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Nominal Me

I'm falling in love with my camera and taking photos everywhere I go. That, combined with my passions for politics, sports, religion and other things we all agree on, makes this blog persist.

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Location: Astoria, New York, United States

I'm born in Manhattan and raised in Queens.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ignorance Is Strength

"Ignorance is strength" wrote George Orwell in his famous book 1984. He was of course doing social commentary when he wrote it in his dire 1949 novel.

Robert Block of the Wall Street Journal writes news however, and his article today entitled "Information Incognito" mirrors the absurd predictions of Orwell years ago.

He writes:

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government has advised airplane pilots against flying near 100 nuclear power plants around the country or they will be forced down by fighter jets. But pilots say there's a hitch in the instructions: aviation security officials refuse to disclose the precise location of the plants because they consider that "SSI" -- Sensitive Security Information.

"The message is; 'please don't fly there, but we can't tell you where there is,' " says Melissa Rudinger of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a trade group representing 60% of American pilots.

The SSI classification has its roots in aviation, created in 1993 during the Clinton administration. However, in a post September 11th world, the laws were modified, according to Bruce Schneier:

In 1993, the U.S. government created a new classification of information -- Sensitive Security Information -- that was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. The information under this category, as defined by a D.C. court, was limited to information related to the safety of air passengers. This was greatly expanded in 2002, when Congress deleted two words, "air" and "passengers," and changed "safety" to "security." Currently, there's a lot of information covered under this umbrella.

Block's Journal article demonstrates the new application of this law:

The pilots' experience underscores one of the great policy clashes of the early 21st century: the War on Terror vs. the Information Age. In the 3½ years since al Qaeda operatives studied commercial airlines schedules in preparation for flying jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Bush administration has moved aggressively to keep once-easily accessible data under wraps. Some of that information could well be of use to would-be terrorists, but keeping other information secret strikes some observers as absurd.

For example, when a top Federal Aviation Administration official testified last year before the 9/11 commission, his remarks were broadcast live nationally. But when the administration included a transcript in a recent report on threats to commercial airliners, the testimony was heavily edited. "How do you redact something that is part of the public record?" asked Rep. Carolyn Maloney, (D., N.Y.) at a recent hearing on the problems of government overclassification. Among the specific words blacked out were the seemingly innocuous phrase: "we are hearing this, this, this, this and this."

Government officials could not explain why the words were withheld, other than to note that they were designated SSI.

Is this reasonable or is this paranoia? Has September 11th taught us that we should be careful about who gets information, or that government agencies don't share enough of it?

This sort of classification makes sense, as a more militaristic classification system would guarantee that almost no one on the ground fighting terrorism can get to it, but it does seem to have all of the pitfalls of any government organization.

Is this evil? Is this 1984?

Probably not.

It's probably just government, which has a hard time doing anything right, doing the best it can.

While not evil, at the same time, if you're going to tell a pilot not to fly near something, you're going to have to tell them which areas to avoid.

More Politics

Schneier on Security

The OMB notes SSI

Coalition of Journalists for Open Government

SSI Information has been stolen

The OMB has been asked to audit SSI


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a great post, Me. While it's easy for the leftists to immediately jump to the simple conclusion that Bush is "evil" and it's just as easy for the uber-patriots to blame all of the current problems on "that Clinton," the truth is somewhere in-between. The fact of the matter is, a large, slow military force will always suffer comparatively major losses when attacked by a small, light unit. That is what the terrorists have done with the American Way. While that doesn't mean we dismantle the entire "unit", as we increasingly seem wont to do, it does mean that we will have to be aware of the paremeter that much more. Conflicting orders and assignments are inevitable.

-Major Teeth Thaw 'nn' Maw

Tuesday, 22 March, 2005  
Blogger Jackie Chiles said...

"Ignorance is strength."

Finally, a concrete explanation.

Wednesday, 23 March, 2005  

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