal, and local governments that deal with access to information. The Web site also maintains an archive of documents. It also carries current FOIA-related news and a long list of continuously updated topics, some updated more frequently than others. Subscribe to The Advocate at

Freedom Forum

The First Amendment Center

President: Newseum Peter S. Prichard

No e-mail alert

No RSS feeds

The Freedom Forum, established in 1991, is a nonpartisan foundation that focuses on the areas of a free press, the First Amendment, and free speech. The First Amendment Center, a part of the Freedom Forum, features research in First Amendment issues, including free speech, free press, religious liberty, free assembly, and freedom of petition. The site provides daily First Amendment news, a First Amendment Library (a searchable and browseable collection of documents that includes Supreme Court opinions, transcripts of Supreme Court oral arguments, legislation, and other historical materials), and guest analyses by legal scholars.

Managing editor: Thomas Blanton

FOIA News Digest:

IFTI Watch — News about Access to Information in International Financial and Trade Institutions []

E-mail alert:

No RSS feeds

"This site is a one-stop portal that describes best practices, consolidates lessons learned, explains campaign strategies and tactics, and links the efforts of freedom of information advocates around the world. It contains crucial information on freedom of information laws and how they were drafted and implemented, including how various provisions have worked in practice." The site includes FOIA news from around the world, case studies, original reports, analysis pieces, and links to other FOIA organizations, international financial and trade institutions, media links, etc.

Government Accountability Program

President and corporate accountability director & development director: Louis Clark

Free e-mail alerts (and, if you are a journalist, you can specify what topics of interest you cover):

No RSS feeds

"The Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability through advancing occupational free speech and ethical conduct, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists." The site bills itself as the nation’s leading whistle-blower organization. The organization concentrates on five program areas: Nuclear Safety, International Reform, Corporate Accountability, Food and Drug Safety, and Federal Employee/National Security. The center column provides current news about key whistle-blower legislation and news stories about whistle-blower court cases. There is also a whistle-blowers network and links to resources about filing whistle-blower complaints.

Government Documents obtained through FOIA

This section of the ACLU site contains hundreds if not thousands of documents released by government agencies as a result of FOIA requests made by the ACLU.

Investigative Reporters and Editors

Executive director: Brant Houston

RSS feed for Extra Extra!:

"Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. is a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of investigative reporting." The site has a FOIA and First Amendment Center and "is designed to be a central repository for IRE information about FOI activities and links to other valuable FOI resources. Providing examples and guidance for new FOI requests ideally will help speed the process and improve the success rate." Only IRE members can access a FOIA database and FOIA tip sheets, but other FOIA-related information is available to nonmembers, including a list of useful links to FOIA sites and organizations, best resources, FOIA-related speeches, interviews, and projects, and stories about FOIA culled from Extra! Extra! [].

The site provides a list of listservs that members and nonmembers can join

Judicial Watch

President: Tom Fitton

Judicial Watch Blog:

Weekly e-mail newsletter:

RSS Feed for JW Blog:

Established in 1994, Judicial Watch bills itself "as an ethical and legal ‘watchdog’ over government, legal, and judicial systems," seeking to promote ethics and morality in government. Judicial Watch lists four areas of focus: Fighting Secrecy, Battling Corruption, Watching the Courts, and Promoting Integrity. The section Fighting Secrecy is organized into several areas — Open Records Project, Open Records Litigation, Documents Uncovered, Judicial Financial Disclosure Project, and Open Records Laws. The Open Records Project is available to "other conservative non-profit organizations in order to help the open records process work in support of conservative public policy."

National Freedom of Information Coalition

Executive director: Katherine Garner, also executive director for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas

Provides a list of State FOIA newsletters:

FOI-L listserv is supported by NFOIC:

No e-mail updates

No RSS feeds

"The National FOI Coalition joins First Amendment and open government organizations from individual states in a self-supporting alliance as they seek to protect the public’s right to know through the education of media professionals, attorneys, academics, students and the general public." The center section provides access to FOIA news stories. In the section under Resources, the center provides a guide on "obtaining information guaranteed under state and federal open meetings and open records laws. Regularly updated and maintained, these pages contain descriptions and links for FOI publications, contacts, legislation and current events." A really useful source for finding FOIA-related sites, organizations, contacts, and practical resources on how to file FOIA requests [].

