SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
October 10, 2000

DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL BOOSTS SECRECY

The House-Senate conference completed its compromise version of the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001 on Friday. The bill, which is an astonishing mess from many points of view, includes several provisions that will tend to diminish publish access to government information and drive security policy farther away from a defensible middle ground.

The new bill (H.R. 5408) creates two new statutory exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act. One will exempt certain unclassified foreign government information from disclosure (sec. 1073). Another will expand the exemption for certain unclassified maps and imagery (sec. 1074).

The bill places a severe new limitation on Pentagon spending for all declassification activities (sec. 1075). In place of last year’s limit of $51 million, the new maximum for the coming year will be $30 million. Needless to say, no limitation is imposed on classification-related spending, which reached a total of $5 billion in FY 1999, according to the latest report of the Information Security Oversight Office.

In a step that is positively subversive in its implications, the conferees adopted a provision that allows the Secretary of Energy to grant a waiver from polygraph testing for employees in certain circumstances, but that “would prohibit the Secretary from using the need to maintain the scientific viability of a DOE laboratory as a criteria [sic]" for such exemptions (sec. 3135). In other words, the scientific viability of the DOE labs is now -- by law -- a lower priority than the DOE polygraph program.

In a rare bit of good news, the conferees did not adopt a controversial provision that would have exempted the “operational files" of the Defense Intelligence Agency from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

The new bill was adopted in conference on October 6 and is expected to be approved in House and Senate floor votes this week. Excerpts from the bill concerning secrecy and security policy are posted here:

DOE ANNOUNCES STEPS TO COMBAT RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

Although executive branch officials insist that ethnicity was not a factor in the Wen Ho Lee case, there is evidence in the form of sworn declarations from counterintelligence officials to indicate otherwise.

Implicitly acknowledging the existence of a problem, the Department of Energy yesterday announced several steps to combat racial discrimination, including an Inspector General investigation and other steps.

"We have made progress addressing concerns of racial profiling but more needs to be done," said Secretary Richardson.

DOE’s announcement of its new initiative is posted here:

SECRETARY COHEN, WASHINGTON TIMES ON “LEAKS"

Reflecting on his term as Pentagon chief, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said last week that “What is most surprising to me is the amount of highly classified information that I read on the front pages of the local papers.... I think it's really quite discouraging when you see that kind of information being released and openly given to members of the media." Cohen’s remarks are posted here:

In a misguided and probably unconstitutional attempt to respond to such “leaks" of classified information, Congress is preparing to adopt a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act that would make unauthorized disclosures of classified information a felony.

A last minute surge of opposition to the measure, reflected in editorials in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the St. Petersburg Times, and others, may not be enough to calm the security frenzy in Congress.

The editorial board of the conservative Washington Times, whose reporter Bill Gertz has been the most prominent conduit of classified information into the public domain, blasted the pending criminalization of “leaks":

“The purpose of this legislation is to shield government from embarrassment, rather than protect vital state secrets. The House should reject it out of hand, and the Senate should be ashamed of approving it." See the Times editorial here:

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