The secret briefings that Kansas legislators attended Tuesday don’t appear to have included any information that can’t readily be found on the internet. But then again, the meetings were secret, so we don’t really know. Staffers and reporters were not allowed on the unmarked Department of Homeland Security buses that took lawmakers to a briefing at Forbes Air Force Base in Topeka.
News accounts agree that legislators were briefed by a DHS official about the fact that foreign governments are trying to get proprietary information about Kansas business, technological and agricultural assets. Those who commented said they weren’t warned about any immediate threats but they were told to be careful about opening emails from foreign sources.
The Lawrence Journal-World reported leaders in both parties said beforehand that they didn’t know what the briefings were about and worried that they would be briefed on an emergency.
“That turned out not to be the case. House Democrats, who had the first briefing, said it involved general information about potential security threats. Some of them even described the briefing as ‘routine’ and ‘just education.’ At least a few were disappointed.”
Rep. Stephanie Clayton was one of the lawmakers who told the Topeka Capital-Journal it was a “routine briefing.”
So it was no big deal. A reminder not to bite if someone in Nigeria sends an email offering to give the state a billion dollars. Even so, it was not business as usual. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, who will get the briefing with other senators, said he could not recall a similar security briefing in his 44 years as a lawmaker.
It also seems to violate the spirit of the Kansas open meetings law. House Democrats and Republicans had separate briefings, as will the senators. The briefings were given in closed party caucuses, which are allowed under the law. Is it really a “political party caucus” meeting if EVERYBODY gets the information?
Honestly, it sounds great that lawmakers have been briefed on issues that they may encounter in the course of their official duties. Kansas is home to the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and we have incidents of Chinese nationals stealing or attempting to steal agricultural and biomedical research.
“We need to be careful in responding to people because everyone’s looking for an in, some way, somehow,” said state Rep. Jim Gartner, a Topeka Democrat who attended the first briefing. “That was the gist of it.”
Sounds like a message to share with everyone.