“For Official Use Only” – The Faux Veil of Protection

The phrase, “For Official Use Only” is the faux veil behind which government agencies, including the Defense Department, hide. All too often those with authority declare, “Make it FOUO.” The intent often is to hide information. But it is a designation not a classification.

Essentially, FOUO is meaningless.

We often see FOUO documents sitting in our cyber box here at Inside the Headquarters. Far from the Pentagon Papers, they are average Defense Department fare. It is easy to find what out the creator was trying to hide, but it is more humorous than newsworthy, and a tad pathetic.

Yet FOUO spells security, for many. Of those with whom we spoke, few understood its meaning and equated it with a classification.

Classified material, like “secret” and “top secret,” have specific handling instructions. Only those with the clearance and a need to know can view such documents.

But FOUO? The intent is to classify a document that is unclassified. It is to bury it from public view without codified protections. But FOUO material is subject to the same Freedom of Information Act guidelines as other documents.

Recently a war game and all related documents were assigned FOUO. The move instilled a culture of fear and mistrust. Organizers were trying to bury one word by waving the FOUO wand. It has worked thus far. (We won’t reveal their “secret” yet.)

The culture of fear seems to be gripping many departments in Washington. FOUO feeds this “Revolution of No.”

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