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Thread: Social Scientists Work Being Involuntarily Classified

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    Council Member Abu Suleyman's Avatar
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    Default Social Scientists Work Being Involuntarily Classified

    Recently I have run into a fear among social scientists that I think is a little paranoid and perhaps driven by ignorance, however, I may well be the ignorant one.

    Several people I have talked to in the Academic community regarding working with the government have given as a reason for not doing so that they are afraid that the government will classify their work. I have heard that such things occuring in the physical sciences such as the young man who's PhD dissertation was on how to make a nuclear bomb. I also have heard that someone wrote a paper (possibly a dissertation) on the vulnerabilities of US civil projects to terrorist attacks.

    However, I am talking to Social Scientists. My understanding is that unless they are using classified information to begin with (which they are not), the study should not be classified. Moreover, there should be no reason to classify that information. After all, most social science comes down to postulation, experimentation and theory, not exploitable hard fact. The fact that Dr. Foo of Bar University thinks that one thing is more likely than another is no more exploitable than the contrary argument that will doubtless arise in the journals.

    I suppose what I am asking is: Does anyone out there know of a case where a Social Scientist has had their work involuntarily classified? If so, what was that person working on, and why was it classified? If not, is there anyone who has enough authority and breadth of knowledge that not having heard of such a thing is significant? (i.e. you have been in the business for X years and have never heard of such a thing)
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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Abu Suleyman View Post

    I suppose what I am asking is: Does anyone out there know of a case where a Social Scientist has had their work involuntarily classified? If so, what was that person working on, and why was it classified? If not, is there anyone who has enough authority and breadth of knowledge that not having heard of such a thing is significant? (i.e. you have been in the business for X years and have never heard of such a thing)
    Anything regardless of original source material can be classified if its conclusions or analysis is deemed detrimental to national security. That is a very wide description.

    My Leavenworth Paper was held up by a certain agency for nearly a year before an assistant secretary of defense got involved and it was released. We were talking about a history written 24 years after the fact.

    best

    Tom

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    I know of several cases where this has happened, although it is usually the original reports rather than the final versions. If you want an example of some of the areas where it can happen quite easily, the most common ones I've seen are in analyses of target vulnerabilities and analyses of politically sensitive policy decisions. One of my students had a class paper classified .
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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    I have had some of my work "classified" but not in the normal sense. I don't know of any social scientists that have had that laid upon them. I would think that most of it would be the yapping of tiny dogs. If they have federal/state grants then they know there work can be restricted by a variety of means. They got paid to do it and the customer is not giving them a "gift" but an expectation of performance.


    ETA: As a clarification, I am NOT a social scientist, I am a technologist the most disrespected breed of researcher in the academe. As such I don't care what you think I just read your email.
    Last edited by selil; 07-07-2008 at 04:45 PM.
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    Default I are a "social scientist"

    a political scientist, to be exact. I have worked at state universities (currently), private universities, DOD educational institutions (AWC/SSI, NDU, and CGSC), served on active duty and in the reserves. When I worked for the federal government (both as a soldier and as a civilian) I was subject to classification and clearance rules. If I was working with classified stuff, my stuff was classified derivatively. If I was not using classified materials my stuff was reviewed both to make sure nothing was classified and that policy was stated correctly. As an aside, it could not be legally censored for disagreeing with policy as long as the policy was stated correctly. (BTW I am not saying that improper censorship does not take place only that it is not lawful.) Technically, my research in those circumstances could have been classified (as Tom says) if it fell under the appropriate categories even if it was based on wholly unclassified material. That never happened to me.

    As a faculty member at a university, unless I am working on a grant that requires a security review, my research is not subject to government review of any kind and I am free to publish it anywhere I can get it accepted. If, by some chance, I have illegally used classified material I would be subject to prosecution but that is very unlikely. The real bottom line for a civilian social scientist not working for the USG is that it would be practically impossible for the USG to classify his research before it was well esconsed in the public domain and available literature. This was true even before the internet and is even more true today.