Nieman Watchdog Journalism Project

Nieman Watchdog project editor: Barry Sussman

No e-mail alerts

RSS feed is available:

The Nieman Watchdog Journalism Project, founded in 1938, is part of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. It was established "to help the press ask penetrating questions, critical questions, questions that matter, questions not yet asked about today’s news." Journalists should find the "Ask This" section interesting. It includes a list of stories and suggested questions from university faculty and journalists around the country. The section includes a list of questions and provides links to useful resources for additional research. Brief biographical information appears about the persons suggesting the questions. The site also lists current stories that focus on the responsibilities of the press in challenging government leaders to provide accurate information for the American public.

Society of Professional Journalists

Executive director of the Society of Professional Journalists/Sigma Delta Chi Foundation: Terry Harper

FOIA News:

Short list of FOIA resources as well as a list of FOIA contacts (phone numbers) for selected states:

Sign up for a weekly PressNotes mailto:

No: RSS feeds

"The Society of Professional Journalists is dedicated to the perpetuation of a free press as the cornerstone of our nation and our liberty." The Society has a committee that deals with Freedom of Information issues. This committee "is the watchdog of press freedoms across the nation. It relies upon a network of volunteers in each state organized under Project Sunshine. These SPJ members are on the front lines for assaults to the First Amendment and when lawmakers attempt to restrict the public’s access to documents and the government’s business. The committee often is called upon to intervene in instances where the media is restricted."

The SPJ site has a really useful section on FOIA that includes FOIA News, FOIA Basics, FOIA and Daily News Coverage, Red Flags (a section that describes what reporters should look for when government officials try to prevent public access to government information, hearings, reports, etc.), a FOIA A–Z resource, and links to FOIA resources [].

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Executive director: Lucy Dalglish

E-mail Alerts:

E-mail news releases: Behind the Home Front — RCFP blog:

RSS feed available:

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) is an important resource in learning about free speech issues. The site provides a biweekly newsletter, 24 hour hotline, and the really useful "Tapping Officials’ Secrets" section — "a complete compendium of information on every state’s open records and open meetings laws. Each state’s section is arranged according to a standard outline, making it easy to compare laws in various states" [].

The RCFP has a great blog — Behind the Home Front. The blog is a daily chronicle of news in "homeland security and military operations affecting newsgathering, access to information and the public’s right to know." The blog welcomes tips, suggestions, and comments. Great way to stay current, especially if you use the RSS feed.

Society of Environmental Journalists

Executive director: Beth Parke

Useful Links:

SEJ Member Blogs and More:

Today’s Headlines:

Environmental Journalism Today:


WatchDog TipSheet:


Environmental Events Calendar:

Useful Links:

RSS feeds:

The Society was founded in 1990 by award-winning journalists. "The mission of the Society of Environmental Journalists is to advance public understanding of environmental issues by improving the quality, accuracy, and visibility of environmental reporting." The site has an impressive collection of materials, including a links library, environmental blogs, e-news headlines, Environmental Journalism Today, and the TipSheet.

A joint product of SEJ and the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation, the TipSheet section provides biweekly news tips to notify journalists of potential environmental stories and sources. It is a great way to stay in touch with environmental stories and an RSS feed makes it easy to keep current [].

The section on FOIA provides access to a useful list of resources and tools: "FOIA Fundamentals," "Key FOIA Resources on the Internet," "FOIA War Stories," and contacts for help with FOIA issues. Includes FOIA letter generator [].

E-mail alerts:

RSS feeds are available: RSS 2.0, RSS 1.0, MyYahoo!, and Bloglines (scroll to bottom of right column)

Law librarian Sabrina Pacifici’s legal blog. Daily posts on topics relevant to anyone interested in government information, legislation, and librarians.

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Blog

E-mail subscription list is available

RSS feed:

The staff members for the magazine have put together a blog, which is updated irregularly. If you are interested in reading what is important to nuclear scientists, start here. Wide-ranging discussions appear on many things atomic and nuclear and what the government is doing, not doing, and maybe shouldn’t be doing.

Defense Tech

Editor: Noah Shachtman

RSS feed:

All things defense — keep abreast of news, reports, people in the military, and the government. Good list of bloggers, government Web sites, military Web sites, and news and intel, security blogs, and geeks and scientist Web sites and blogs.

Fedblog from the Government Executive magazine

Executive editor: Tom Shoop

RSS feeds available:

This blog reports on a wide variety of reports, hearings, and events going on in the federal government. Good way to stay on top of current government issues. Links to other blogs.

Free Government Information

RSS feed available:

"The Free Government Information was initiated by Jim A. Jacobs, James R. Jacobs, Shinjoung Yeo, three librarians at University of California San Diego, along with Daniel Cornwall, librarian at the Alaska State Library, in order to raise public awareness of the importance of government information and create a community with various stakeholders to facilitate an open and critical dialogue." This very thoughtful and active site is worth checking out.

