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Secret knowledge

The Army has picked Lockheed Martin to manage its massive intranet, called Army Knowledge Online. The service started the thing a few years ago to provide soldiers with an Internet portal that offered e-mail, easy access to records and other information. In recent years, though, it's become somewhat difficult to manage, so the service is switching gears, choosing Lockheed Martin to integrate it all.ako_logo.gifAKO has a dark side, though. Since 9/11, especially, it's become an easy place for the service to keep information from the prying eyes of reporters and the public. And we're not talking top-secret or even sensitive stuff, either; routine, even mundane info often gets locked away.Take this site, for example. It's the home page for the branch of the Army responsible for buying weapons and other stuff with the billions of taxpayer dollars provided the service each year.Right in the middle of the page you'll see a list of documents that appear about as sensitive as the average dry-cleaning ticket. But most are behind the AKO firewall. And way down on the left, there's something called a "PEO-PM" list -- the names and numbers of the program managers who steer Army weapon systems. That was publicly available for years, but now can't be seen by anyone without a .mil IP address.Also available for years was a monthly Army acquisition newsletter containing routine announcements; that's gone, too. (I read it every month when it was accessible, and I can attest it was the exact opposite of sensitive.)There are countless other examples, including this one, noted by estimable Steve Aftergood. And perhaps the biggest loss to the public were countless documents -- all unclassified -- once available via the Center for Army Lessons Learned.The Army's not alone, of course; the other services and the Pentagon in general are keeping far more information behind electronic firewalls than ever before. And it's not all post-9/11, either; even under Clinton, the Internet was treated by the military as a whole new ballgame, where even unclassified information was suddenly deemed sensitive and pulled from view.topsecret.jpgThe most egregious example is the annual report of the Defense Department's top testers. The director of operational test and evaluation is charged by law with holding the Pentagon's feet to the fire when it comes to testing the military equipment it fields. And the annual report -- which is unclassified and available in hard copy to anyone who asks for it -- is chock-full of information on the status of every major system the military develops, buys and fields. But after 2001, the Pentagon decided it couldn't be put online. (The latest can be found here, with a price tag.)"This kind of secrecy doesn't have anything to do with protecting national security," says Aftergood. "It's all about the military's bureaucratic desire to evade outside scrutiny. So while spending keeps going up, oversight is coming down."-- posted by Dan Dupont

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