SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
October 12, 2000

CONFERENCE REPORT ON INTELLIGENCE AUTHORIZATION

The House-Senate conference report on the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2001, which awaits final approval, was published in the Congressional Record yesterday. The report significantly undermines existing checks and balances on intelligence, transferring new power to the executive branch on matters such as classification policy and treaty compliance. The text of the conference report, House Report 106-969, is posted here:

In an editorial today, the Washington Post criticized the report’s provision that would criminalize disclosures of any information that the executive branch calls properly classified. “The language in the conference report is a harmful response to a nonexistent problem and ought to be excised." See:

The report does adopt Senator Moynihan’s Public Interest Declassification Act, but with some petty modifications. The Senate Intelligence Committee pointedly deleted a "finding" that endorsed “systematic declassification" of archival records. The conference committee added language that further qualifies declassification activity. See:

The conference also approved Senator Feinstein’s Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act, which is precisely the kind of special interest declassification initiative that the Moynihan legislation was intended to preempt. But the conferees sensibly incorporated the Act’s new Working Group into the existing Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Interagency Working Group.

DEUTCH, THE “CROWN JEWELS" AND THE SAPOC

In a front page article by Bill Gertz, the Washington Times declared that John Deutch had compromised the Pentagon’s “crown jewels" by improperly recording and transferring them on unclassified computer systems.

The notion of classified “crown jewels" is widely recognized as rhetorical overkill due to its abuse in the Wen Ho Lee case. Government officials eventually admitted in the Lee case that what they had called the “crown jewels" was classified below the Top Secret RD level. Either there is something even more valuable than the “crown jewels" -- or the officials were guilty of exaggerating Lee’s offense so as to inflame public opinion and prejudice the court.

In the Deutch case, in contrast, the relevant information may actually have borne the highest-level classifications. Bill Gertz reports that Deutch recorded and transferred information about highly sensitive Special Access Programs which he acquired in his capacity as Chairman of the Special Access Program Oversight Committee (SAPOC), a Pentagon body that performs internal oversight on these compartmented programs.

According to a 1994 SAPOC bulletin, the SAPOC annually reviews all Defense Department Special Access Programs. Furthermore, “the DEPSECDEF [who in 1994-95 was John Deutch] is the final decision maker in establishing, disestablishing or restructuring SAPs." See a description of the SAPOC here:

Experience proves, however, that not all Pentagon Special Access Programs are as sensitive as claimed. So, for example, a 1992 DoD Inspector General audit (report number 93-033) found that a Special Access Program called Timber Wind was “over-classified" and that its classification as an unacknowledged SAP “was not adequately justified." That Inspector General audit was initiated in response to a complaint from the Federation of American Scientists.

ISCAP ISSUES NEW REPORT ON DECLASSIFICATION

The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), a government body that considers appeals of declassification requests that have been denied, issued a new report yesterday. For the fourth year in a row, “the Panel has reversed agency classification decisions and declassified information in the majority of the appeals it considered."

Panel chair Roslyn Mazer said: "For four years, the ISCAP has brought much-needed objectivity and skepticism to the task of implementing President Clinton's carefully-balanced Executive Order. The results prove that we can continue to protect our vital national security interests in a dynamic, complex environment while providing unprecedented access to other government records."

The Panel report is justifiably upbeat, given that the Panel has fully or partially declassified 80 percent of the 218 denied documents it has considered over the past four years.

But the report is not entirely frank about the pressures the Panel has faced or about the degree to which it has failed to alter cold war secrecy policies.

In a decision that squandered some of the Panel’s credibility, a majority of members voted last year to uphold the classification of the 1988 intelligence budget total -- even after the 1997 and 1998 budget totals had been declassified. DCI George Tenet reportedly went to other agency heads to pressure their representatives on the ISCAP to endorse CIA’s position that the 1988 figure must remain classified to protect national security.

See the new ISCAP report here:

NRDC SUES DOE OVER NIF ADVISORY COMMITTEES

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed suit yesterday against the Department of Energy, alleging that DOE advisory committees on the troubled National Ignition Facility (NIF) had violated the open meeting provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

NRDC argues that NIF poses a proliferation problem and that it could destabilize the moratorium on nuclear explosive testing. In NRDC’s estimation, “NIF increases the risk that certain nuclear-capable countries ... will use the data and analysis generated by unclassified and partly classified NIF experiments to advance their fundamental understanding of nuclear weapons physics, and hence their abilities to design thermonuclear weapons and possibly even confirm their performance without conducting nuclear test explosions." This view is not universally endorsed.

See the NRDC release and complaint here:

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