The Insider introduces the Insider, an exclusive, free news report for defense professionals. Published every Tuesday and Thursday, The Insider reports news on the Defense Department, Congress, and the defense industry.

The Resource Shelf and Dockuticker

E-mail subscriptions:

The Resource Shelf RSS feed:

Docuticker RSS feed:

Gary Price has put up an amazing collection of documents, reports, news, and articles. A must-read.

Washington Post’s Federal Diary

Stephen Barr: The Washington Post

Not really a blog but a good place to check on a regular basis to see what is happening in the government.


FOI Advocate

A newsletter of the National Freedom of Information Coalition produced by the University of Missouri FOI Center.

National Freedom of Information Coalition — FOI-L Listserv

The National Freedom of Information Coalition runs an online discussion group maintained by Syracuse University. The listserv concentrates on access to public records, open meetings, and trends in state legislation. This listserv functions at the level of those who deal with FOIA issues every day and carries practical advice and suggestions on how to deal with FOIA issues.

Guides and Other Resources

The American Presidential Project — Presidential Records

The Public Papers of the Presidents contain most presidential public messages, statements, speeches, and news conference remarks. Documents such as Proclamations, Executive Orders, and similar documents published in the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations, as required by law, are usually not included for the presidencies of Herbert Hoover through Gerald Ford (1929–1977), but are included beginning with the administration of Jimmy Carter (1977). Documents within the Public Papers are arranged in chronological order with remarks or addresses assumed as coming from the White House in Washington, D.C., unless otherwise indicated.

Department of Justice

FOIA Contacts

Federal Depository Library Program

GPO Access has a complete list of all of the FDLP libraries across the country. Go to

Federation of American Scientists

Federation of American Scientists provides online access to "A Citizen’s Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records," released by the House Committee on Government Reform on Sept. 5, 2005.

Government Documents Roundtable — American Libraries Association

Active site and listserv on government documents issues and the Repository Library Program. Listserv is available to anyone interested in Government Documents issues. Go to GovDoc-L

Guide to Using Declassified Documents and Archival Materials for U.S. Foreign Policy and World Politics Page

Created by David N. Gibbs University of Arizona

How to Make a FOIA Request

The National Security Archive has a useful collection of documents on how to make a FOIA request.

Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press

FOI Letter Generator

Librarian/Historical Advocacy Organizations

Advocacy Listserv (members only)

American Association of Law Libraries

President: Claire M. Germain

American Association of Law Libraries — Washington office

Robert L. Oakley Washington Affairs Representative, and Mary Alice Baish, Associate Washington Affairs Representative

The Washington office provides updates on new legislation as well as issue letters, briefs, action alerts, reports, testimony, and news updates for professional law librarians. Really useful if you are interested in finding out what Congress is doing and how it might impact the professional librarian.

American Historical Association

Professional organization representing historians that promotes the collection and preservation of historical documents and artifacts, historical research, and historical studies.

American Libraries Association (ALA)

ALA Washington Office Online (ALAWON)

ALAWON is a free, irregular e-mail publication of the ALA Washington office.

Issues and Advocacy

Includes section on the PATRIOT Act and access to government information

National Coalition for History

Bruce Craig (Director)

The Coalition is an advocacy group for professional historians and archivists and lobbies Congress to ensure adequate funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Historic Preservation Fund. The Coalition also monitors "copyright, historic preservation, freedom of information, government secrecy, and archival access issues and provides information to the news media on these issues."

National Coalition for History WASHINGTON UPDATE

Bruce Craig: Director and Editor

Subscribe to the newsletter:

National Coalition for History NCH publishes a free weekly electronic newsletter for those interested in historical and archival issues. Secrecy Score Card 2005 — Key Findings

•   $148 is spent creating new secrets for every $1 spent releasing old secrets.

•   15.6 million classification decisions cost $7.2 billion.

•   Every choice to classify documents as a secret costs taxpayers $460.

Flawed Tool: Environmental Reporters’ Experiences with the Freedom of Information Act
(Society of Environmental Journalists)

•   Government agencies delayed releasing FOIA-requested information. Some requests were delayed for more than a year.

•   Energy, Defense, FDA, and Mine Safety and Health Administration were the agencies most cited for failing to respond promptly to journalists’ FOIA requests.

•   Monitoring FOIA requests or finding out who was in charge of overseeing requests proved difficult.