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    Default Marc

    I assume you are talking about students and faculty in Canada. The US does not have an Official Secrets Act that would permit the kind of censorship you are talking about. If you are, by chance, talking about US cases, I would be very interested in knowing how the USG got hold of non-government research before it was published (ie all over the internet) in time to shut it down.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    I'm not going to say the name of the publication, but I am aware of one that is classified as Top Secret, yet every single line of text has a (U) next to it. I was told that the collection of a bunch of unclassified material into something that gives us a competitive advantage over our adversaries is fair game to be classified. And that makes sense, to me.

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    Default Schmedlap, you are supporting

    Tom's first point. His second point, however, (if I read him right) is that some efforts to classify documents are highly arbitrary - as, indeed, they are. A million years ago, in my current intel shop, we classified a story that was plagiarized from the CBS Morning News on the grounds that if it was not classified the Generals wouldn't believe it! I kid you not.

    My point was, and is, that a not affiliated social scientist or historian, working with unclassified material need have no fear that his work will be classified without his agreement. And generally, the system does not even attempt to classify scholarly, unclassified work done under government auspices. Tom's story was more the exception than the rule, in my experience. I would also note that it was finally released, as well it should have been.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi John,

    Quote Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
    I assume you are talking about students and faculty in Canada. The US does not have an Official Secrets Act that would permit the kind of censorship you are talking about. If you are, by chance, talking about US cases, I would be very interested in knowing how the USG got hold of non-government research before it was published (ie all over the internet) in time to shut it down.
    Yes, the instances I'm thinking of were in Canada. The case of the student paper was a real outlier as well - she worked in a classified area, but used unclassified material and basic theoretical works to develop models that were then classified (and I can't give any more details ).

    In the vast, 99.99999% of cases, there is no classification even when policy critical material is published. I am also aware of a very few cases of" voluntary classification", for want of a better term, where a paper is submitted to an organization rather than for publication due to some security consideration - red team scenario planning in all the cases I'm aware of.

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    Default I'm with John on this one

    Based on my experience as a Canuck academic working on US security issues, John’s explanation is spot on. My work on the US military (and other militaries) is by necessity based in part on interviews with current and past participants, so arguably in some senses my research is at the very edge of ‘open source’ (or possibly a bit over that edge). Indeed I have on occasion been asked up front whether I have clearance at the start of an interview.

    The crux in John’s explanation is whether the researcher has clearance to work on classified material; if s/he does have clearance, then even their open-sourced work will be reviewed for the reason John notes, (this seems to fit Marc’s Canadian example as well), but if the researcher does not have any clearances then their work is not subject to review or classification. This has always been my understanding stemming from conversations I have had about the possibility of my shifting from ‘public’ academia to ‘military’ academia, or even to consultant work, for should I have agreed I would have had to obtain a certain level of clearance and hence my work, as it was consistently explained to me in all cases, would then be subject to review (if not, as John says, classified derivatively if my work was on classified issues/materials).

    I have never gone that particular route for a variety of different reasons, but one reason is that if I ever was given clearance then my work would in the least be subject to review (but this has never been the main reason – cutting off my pony tail and wearing a suit daily always are much higher on my list of reasons ). Possibly the one gray area exception that I have run across is some work I did, based completely on my open source research, for the US gov't via a consultant; in this case I could/can disseminate what I had written but was asked not to distribute the final document in which that work appeared (in whole) without prior permission as the document was for 'internal use only' (this exception seems to sort of fit Marc's example re red teaming and self censorship).

    So, all in all, concern by an academic (who works and researches solely in the public realm) about having their open source research censored, unless they have clearance and/or are working on classified issues, seems to me to be more than bit misguided.

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TT View Post
    The crux in John’s explanation is whether the researcher has clearance to work on classified material; if s/he does have clearance, then even their open-sourced work will be reviewed for the reason John notes, (this seems to fit Marc’s Canadian example as well), but if the researcher does not have any clearances then their work is not subject to review or classification.
    This is part of the reason I have turned down work on classified projects. I'm a nobody so it isn't like I have people kicking down my door asking me accept a government security clearance. I have considered it though in the career pathway as an obstruction.
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    Default academics and classification

    Quote Originally Posted by TT View Post
    So, all in all, concern by an academic (who works and researches solely in the public realm) about having their open source research censored, unless they have clearance and/or are working on classified issues, seems to me to be more than bit misguided.
    I agree with John and Terry--however, the original question is whether academics working for government might have their output classified, even when working with open sources.

