Skip to main content /TECH with /TECH

Provisions and prudence: Military contractors


By Dan Verton

(IDG) -- Since the September 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent deployment of military forces to Afghanistan, the United States Department of Defense has submitted emergency orders for various types of equipment, including communications gear, and has sped up delivery time lines for previous contracts that had already been negotiated, Computerworld has learned. INFOCENTER
Related Stories
Visit an IDG site search

But the Pentagon's need for increased secrecy to protect the lives of military personnel has raised new questions about how much information contractors should release to the public about sensitive government programs, especially IT-related programs that could enable terrorists to target U.S. operations.

A number of press statements issued by companies have raised the ire of some in the defense establishment. For example, within a week of the attacks last month, Holocom Networks in Carlsbad, California, issued a statement on its Web site stating that the Pentagon placed an emergency order for a large quantity of communications accessories.

Cryptek Secure Communications LLC, in Sterling, Virginia, issued a statement that the army had stepped up its delivery date for a certain number of communications devices. And Broadvision Inc. in Redwood City, California, issued a press release on October 24 detailing the Air Force's plans to handle databases in a different configuration -- the communication mentioned "personnel data to frontline combat intelligence."

As a result of these and other statements, Pentagon officials have issued a series of memos sent to private industry contractors urging them to think twice about the information they release to the public and post on their Web sites.

"I would also like to stress, during this national emergency, the importance of the use of discretion in all the public statements, press releases and communications made by your respective companies and by your major suppliers," wrote E.C. "Pete" Aldridge Jr., undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, in a letter to businesses on October 2. "Statistical, production, contracting and delivery information can convey a tremendous amount of information that hostile intelligence organizations might find relevant."

Air Force and Navy acquisition chiefs quickly followed suit. And in an e-mail sent on October 4 to 10 senior officials in the Air Force, Darleen Druyan, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition and management, went one step further by prohibiting Air Force acquisition officials from speaking to the media.

"Effective immediately, I do not want anyone within the Air Force acquisition community discussing any of our programs with the media (on or off the record)," wrote Druyan. "This includes presenting program briefings in any forums at which the media may be present."

Broadvision declined to comment. A spokesman for Robert Frye, executive director of the Air Force's Standard Systems Group in Montgomery, Alabama, which manages the Broadvision contract, said Frye was unaware of any directive barring his command from talking to the press.

Tom Mitchell, a connectivity specialist with Holocom who worked on the Pentagon project, said he has heard rumblings about other press articles but nothing about Holocom's announcement. He said there was nothing in his company's announcement that was sensitive.

Cryptek's vice president, John Garber, said his company has "highly restrictive" policies against disclosing classified government information. "If I had something to tell you that I thought you shouldn't write about, I wouldn't tell you," said Garber.

Kevin Clarke, a spokesman for Electronic Data Systems' Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (N/MCI) Strike Force, said EDS already adheres to strict government policies about information disclosure. The company also recently reviewed all of its public Web sites and issued a company-wide memorandum reminding employees not to discuss sensitive information in e-mails and telephone conversations. The $6.9 billion N/MCI contract is the largest outsourcing contract in government.

Bill Crowell, CEO of Santa Clara, California-based Cylink Corp., said it is up to the government to hold the private sector accountable. "If I violate the public release provisions of my commercial contracts, then I lose their business," said Crowell. "The government should expect no less."

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, however, worries that heightened concerns about the need for military secrecy could spill over into other areas where the public has a need to know.

"One wants to be sure that terrorism is not used as a pretext for withholding information that the public needs to assess government policy and performance," said Aftergood. "It looks to me like the government is overreaching in some cases."


• Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy
• Department of Defense
• Electronic Data Systems

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


Back to the top