•   Requiring FOIA requests for routine inquiries — departments of Energy and Mine Safety and Health Administration and FERC, EPA, all used this strategy.

•   Fee waivers are now frequently challenged — delaying the process.

•   Excessive redactions — large sections of the documents received were blacked out, making them meaningless.

Sample Information Removed from Government Web Sites4

•   Department of Defense Telephone Directory

•   Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) Joint Electronic Library [] went offline on April 8, 2005, to remove the report "Joint Doctrine of Detainee Operations." The Library was restored the following week minus this and other reports.

•   Congressional Research Reports — Previously available from Representatives Mark Green and Christopher Shays, this was ended in late 2003.

•   Envirofacts Web Site — In March 2002, access was limited to U.S. EPA employees, U.S. contractors, the military, federal government, and state agency employees. No direct public access.

•   EPA removed Risk Management Plans (RMP) from EPA’s Web Site — Though controversial, these plans provided information about chemical plant worse-case scenarios and were a way for the public to be informed about chemical accidents and how to prepare for them in case of emergencies.

Sensitive but Unclassified Designations 17

"Information [Held by DHS] that could be sold for profit"

"Information that could pose a physical risk to personnel"

Chinese Space Program Equipment or Technology

Computer Security Act Sensitive Information (CSASI)

Confidential Business Information (CBI)

Contractor Access Restricted Information (CARI)

Controlled But Unclassified (CBU)

Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI)

Critical Energy Infrastructure Information (CEII)

Critical Infrastructure Information (CII) DEA Sensitive (DEA-S)

DEA Sensitive Information*

Defense Information (formerly Restricted Data)

Department of Homeland Security Information
Technology (DHS IT)

DOD Special Nuclear Materials*

DOD Unclassified Controlled Nuclear Information *

Export Administration Regulation Information (EAR)

Federal Information Security Management Act Information (FISMA)

Financial Institution Information (FOIA b8)

For Official Use Only (FOUO)

General Services Administration Sensitive But Unclassified Building Information (GSA-SBU-BI)

Grand Jury Information

Internal Personnel Rules and Practices (FOIA b2)

International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR)

Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES)

Limited Official Use Only (LOU)

Missile Technology Control Regime Annex (MTCR)

Missile Technology Control Regime MTCR U.S. — Nominated Agents (MTCR)

Nonpublic Information (Office of Government Ethics)

Nuclear Proliferation Act Information (NNAI)

Official Use Only (OUO)

Operations Security Protected

Secret Patents

Personal Privacy Information (FOIA b6)

Privacy Act Protected Information (PAPI)

Privileged Information (FOIA b5)

Proprietary Information (PROPIN)

Safeguards Information (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) (SGI)

Select Agent Sensitive Information (SASI)

Sensitive But Unclassified (Department of Homeland Security (SBU DHS)

Sensitive But Unclassified (Department of State) (DOS-SBU)

Sensitive But Unclassified Technical Information (SBUTI)

Sensitive Homeland Security Information (SHSI)

Sensitive Information*

Sensitive Security Information (SSI)

Sensitive Unclassified (SU)

Special Nuclear Material (SNM)

Specifically Exempt from Disclosure by Statute (FOIA b3)

Trade Secrets (FOIA b4)

Unclassified Controlled Nuclear Information (UCNI)

Unclassified Export-Controlled Department of Defense Technical Data

United States Munitions List (USML)

Voluntarily-Provided Information (Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

Well Information (FOIA b9)

*Identified by author

Other OMB Resources

OMB Watch also has launched a series of other valuable resources including these sites:

Citizens for Sensible Safeguards

E-mail alert sign-up:

Citizens for Sensible Safeguards was launched in the 1990s as a coalition consisting of almost 300 founding member groups, an impressive array of public interest organizations including labor, environmental, consumer, health, low-income, human needs, educational, and religious communities. The site provides access to news, current developments, reports, and links to useful sites [].

Director: Rick Blum

E-mail newsletter is available:

No RSS feeds

" is an unprecedented coalition of journalists, consumer and good government groups, environmentalists, labor and others united out of a concern for what U.S. News and World Report called a ‘shroud of secrecy’ descending over our local, state and federal governments. We’re focused on making the federal government a more open place to make us safer, strengthen public trust in government, and support our democratic principles" [].

The site provides news highlights, policy updates, information on public trust and accountability, FOI resources, strategies on how to access government information, and Homeland Security policies. In the last few years, has released a "Secrecy Report Card," which details the rise of secrecy in the federal government. The "Secrecy Report Card" provides an important contrast to government transparency from that of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO). The site also provides a useful list of policy issues that monitors, complete with links to legislation, memos, hearings, testimony, letters, and reports.