    Well, yes--the work that they produce under contract might be classified for a variety of reasons. In my experience, not only is this usually clear from the start, but the USG in particular (and contractors working for the USG) usually have reams of paperwork to be signed agreeing to this.

    Might their subsequent work be classified? It ought not to be, if they aren't currently working for government, it is not a reproduction of their for-government work, and doesn't use classified materials. Certainly I haven't heard of it happening.

    All in all, I think concerns about this are overstated.

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    Default TT and guys

    there is one area that is particularly interesting in TT's presentation. That is the notion that if you carry a security clearance your work would be subject to review. For my entire reserve career - not on active duty - I carried a TS clearance. But my civilian academic work never was subject to review. Since I retired, reservists on inactive duty for training as well as annual training have come under the UCMJ. But my understanding is that it applies only when in those two statuses plus any active duty time. By that logic, a reservist (incl National Guard) when not in drill (IADT) or AT or AD status is still not subject to review for work done in an academic environment not under contract to the USG. That should help clarify this minor gray area unless I'm all wet or totally out of date!

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    Quote Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
    there is one area that is particularly interesting in TT's presentation. That is the notion that if you carry a security clearance your work would be subject to review. For my entire reserve career - not on active duty - I carried a TS clearance. But my civilian academic work never was subject to review.
    Ditto--I hold a current TS/SCI (or rather, the Canadian equivalent) and my regular academic work isn't subject to review.

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    Default John and Rex

    Interesting. Any discussions I have had never got anywhere near the points you both mention, but it would seem that it comes down to Rex’s earlier point.

    Rex posted: Might their subsequent work be classified? It ought not to be, if they aren't currently working for government, it is not a reproduction of their for-government work, and doesn't use classified materials.
    That this is the way the situation applies makes sense to me. I know any number of people who publish who obviously had very high clearance at one time or another, and they may still have their clearance for all I know, for it never occurred to me ask them about this.

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    Default Selil

    Selil posted: I have considered it though in the career pathway as an obstruction.
    I never perceived the possible opportunities that crossed my path as obstacles to my academic career, but then I am a poli scientist, not a technologist, so our situations are different. Gov’t work and clearances obviously has not hurt John or Rex’s careers, but by the same token you clearly see career issues given your line of research.

    Instead one of my abiding issues is that I prefer to be able to pursue research questions that I find interesting rather than doing work/research to answer questions/issues that others set for their own purposes, so those possible opportunities involving doing gov’t work direct or via consulting never appealed to me however much better paid than academia. Working in a military academic environment, of course, one retains academic freedom but for any number of reasons these particular opportunities either did not pan out or did not appeal to me at the particular time.

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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TT View Post
    I never perceived the possible opportunities that crossed my path as obstacles to my academic career, but then I am a poli scientist, not a technologist, so our situations are different. Gov’t work and clearances obviously has not hurt John or Rex’s careers, but by the same token you clearly see career issues given your line of research.
    As a technologist my research is highly applied. I don't theorize about the bomb I build it, then I build it better, then I produce the process to mass produce it. Technology faculty do a lot of consulting to various entities and corporations. In many ways that is what we do rather than sponsored research. As a specialist in information technology (networking and security) i look at ways to implement, integrate, adapt, change, model, infuse, fuse, the various disparate hard science disciplines through my research. In my world we do stuff. As a cyber warfare researcher I take all of the above.... and well you don't really want to know.

    Because of the highly applied nature rather than basic science nature any knowledge derived and then utilized could in many ways be suspect. The things I know, the techniques, the skills, the methodologies, are what make my knowledge valuable. And, exactly the kind of things that would be classified. My mentors have warned me about this since the first major scholarship I was awarded.
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    Long ago and far away when the US first introduced classified info Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA), I seem to remember that a clause therein was interpreted such that any work produced by a person who had signed such an agreement was subject to security classification review. I also seem to recall that the NDA was subsequently changed to modify/remove the offending language and we all had to sign new NDAs. For what it is worth, here's a link to the SF 312 (current US Govt NDA) briefing booklet from the Information Security Oversight Office of the US National Archives.
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    Default I see...

