March 24, 2006 12:21 PM PST

Homeland security group to meet away from public eye

A new advisory committee in the Homeland Security Department is free to disregard a law designed to keep meetings open and proceedings public, according to a departmental notice.

The newly created Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council is charged with sharing information aimed at protecting the nation's infrastructure, cybercomponents included. Michael Chertoff, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary, cited security reasons when he signed off on exempting the council from the Federal Advisory Committee Act, or FACA.

The decision, which many private-sector players had strongly recommended, was released in a departmental notice published Friday.

The council, which plans to meet at least quarterly, will bring together various federal agency employees and private-sector representatives to discuss the Department of Homeland Security's infrastructure protection plan, which remains in draft form. The fields represented range from agriculture and energy to information technology and telecommunications. Participants include the U.S. Telecom Association, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association and Internet infrastructure services provider VeriSign.

If those participants are required to comply with FACA, it could leave them seriously hindered in sharing "sensitive homeland security information," the department said.

The 1972 law generally requires such groups to meet in open sessions, make written meeting materials publicly available, and deliver a 15-day notice of any decision to close a meeting to the public. The last is a particular point of concern for Homeland Security officials, who anticipate that private emergency meetings may need to be scheduled on short notice.

The private sector, fearing that sensitive data will get to the wrong hands, has continued to resist sharing important information with the feds, the Department of Homeland Security said, citing government auditors' findings from late 2003.

Making the meetings public would amount to "giving our nation's enemies information they could use to most effectively attack a particular infrastructure and cause cascading consequences across multiple infrastructures," another departmental advisory council warned in August.

One privacy advocate said he didn't buy the excuses. "The public has an extremely strong interest in knowing whether DHS and the relevant industries are doing enough to protect facilities, and whether there might be company negligence that contributes to any possible security vulnerabilities," David Sobel, a general counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, wrote in an e-mail interview.

Michael Aisenberg, government relations director for VeriSign, dismissed such worries, saying he predicted only a limited number of the council's meetings would actually be closed to the public.

"But there are families of data and information that are much more appropriately handled in confidence, at least in the early phases of an exploit or event," he said, praising the exemption as highly valuable and long overdue. "There were no tools in place to allow DHS or any other agency to have meetings with collective groups of government and industry that would not be covered by the FACA."

Homeland Security said in Friday's notice that it recognized "the important principle of transparency as a foundation for public confidence in government" and planned to make the council's meetings public whenever "feasibly consistent with security objectives." It said it also planned to issue public notices of all meetings, closed and open alike, "unless exigent circumstances arise" and that it would maintain a publicly available Web site with meeting agendas and periodic reports.

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20 comments

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Government-public servants... guess not
I am often caught off guard at how much this administration wishes to keep things closed to its voting populace. Yes, somethings should be secretive, but in the realm of public servitude the U.S. citizenry does deserve to know.

Those already targeting our country will have means to extract these recommendations by the Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council - right?

I agree with Mr. Sobel's commnents of:

"The public has an extremely strong interest in knowing whether DHS and the relevant industries are doing enough to protect facilities, and whether there might be company negligence that contributes to any possible security vulnerabilities."

--Marilee Veniegas
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.iwantmyess.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.iwantmyess.com</a>
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's the Bush hallmark.
Whether you are a supporter or detractor of our
president, this is at least one thing that the
both sides can agree on -- if for no other
reason that it's empirically measurable: the
government does more in secret today than at any
time in history (more so than war-times past as
well).

That is to say, more meetings and hearing have
been closed to the public, fewer transcripts
released, even previously public documents are
rapidly being reclassified as secret.

The question is, of course, to what end?

The only precedent for the amount of government
secrecy we see today has been various communist
and totalitarian regimes. How will it play out
in a democratic country? Isn't democracy
predicated on a (somewhat) informed electorate?
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Reply Link Flag
yes - informed electorate
Of course we'll never know everything at times of war as a previous poster said, but yes we deserve to be an informed electorate.

I was born after we left Vietnam, but it seems like the imbedded news and reports made us informed rather than keeping us ignorant.