The Right-to-Know Network

The Right-to-Know Network (RTK NET), another service provided by OMB Watch, provides free access to numerous environmental databases. With the information available on RTK NET, you can identify specific factories and their environmental effects and identify the people and communities affected.

Working Group on Community Right-to-Know

Subscribe to Working Notes E-update:

The Working Group on Community Right-to-Know helps people defend and improve our right-to-know about environmental and public health concerns. Areas of interest include Information Reform, Legislative Watch list, Corporate Accountability, International, Community Toolbox, Industrial Toxics, Spills & Emergencies, Transportation, a Library Newsletter Archive, Posting and Labeling, My Environment, and Drinking Water.


1 Policy changes that have impacted access to government information include the following:

Ashcroft Memorandum on FOIA October 12, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft FOIA Memorandum October 12, 2001; Executive Order 13233: Further Implementation of the Presidential Records Act — issued on November 1, 2001, Executive Order 13233: Further Implementation of the Presidential Records Act. November 1, 2001 [
; Card Memorandum: Guidance on Homeland Security Information Issue: Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies — March 19, 2002 []; Homeland Security Act of 2002: Homeland Security Information Sharing Act — see Public Law 107-296 Homeland Security Act of 2002 — Section 211: Critical Information Infrastructure Information Act 2002
; and Executive Order 13292: Further Amendment to Executive Order 12958, As Amended, Classified National Security Information, issued on March 25, 2003 [].

2 See Christopher H. Schmitt and Edward T. Pound, "Keeping Secrets: The Bush Administration is Doing the Public’s Business Out of the Public Eye. Here’s How — And Why," US News & World Report, December 22, 2003 []; Steven Aftergood’s Secrecy News []; OMB Watch []; and Susan Nevelow Mart, "Let the People Know the Facts: Can Government Information Removed from the Internet be Reclaimed?" University of California, Hastings College of the Law June 13, 2005 [].

3 Scott Shane, "Increase in the Number of Documents Classified by the Government," New York Times, July 3, 2005 [

4 Steven Aftergood, Slate, March 17, 2005 []. See also Secrecy News [] and OMB Watch [] for a more detailed and updated list of information that has been removed from government Web sites.

5 Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) 2004 Report on Cost Estimates for Security Classification Activities [ or].

6 Information Security Oversight Office, 2004 Report to the President, March 31, 2005

7 The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Authorized Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 417 pp. Public Statement: Release of 9/11Commission Report, The Hon. Thomas H. Kean and The Hon. Lee H. Hamilton July 22, 2004 [].

8 Secrecy Report Card 2005: Quantitative Indicators of Secrecy in the Federal Government; A Report by, Americans for Less Secrecy, More Democracy. September 2005 [].

9 GAO reported that for 92 percent of requests processed in 2004, the records requested were granted in full. GAO acknowledged that it did not have FOIA reports from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for International Development and also acknowledged that some agencies — the Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Science Foundation — had "made full grants of requested records in less than 20 percent of the cases processed." GAO further reported that in eight of the 25 agencies examined, requests for records were granted 60 percent of the time. The complete picture of disclosure is, by GAO’s own report, incomplete. Therefore, the claim that 92 percent of the requests were filled completely is somewhat misleading. GAO Report: Information Management: Implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. Testimony before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability, Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives. pp. 16–17 [].

10 GAO Report: Information Management: Implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. Testimony before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability, Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives. p. 2 [].

11 Society of Environmental Journalists: "A Flawed Tool: Environmental Reporters’ Experiences with the Freedom of Information Act." Report of the First Amendment Task Force of the Society of Environmental Journalists. September 12, 2005 [].

12 Steven Aftergood, "The Age of Missing Information: The Bush Administration’s Campaign Against Openness," Slate, Thursday, March 17, 2005 [].

13 Steven Aftergood, Slate, March 17, 2005 [].

14 National Security Archive, FOIA Basics [].

15 Secrecy Report Card 2005: Quantitative Indicators of Secrecy in the Federal Government; A Report by, Americans for Less Secrecy, More Democracy. September 2005 [], pp. 9–10.

16 Secrecy Report Card 2005: Quantitative Indicators of Secrecy in the Federal Government: A Report by, Americans for Less Secrecy, More Democracy. September 2005 [], p. 9.

17 Hearing before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations of the Committee on Government Reform House of Representatives, August 24, 2004. Serial No. 108-263 [].

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