SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
November 2, 2000

CONTROVERSY OVER "LEAK" STATUTE APPROACHES A CLIMAX

Opposition to the "leak" statute -- and support for a veto -- are mounting, as the November 4 deadline for a Presidential decision approaches. The pending legislation, approved by Congress on October 12, would make it a felony to disclose any information that the executive branch says is properly classified.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) urged his colleagues to support a veto at a press briefing yesterday. "This bill attempts to protect our national security in such broad and vague terms, and without regard for the potential of rampant overclassification of government information, that it will have profound effects on the ability of an informed citizenry to keep our government honest," he said. See:

The Chicago Tribune editorial board added its voice to the national chorus this morning: "Making this measure law clearly threatens to protect government errors and misdeeds by keeping the public ignorant. It deserves a veto." See:

"This is a bizarre moment," writes Lars Erik Nelson in the New York Daily News. "Ten years after the end of the Cold War, we are about to enact Soviet-style secrecy laws. What is worse, we are doing it with Soviet-style legislation, drafted in secret, with no public hearings." See:

The CIA should henceforth be known as the C.Y.A. (as in "cover your ass"), writes columnist William Safire in the New York Times. The new law, he writes, is an "assault on free speech under the phony cover of national security." See:

Independent-minded former director of central intelligence R. James Woolsey spoke out against the leak statute in an interview with Jonathan Landay of Knight-Ridder News Service. "It seems to me that it sweeps overly broadly," he said. See:

Ironically, Republican congressmen spoke out yesterday in praise of the media’s ability to report on classified activities in the executive branch. The topic was the dubious allegation that the Vice President had secretly and improperly acquiesced in Russian arms sales to Iran.

"While the Congress was working in good faith to stop proliferation of technology to Iran, Vice President Al Gore was allowing that technology to flow to Iran and never told the Congress," complained Rep. Curt Weldon, somewhat inaccurately. But he went on to add: "Thank goodness we have a media that is willing to stand up and expose this kind of action."

"We only found out about it 5 years later because a New York Times writer got a copy of this memo and spread the story out on the front page of the New York Times."

Under the new law, Rep. Weldon’s remarks might be interpreted as incitement to commit a felony. See:

Washington Post cartoonist Herblock weighed in with an editorial cartoon on the new secrecy bill, which should eventually be posted here (look for the November 2 cartoon):

Walter Pincus and Vernon Loeb of the Washington Post reported that the leak statute will be the subject of a White House meeting today. See:

The Post also alluded to an alternative proposal supported by House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss that would only criminalize disclosures of "sensitive compartmented information" (i.e. intelligence information) rather than all "classified information."

While this proposal would be much narrower in scope and effect, it contains the same essential flaw as the present legislation: It would endow the executive branch with unilateral authority to define the boundaries of what information is protected by law.

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