“Is it your view that a Vice President has the authority to declassify information?” Vice President Cheney was asked yesterday by Fox News’ Brit Hume.
“There is an executive order to that effect,” replied the Vice President.
This was a simple answer to a straightforward question, but the matter is actually a bit more complicated.
The executive order in question is E.O. 13292 on classified national security information, issued by President Bush in March 2003.
It states in section 1.3 that “The authority to classify information originally may be exercised only by: (1) the President and, in the performance of executive duties, the Vice President; (2) agency heads and officials designated by the President in the Federal Register…”
Remarkably, the phrase “and, in the performance of executive duties, the Vice President,” which dramatically elevates the Vice President’s classification authority to that of the President, was added to the executive order in 2003.
Prior to that, the Vice President only had classification authority comparable to that of an agency head, having been delegated such authority in a 1995 presidential order.
So much for classification authority. What about declassification?
Declassification authority is defined in Section 6.1(l) of E.O. 13292. It is granted to: “(1) the official who authorized the original classification…; (2) the originator’s current successor in function; (3) a supervisory official of either; or (4) officials delegated declassification authority in writing by the agency head or the senior agency official.”
So the Vice President has authority to declassify anything that he himself classified. He also clearly has authority to declassify anything generated in the Office of the Vice President, which he supervises.
But is the Vice President, like the President, “a supervisory official” with respect to other executive branch agencies such as the CIA? Did the 2003 amendment to the executive order which elevated the Vice President’s classification authority also grant him declassification authority comparable to the President’s?
“The answer is not obvious,” said one executive branch expert on classification policy.