--Marilee V.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.iwantmyess.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.iwantmyess.com</a>
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
Link Flag
Note-taker wanted. Must look innocent.
Of course the new Homeland Security advisory committee is free to meet without being in compliance with public disclosure laws and so they should be! Think about it. Does it really make sense for the people who are tracking terrorists in this country to make their planning meetings PUBLIC? The terrorists only need to send somebody to take notes. Even Homer Simpson can understand that insisting on open meetings in this case is just plain knuckle-dragging dumb.
Posted by dunnsanfrancisco (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Message has been deleted.
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
Link Flag
No one really cares
The Bush administration will just keep eroding privacy and civil liberties, because most people are lazy and will say or do nothing to prevent it. The Bush people have thrived on the sloth and apathy of numb masses, and unless individual people start inconveniencing themselves enough to march, write, and call this uncontrolled freight train to accountability, we're not going to have a democracy within 10 years.
Posted by kylegas (81 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Caring no longer matters
You see the Democrats agree with the Republicans and vice versa when it comes to what used to be known as civil liberties. The 2 party system has climbed up a tree and pulled the ladder up after themselves. Care all you want it will do no good. The only hope the public had was the courts and they betrayed us. Property rights? Gone. Privacy rights? Gone. Miranda rights? Gone. All sanctioned by the Supreme Court. The best you can do now to preserve what rights we have left is to be rich. All politicians like to please rich people.
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
Link Flag
You do know...
...that we have elections coming up in a couple years and that Bush is in his second term, don't you?
Posted by J_Satch (571 comments )
Link Flag
Good
Good!

~Justin
Posted by OneWithTech (196 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes - GOOD
Isn't it funny to see the paranoid Americans work themselves into a tizzy when they hear that the government has a secret?

OF COURSE our government has secrets... lots of them... and its a GOOD THING.

Basically, everything you disclose to the American people, you also disclose to enemies of the nation. When we are talking about homeland security, the enemy has absolutely no need to know how things are handled. Any disclosure represents risk.

Bummer for the paranoid Americans... it means they don't get to know either. And quite frankly, I'm glad. Some people hardly seem intelligent enough to understand the importance of secrecy... tell them a secret, and they'll likely post it to some mind-numbing anti-government Internet blog for the whole world to read.

The only people blanket-arguing against government secrets should be the anarchists... and they're pretty easy to laugh off.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
Some interesting quotes...
"Strength lies not in defense but in attack."
-H

"What good fortune for governments that the people do not think."
-H

"Our strategy is to destroy the enemy from within, to conquer him through himself."
-H

"We are all proud that through God's powerful aid, we have become once more true Americans"
-H

"Always before God and the world, the stronger has the right to carry through what he wills"
-H

"Only force rules. Force is the first law"
-H

"The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force."
-H

"The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category."
-H

"The victor will never be asked if he told the truth."
-H

"Who says I am not under the special protection of God?"
-H

"The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one."
-H

"Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism has ever invented for its own destruction."
-H
Posted by Johnny Mnemonic (374 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Limit Information
This is how dictatorships start.
Posted by Jothar (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Not really...
Dictators usually aren't elected, they usually just sieze power. And if Bush is expecting to become dictator, he better do it soon before his last term is ends in a couple years.
Posted by J_Satch (571 comments )
Link Flag
Evildoers Learned From Katrina
Man, like didn't Evildoers Incorporated learn everything they needed to know about our infrastructure weaknesses from the guberments disasterous response to Katrina? Let's see:

1) Disparate first responder systems don't communicate with each other. Check.

2) Lack of fault-tolerant communications systems (i.e. cell towers wiped out, no satellite backup) Check.

3) Victims left to fend for themselves. Mass panic. Lawlessness. Looting. Armed gangs with assault weapons. Check.

4) Basic supplies - food, water unavailable. Check.

5) Lack of response, slow moving government agencies. Check.

6) Finger pointing. Officials mostly concerned about buying new shirts at Nordstrom's. Check.

7) Local police charged with maintaining order abandoned posts. Check.

8) Dead bodies accumulating in standing water breeding disease. Check.

9) Economic devastation to regions for years to come. Check.


Meeting adjourned.
Posted by maxwis (141 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So you're saying...
...that "Evildoers Incorporated" (Dr. Evil, CEO) is going to attack us with hurricanes?
Posted by J_Satch (571 comments )
Link Flag
 

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