G U L F / 2 0 0 0 ____________________________________________
Dr. Gary Sick, Executive DirectorOctober 7, 1999
395 Riverside Drive, Suite 10B
New York, New York 10025
Tel: (212) 222-9614
Fax: (212) 222-9318
Mr. William M. Daley
Secretary of Commerce
via fax: 202-482-2741
Dear Mr. Daley:
I am writing with regard to two issues involving your Department that directly affect me and my colleagues in the academic and journalistic communities.
1. In a recent note to subscribers, World News Connection (WNC) announced that "we have deleted sources from the countries contained on the U.S. Department of State embargoed list and, in addition, refined the representation of sources previously provided." This means that materials from such countries as Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Libya will no longer be published in WNC and that previously reported materials have been deleted from the data base.
2. I understand that the Department of Commerce has proposed termination of NTIS.
I am one of many scholars who have long relied on WNC and its predecessor FBIS to make available broadcasts of full texts of speeches, editorial comment in non-English newspapers, and facts that never make it to the Western media but are crucial for understanding other countries. Although this service attracts little public attention, it is widely used by scholars, journalists and policy analysts everywhere. Many university libraries (including Columbia) pay a hefty sum to make it available to their students.
The embargoed countries--now deleted--are where WNC is most important, since their policy differences with the United States often make it difficult to get original materials, especially in good translation. They are also countries that tend to be under-reported in the Western media and that are particularly important in terms of policy developments. Because of the recent deletions of embargoed countries, much of this uniquely valuable information will no longer be available.
As I understand it, the reason for this change of policy is a legal Catch-22. Because of sanctions, the United States cannot pay copyright fees for these materials. So, rather than risk the danger of a legal challenge, all such material will be tossed in the waste basket. The United States has unilaterally bombed Iraq, Sudan and Libya but we cower at the prospect of a copyright dispute? (Couldn't we just put the funds in escrow?) Were your lawyers aware of the fact that Iran is not even a signatory to the copyright convention, thereby removing any basis whatsoever for a suit?
I find your decision to terminate NTIS even more incomprehensible, since it is self-supporting from subscriptions and provides a well-tested delivery mechanism. Any alternative arrangement would cost more and provide less service to the people who rely on it.
The information provided through NTIS makes an irreplaceable contribution to U.S. national security. It informs us about other countries in ways that otherwise would be nearly impossible. It costs virtually nothing in comparison with almost any other national security system. It is not as sexy as a bomber or a missile, but its contributions to national security can be attested to by generations of policy-makers. I was in the White House during the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis, and my respect for the power of this information was born at that time. I often found it more helpful than the reams of classified material that came across my desk at the NSC.
Both of the decisions above were taken without any consultation with those who actually rely on the work of FBIS and NTIS. I have taken the liberty of alerting many of my colleagues in the academic and journalistic community about these developments. I am also sending a copy of this letter to Senator William Frist, Chairman of the Science, Technology and Space Subcommittee for his consideration in the up coming hearings.
I sincerely hope that you will reexamine both of these decisions.
Gary G. Sick
Senior Research Scholar
cc: Senator William Frist
by fax: 202-228-0326