Confusing ITAR Compliance at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


On 28-29 August 2012, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) held a Systems Engineering Review for a potential geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) servicing mission. Despite stating that "Interested parties must register in order to attend" a number of participants have told me that they did not register in advance and just showed up. According to attendees, during the meeting, participants were openly encouraged to use their cellphones to take pictures of the materials shown on the screen - some (but not all) of which were labeled "predecisional". None of the charts shown had any marking denoting that they were ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) sensitive in nature.

On 30 August 2012 I made a request to NASA GSFC PAO for a copy of a presentation titled "Systems Engineering Review of the RESTORE mission." that had been presented on 28 August. On 6 September 2012 I got the following response back from GSFC PAO with regard to my request:

"The Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has received your request to provide a copy of the presentation package given on August 28-29, 2012 at the Systems Engineering Review ( for a potential geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) servicing mission.

The package was not handed to the participants at the review because it contains ITAR-restricted data and material relevant to a potential competitive solicitation. We are in the process of preparing the package for distribution. Attendees whose citizenship was previously confirmed will be sent the version of the package with all ITAR data clearly labeled as such. A non-ITAR package will be posted on our public website.

We welcome your interest in this Review and SSCO's activities to advance robotic satellite-servicing technologies. Our team encourages you to visit our website ( for information about SSCO's technology development campaign. We'd be happy to give you a tour of the Satellite Servicing Center located at Goddard Space Flight Center at your convenience."

This is a little odd. Aren't things with ITAR sensitivity supposed to marked that way to begin with - certainly before they are discussed or referenced in a public forum? If I read this right, ITAR labeling is only being applied to materials - after the fact - materials that were already discussed at this meeting. The original meeting notice says "Due to the content of the presentations and facility security requirements, only U.S. citizens may attend. All attendees will be required to present government issued photo identification upon entry to the event".

If only American citizens were allowed in this meeting, then they would all have shown proof of their citizenship, right? Or were some attendees not American citizens? If the material had been labeled in advance as being ITAR sensitive - and everyone in attendance was a U.S. citizen - then couldn't copies have been given to all attendees at the meeting? And if this material is also competition sensitive (in addition to ITAR sensitive), why were all attendees openly encouraged to use their cellphones to record copies of these materials? This meeting was held in a large auditorium and no one was checking to see who walked in.

Update: NASA GSFC PAO provided this response on 7 September 2012:

"In response to your query, the citizenship of all of the participants at the Review was verified prior to their admittance into the event. Each slide was clearly labeled at the bottom that "Use or disclosure of this data is subject to the restriction on the title page of this document." The title page had the detailed ITAR language. Further, periodically throughout the two-day event, ITAR reminders were given verbally to the participants. Ultimately it is the legal responsibility of each U.S. person that attended the Review to not further distribute ITAR-controlled material to non-U.S. persons."

This begs the question: Why were attendees openly encouraged to take pictures of these slides with their cellphones? Witnesses tell me that this was done. That sounds contrary to the notion that this information is not to be shared. Was every page of the ITAR-sensitive documents tagged with an ITAR notice? Documents get distributed in pieces all the time. My understanding is that every page needs an ITAR warning. Is that what NASA is adding to these documents now? Also, why was the word "predecisional" used when refering to ITAR-sensitive information?

According to participants, the event was held in a large auditorium. The lights were partially dimmed. No one was present to look at badges for people entering the room once the meeting was under way.

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