- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

The Army has tightened controls over the public release of documents pertaining to stocks of weapons of mass destruction, an internal memo shows.
The new directive comes amid media inquiries into Defense Department facilities that house the deadly anthrax virus. It also comes during a general crackdown by the Bush administration on the publication of material that could help an enemy build and deliver mass-death weapons.
Army commands in the United States and around the world had enjoyed flexibility in acting on requests for information under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
But in a Feb. 11 memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, the Army tells personnel not to release the information until the Department of the Army reviews the request and the documents to be released.
"When processing the request, if a decision is made that certain documents are releasable under the FOIA, please forward the initial request and the documents identified as releasable to this office for further review prior to releasing the information," says the memorandum from the Army's Records Management and Declassification Agency at Fort Belvoir. "We are not telling you not to release any requested documentation dealing with this topical material. We are saying that it should not be released without our review."
Historically, local commanders have had wide latitude to release records under the information law. Some Army personnel privately expressed fears the memo is an effort to cut down on the flow of information to the media and researchers at a time when Army weapons labs are suspected of being the source for the anthrax that killed five persons.
But Bush administration officials said in interviews that the memo is not an effort to foil reporters, but rather a precaution against releasing weapons information that could help terrorists.
"It was totally precautionary," said one official. He said the White House in mid-February put out guidance to make sure the government did not release sensitive weapons information. "We're not trying to keep anything from anybody," the official said.
This official said that since the Feb. 11 memo went out, no command has yet to ask permission to release material on weapons of mass destruction. The Army's Records Management and Declassification Agency is a repository for reams of classified and sensitive documents.
The memo is titled, "Release of Information Concerning Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Weapons of Mass Destruction." It was sent throughout the Army chain of command, from the Army secretary at the Pentagon to commands across the globe.
An Army spokesman at the Pentagon said the memo "is probably more benign than it looks."
"The objective is to release information, not hold it," the spokesman said. "It's just the effort of a huge, and sometimes unwieldy, organization to have some kind of record of what is going out on an extremely sensitive topic at this time."
Reporters have used FOIA to obtain federal documents that track the transfers of anthrax strains from one lab to another.
The Bush administration earlier this year began a program to cut down on the amount of publicly available information on biological agents and other weapons of mass destruction. For example, it is recalling thousands of technical documents and asking scientists to limit what they disclose in research reports.
The Army owns anthrax strains for research into vaccines that would protect service members from a biological attack. Some investigators believe the anthrax enclosed in letters mailed to media and politicians originated from a government lab.
The Ames strain that killed the five persons has been used by the government for more than 20 years in biological-defense testing.


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