Fault Shared on Nuke Document PostingGAO Recommends Interagency Pact to Handle Sensitive Data
On May 7, the Government Printing Office published a 266-page document on its website that provided detailed information on civilian nuclear sites, locations, facilities and activities in the United States. Shortly after the incident, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the GAO - the investigated arm of Congress - to determine which agencies were responsible for the posting and what impact, if any, the release of the information has had on U.S. national security.
Officials from the Departments of Energy and Commerce and the Nuclear Regulatory Agency told the GAO that the public release of the draft declaration of civilian nuclear sites and nuclear facilities does not appear to have damaged national security. Information in the draft declaration was limited to civilian nuclear activities, and most nuclear-related information was publicly available on agency websites or other publicly available documents.
However, officials from all of the agencies responsible for compiling this information told GAO that the information consolidated in one document made it sensitive and, thus, it should never have been posted to Government Printing Office website.
"While no single U.S. government agency or office was entirely responsible for the public disclosure of the draft declaration, all of the agencies and offices involved in preparing and publishing the draft declaration share some responsibility for its release," wrote Gene Aloise, GAO director of natural resources and environment.
How did the posting occur? According to Aloise:
First, none of the agencies that prepared the draft declaration - the Departments of Energy and Commerce, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission - took the added precaution of ensuring that the consolidated draft they helped prepare had a U.S. security designation on each page of the document. Rather, the final version of the document, which they all reviewed, was marked only with the International Atomic Energy Agency's designation - Highly Confidential Safeguards Sensitive. "This marking has no legal significance in the United States," Aloise wrote.
Second, the Department of State, which prepared the draft declaration for transmittal to the White House, sent a transmittal letter to the National Security Council indicating that the contents of the draft declaration should be treated as Sensitive but Unclassified. "Not all federal agencies use this particular marking and, therefore, the marking created confusion for other executive and legislative branch offices that subsequently received the draft declaration on whether the information could be published," the GAO director wrote.
Third, the National Security Council, which reviewed the draft declaration on behalf of the White House, did not provide explicit and clear instructions on how to handle the draft declaration to the White House clerk's office.
Fourth, the legislative branch offices which reviewed and then transmitted the document to GPO for publication - the House of Representatives' Parliamentarian and Clerk's Office - determined incorrectly that the document could be published. "Officials from these congressional offices were not familiar with the phrase 'Sensitive but Unclassified' and did not know how to safeguard that information," Aloise wrote.
Fifth, the Government Printing Office, which proofread and processed the document for publication, did not raise any concerns about the document's sensitivity.
GAO recommended that Departments of Commerce, Energy and State and the NRC enter into an interagency agreement concerning the designation, marking, and handling of sensitive information in future draft declarations and make any policy or regulatory changes necessary to reach such an agreement.
According to the GAO, Energy, State and the Government Printing Office agreed with the recommendations, while the NRC neither agreed nor disagreed. Commerce, White House Counsel and the House Offices of the Clerk, Security, and Parliamentarian did not comment on GAO's recommendations.