This question is posed by Laura K. Donohue in today's Washington Post. Her answer? No, at least not in the case of biological threats.
Biological information and the issues surrounding it are different. It is not possible to establish even a limited monopoly over microbiology. The field is too fundamental to the improvement of global public health, and too central to the development of important industries such as pharmaceuticals and plastics, to be isolated. Moreover, the list of diseases that pose a threat ranges from high-end bugs, like smallpox, to common viruses, such as influenza. Where does one draw the line for national security? . . .As a general matter, I am inclined to think she is right. Knowledge is difficult to suppress (and that's a good thing!). In all but the most extreme circumstances, I suspect the costs of restraining scientific inquiry and research results are likely to be greater than any consequent risk reduction. Yet as scientific knowledge advances, the pressure to control "dangerous" knowledge will increase, just as the ability to control it declines.
Terrorists will obtain knowledge. Our best option is to blunt their efforts to exploit it. That means developing, producing and stockpiling effective vaccines. It means funding research into biosensors -- devices that detect the presence of toxic substances in the environment -- and creating more effective reporting requirements for early identification of disease outbreaks. And it means strengthening our public health system. . . .
Keeping scientists from sharing information damages our ability to respond to terrorism and to natural disease, which is more likely and just as devastating. Our best hope to head off both threats may well be to stay one step ahead.