SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 45
May 22, 2002

FETISHISM OF THE PRESIDENT'S DAILY BRIEF

The Bush Administration believes that the confidentiality of the President's daily intelligence briefing -- which he receives in the form of a CIA document called the President's Daily Brief (PDB) -- is so important that its continued secrecy must take precedence over any investigation into the failure to prevent the terrorist attacks of September 11.

That is the peculiar conclusion that emerges from Vice President Dick Cheney's insistence that "it would be a mistake" to provide to Congress a copy of the highly classified August 6, 2001, PDB that reportedly made reference to the threat of airplane hijackings.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer acknowledged at a press briefing yesterday that it was the principle of confidentiality rather than the sensitivity of any information in the PDB that justified withholding the document from congressional investigators.

"I don't really think it's anything, per se, about that memo, in and of itself, ... as much as it is the overall principle," Mr. Fleischer said. See excerpts from the May 21 White House press briefing here:

But this is not security policy, it is fetishism. It places the instrumentality of secrecy above the larger security interests of the nation.

The mystique of the President's Daily Brief has been energetically cultivated by the Central Intelligence Agency, even to the point of denying disclosure of PDBs from several decades ago.

"The CIA continues to deny [State Department] historians the right to quote or cite material from the President's Daily Briefs," according to the latest annual report to the Secretary of State from the State Department Historical Advisory Committee.

Now the CIA is pressing for a blanket exemption from declassification for all PDBs, no matter how old or inconsequential they may be. According to a participant in the ongoing executive order revision process, high-level CIA intervention is expected to ensure that the agency's wishes are incorporated in the forthcoming Bush executive order on classification and declassification policy.


A LETHAL LEAK?

A confidential source who provided the U.S. with intelligence on terrorism died as the result of a leak of classified information that was reported in the press, according to an offhand remark made last Sunday by Vice President Dick Cheney.

"[A] story that was published in one of our major newspapers... subsequently led to the death of an individual who had provided us access to one of the terrorist organizations," the Vice President told Tony Snow on Fox News Sunday on May 19.

See the full transcript of his remarks here:

This would be an important, and perhaps instructive, story if it could be confirmed and elaborated. But no follow-up questions were asked and no substantiating information was made available.

Ordinarily, official claims about the damage caused by leaks of classified information are so vague and self-serving as to be purely rhetorical, and sometimes they are demonstrably false.

Two months ago, Rep. Curt Weldon repeated his fantastic assertion that former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary had leaked the classified design of the W-87 nuclear warhead to U.S. News and World Report, which published it in the July 31, 1995 issue. But on close inspection, it turns out that the supposedly leaked diagram was not a classified design nor even a U.S. government document at all. Rather, it was a U.S. News artist's rendering based on published information credited to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Classification reviewers later approved the drawing for republication in the unclassified version of the 1999 Cox Committee report on allegations of Chinese espionage (p. 78). Yet Rep. Weldon, who is evidently less than honorable, has failed to apologize to Secretary O'Leary for his continuing false allegations. For more background see:

A Justice Department report to Congress on measures needed to combat unauthorized disclosures of classified information that was due May 1 has still not surfaced.

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

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