Secrecy News

State Secrets Case Said to Conceal Environmental Damage

The Central Intelligence Agency invoked the state secrets privilege in 2004 to cover up a case of environmental contamination at a CIA facility that caused illnesses to an Agency employee and his family, according to the employee, Kevin Shipp.

The episode was revealed in the Washington Post and the New York Times on February 11 after Mr. Shipp decided to go public with his account of the sealed case.

The story was elaborated yesterday in the Washington Post with the disclosure that the CIA also failed to respond to inquiries from Mr. Shipp’s congressman, Rep. Frank Wolf, and that the congressional intelligence committees refused to respond to Mr. Shipp at all.  See “Intelligence panels ignored CIA officer’s pleas” by Jeff Stein, February 14.

By invoking the state secrets privilege, the government denied Mr. Shipp the basic right to argue his case and to seek a remedy.  Although the Obama Administration’s September 2009 policy on state secrets held out the promise that “credible allegations of government wrongdoing” in state secrets cases facing dismissal would be referred to agency Inspectors General, there is no record of any such referral by the Obama Administration or its predecessor.

Having been refused access to judicial review of his claims and with no response from congressional overseers, Mr. Shipp evidently chose to violate the court order sealing his case and the classification controls restricting its disclosure.  He did not “leak” the information anonymously.  Instead, he publicly revealed at least the outlines of his case.  He may now pay an additional price for these violations.  But he may also have reckoned that the state secrets privilege has no force in the court of public opinion.