    Quote Originally Posted by selil View Post
    This is part of the reason I have turned down work on classified projects. I'm a nobody so it isn't like I have people kicking down my door asking me accept a government security clearance. I have considered it though in the career pathway as an obstruction.
    BLUF: It would be better if being in academia or working with the government regularly weren't an either/or proposition.

    Well, I keep learning when posting here, and that is the point. Based upon these responses, I would say that indeed I was wrong, but not in the way that I had originally believed.

    Appartently, it is possible for things to become classified if you have to submit it for review, and I always knew that. While I have not successfully published (yet), I have had a few articles reviewed, and I have never had a problem. However, I have a good relationship with the SSO, and that seems to make a huge difference.

    What I am more concerned about is the attitude stated by selil, which he is not alone in holding. While in general, I believe that better information is to be had on open source than classified sources, especially for theoretical purposes, I find it a shame that qualified and smart people are unwilling to accept or pursue security clearances that would greatly facilitate their work and would allow them to interact more directly with other members of the community.

    I am fully familiar with the caprice of classification. I have fought the battle of classification many times. I have even had to deal with literally random classifications, at wholly inconvenient times. But I think that is a bad thing, that perhaps we want to fix.

    The government keeps saying that it wants to have more academics involved with things like HTT and Minerva and the like, but what it gives with one hand it takes with the other. If people have to live in fear of their research becoming censored (for that is how they perceive it) simply because of they help the Army (or whoever) from time to time, then what do you think is going to win out?

    Not to mention that most of this, especially in social science, is irrellevant. Of course there are issues, such as specific vulnerabilities, that probably deserve classification, but I would say that pure ethics should also compel someone to not release that. But those limited instances aside, Social Science is a conversation, and for every person who sees things one way there is someone who sees it another. If the information is already available in the public sphere then isn't it much better to have people discuss it and change policy, develop theory, or at least be aware of the confluence of facts, rather than burying their heads in the sand and hoping it goes away? (!!I am talking only of information that is already available to the public, not things that should otherwise be classified!!)

    It strikes me as tragic, foolish, and illadvised that our government cannot consult freely with some of the smartest and well educated people on certain topics, because those people need to fear for the loss of their livelyhood by the mere act of consultation. Even if that fear is somewhat irrational, it is a fear nonetheless, and a large one to boot. How much better would it be if government to convoke the greatest minds at any time, be they military, academic, civil, or what have you, and present them with a problem and see what they come up with. I am not so naive as to believe it would always be good, but I do believe that more information is always better than less when making decisions.

    Bottom line, by allowing classification to remain capricious and random, and (perhaps) requiring all people who hold clearances to undergo a process whereby their work may be censored based upon unclear guidance and the whims of an individual, holding a clearance, and by extension working with the government on military and security issues becomes an exclusive proposition. If this is not the case, it is apparent that there is enough confusion about the situation that one must operate on that assumption anyway. By so doing, the government de facto excludes all people who would also have interests outside of working with the government. Only those who are willing to potentially derive their entire livelihood from the government are therefore able to consult regularly and directly on issues facing the government today.

    I may be wrong in this conclusion. I suspect the government thinks I am, but I think the discussion in this post is evidence of sufficient confusion that indeed that seems to be the perception, and while perhaps not the truth, at least the reality in which we currently live.
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    It may be useful to expand this discussion a touch beyond the classified/non-classified area out into "censorship". A lot of disciplines have forms of self-censorship built into them, usually in their so-called "codes of ethical conduct" but, also, in their traditions. Let me give you an example...

    When I was doing my Doctoral fieldwork, I was informed by my ethics committee that I must change the names of all the companies I was working with. At the same time, as part of negotiating the informed consent forms, I was told by the companies that I must use heir real names in my work. This caused a few people on my ethics committee to have heart palpitations. You see, the rule/tradition about changing the company name is based on the perception that the researcher is in the position of greater "power" since they get to write up the results. The attitudes of the companies laughed at this pretension. As one of my informants noted "If you [i.e. me] screw up, we'll ship your a$$ out of here, so who really has the power?".

    The entire anonymity / hidden identity thing in a lot of social science research is based on the assumption of a power inbalance. But what if there isn't one for a particular study?
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