SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
February 16, 2001

NSC WITHHOLDS NEW PRESIDENTIAL DIRECTIVE

The National Security Council is refusing to release the unclassified text of the Bush Administration's first "National Security Presidential Directive," the New York Times reported today:

This is a disappointing reversion to a past practice that had been partially overcome in the Clinton Administration.

Presidential directives are a largely unaccountable instrument of executive authority. They are used to establish and implement national security policy, and they often authorize the commitment of government resources. Yet they are usually classified and Congress is not routinely notified of their existence or contents.

According to a 1992 General Accounting Office study (GAO/NSIAD-92-72), the previous Bush Administration did not declassify any of its presidential directives in its first three years. (Several have been declassified since then.) Although most Clinton Administration directives, known as "Presidential Decision Directives," remain classified, President Clinton did authorize release of his first two directives in 1993 with no fuss at all.

The new Bush Administration's withholding of its unclassified first directive suggests an unwelcome affinity for indiscriminate secrecy.

A compilation of some past presidential directives that have been declassified is available online here:


NEW STATE DEPT ADVISORY COMMITTEE MINUTES

The State Department Historical Advisory Committee, which oversees the production of the official Foreign Relations of the United States series, on Monday approved several new sets of minutes from its quarterly meetings.

Following internal and external protests over the scanty presentation of the minutes of its September 2000 meeting, the Committee has returned to a more ample, though still somewhat muted format.

The minutes of the April 2000 meeting were reissued with an extended account of the closed session on "The CIA and the Foreign Relations Series." Topics included CIA's categorical refusal to declassify any issues of the President's Daily Brief, the role of the so-called High Level Panel in declassifying covert actions, and the declassification of covert action budgets. See:

These issues were explored further in the July 2000 meeting, which reported that "Director of Central Intelligence Tenet remains firm in his position that the President's Daily Brief may not be released for publication" no matter how old or historically significant it may be. Meanwhile the retrograde President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board continues to claim that it "owns" the documents of its predecessor agencies and opposes the documents' release. See:

The latest meeting minutes, from December 2000, are posted here:


GARFINKEL TO CHAIR WAR CRIMES WORKING GROUP

Steven Garfinkel, Director of the Information Security Oversight Office, has been named chair of the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group (IWG). He replaces Acting Archivist Michael J. Kurtz in that role.

The former Nazi War Crimes Interagency Working Group was expanded by legislation last year to encompass declassification and release of documents concerning Japanese Imperial Army war crimes during World War II.

The redoubtable Garfinkel will continue to serve as ISOO director, a post he has held for over 20 years. A National Archives press release announcing his new appointment by the Archivist of the United States is posted here:

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