SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 18
March 5, 2002

STATE DEPT PANEL REPORTS ON CURRENT SECRECY ISSUES

The Bush Administration's pending revisions to classification policy will not include new restrictions on automatic declassification, as some openness advocates had feared.

That scrap of information about the Administration's secretive deliberations on a new executive order was disclosed in minutes of the State Department's Historical Advisory Committee's December 2001 meeting, which were approved for release this week and obtained by Secrecy News.

The minutes provided an ample supply of news and gossip concerning current classification and declassification issues, including the following:

  • Last December, the Bush NSC Policy Coordinating Committee on Records Access, which is considering revisions to the Clinton executive order on national security classification, "unanimously rejected a provision to curtail automatic declassification review," said Information Security Oversight Office director Steven Garfinkel, according to the meeting minutes. Mr. Garfinkel has since retired.

    However, Mr. Garfinkel advised the State Department Historical Advisory Committee that historians should be aware of a "possible blanket exemption from declassification of the President's Daily Brief, which may be requested [by the CIA] at a very high level."

  • The Advisory Committee was briefed on the continuing re-review of previously declassified documents to search for nuclear weapons data that had been inadvertently disclosed, as mandated by the Kyl/Lott amendments of 1998-9.

    Officials reported that 30 million pages of previously released declassified documents have been withdrawn from public access and await re-review. Another 200 million pages that had been declassified but not publicly released also need to be re-reviewed. This task will not be completed for an estimated 5 years. Finally, there are an additional 800 million pages that currently await an initial declassification review.

    Kenneth M. Stein of the Department of Energy said that DOE reviewers were finding inadvertent disclosures of nuclear weapons data at a rate of 1 in 10,000 pages.

    Critics have argued that many of these "disclosures" are purely historical matters concerning weapon deployments at storage sites abroad several decades ago, and that they have no proliferation sensitivity today.

    However, historians Michael Hogan and David Herschler, who examined the Kyl/Lott re-review process for the Committee, differed with that assessment. They "asked many questions and sampled dozens of documents" that had been withdrawn from public access. "In each case, they felt that the document had been properly reclassified."

  • The CIA informed the Committee that it will hold a classified historical symposium on intelligence in the Vietnam war on March 8. The CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence will sponsor a conference on the Office of Strategic Services for surviving OSS veterans and historians in June.

    With regard to the 1953 CIA covert action in Iran, "the CIA noted that, despite reports to the contrary, not all records had been destroyed, and what is available in the CIA's files is significant."

    Most remarkably, "The CIA History Staff has been asked to place an historian with one of the CIA's components to watch the war on terrorism as it evolves."

    See the December 2001 minutes of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee, approved for release on March 4, here:

    What about the State Department's long-delayed Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volume on U.S. policy toward Greece, Cyprus and Turkey during the 1960s?

    It is still delayed. "Don't ask," said one frustrated State Department historian.


    LEAHY ASKS GAO TO ASSESS NEW FOIA POLICY

    Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has directed the General Accounting Office to conduct a wide-ranging investigation of the Bush Administration's compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

    In particular, Sen. Leahy wrote, "please assess the impact of the Attorney General's new statement of Administration policy, issued on Oct. 12, 2001, on implementation of the FOIA."

    "The prior policy favored openness in government and encouraged a presumption of disclosure.... The new policy appears to favor withholding agency records not only when an exemption clearly applies and disclosure would harm a protected interest, but also when there is doubt about its application and no foreseeable harm from disclosure," Sen. Leahy wrote.

    See the text of Sen. Leahy's February 28 letter to the GAO here:

    Among other things, Sen. Leahy asked the GAO to focus on the Administration's aggressive handling of some requests for fee waivers from representatives of the news media, educational or noncommercial scientific institutions.

    Recently, the Department of Justice took the unusual step of refusing to grant a request for fee waiver from reporter Michael Ravnitzky unless and until he described the specific "intended use of the particular records you have requested." See the correspondence between the Justice Department and Mr. Ravnitzky on this point here:


    NEW BILLS ON INFO SHARING, FBI REFORM

    In the name of protecting national security, the classification system sometimes undermines national security by impeding the flow of information among security, emergency response, and law enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.

    To help remedy this problem, new legislation was introduced last week by Reps. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Jane Harman (D-CA). The "Homeland Security Information Sharing Act" directs the President to establish procedures for declassification and sharing of information needed to "prevent, prepare for, or respond to terrorist attacks."

    The legislation does not directly alter classification criteria or practice. Nor does it affect the withholding of "intelligence sources and methods," a term that can be applied to almost anything. For these very reasons, its chances of passage are considered favorable.

    The Office of Homeland Security and the CIA participated in the drafting of the legislation and agreed with its provisions, according to a fact sheet on the bill.

    See the "Homeland Security Information Sharing Act" (H.R. 3825) here:

    The "Federal Bureau of Investigation Reform Act of 2002" was also introduced last week by Senators Leahy and Grassley to improve FBI oversight.

    "Congress sometimes has followed a hands-off approach about the FBI. But with the FBI's new increased powers, with our increased reliance on them to stop terrorism, and with the increased funding requested in the President's budget will come increased scrutiny," Sen. Leahy said.

    "Until the Bureau's problems are resolved and new challenges overcome, we have to take a hands-on approach."

    See the text of the "FBI Reform Act of 2002" (S. 1974) here:

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    Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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