Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Touchy subjects

Posted by John McHale

Covering the military has its perks - none bigger than getting to spend time and talk with the outstanding men and women who are sacrificing a great deal for their country.

The added bonus within our niche at Military & Aerospace Electronics is that we also get to explore the amazing technology that is being deployed and developed such as laser weapons and new aircraft like the Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22 Raptor.

The drawback is that a lot of what we learn we cannot turn around and share with our readers. Most of the time this understandable, the country is at war and some information published in a public forum could be damaging to U.S. security.

Another reason that information is not released is due to "contractual obligations" or to keep a "competitive advantage" for those companies involved.

Today's climate is providing a third reason to keep quiet on defense contracts. It's one I don't agree with. Some companies, due to the views of their management or investors, do not want to publicly admit they provide technology to the military.

We found this to be true quite a bit with some European suppliers, especially in Germany. That's almost understandable considering the country's history.

That said, the first two reasons above are perfectly acceptable, yet just as frustrating from a journalistic perspective when trying to provide an informative and complete story.

I imagine it is also frustrating from a marketing perspective. Companies want to let the world know how successful their products are but are held back by the nature of the industry they support.

However, sometimes the urge, need, or obsession with secrecy can be taken to the absurd.

I remember one incident that happened nearly a decade ago. I wrote about a new contract a company won - I will hold back the names of the players involved. The company could not comment beyond saying it won a contract because the contract was classified. So I figured if they couldn't talk about it must be secret. Hence the headline read "So and So wins secret contract."

Well needless to say the company got in big trouble with their customer because I used the word secret in the headline! Eventually it all worked out and they kept the contract but I still think in the big scheme of things the word secret did no more harm than if I used the word classified.

If any of you have similar stories out there I would love to hear them - that is if you are allowed to share.

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