SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 49
May 31, 2002

NEW FBI GUIDELINES HIGHLIGHT OVERSIGHT DEFICIT

It is a matter of common sense as well as good policy that any increase in government authority should be matched by a corresponding increase in oversight. But the newly augmented investigative authorities granted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation conspicuously lack any provision for new oversight.

The revised Attorney General's Investigative Guidelines announced yesterday expand the ability of the FBI to conduct domestic surveillance, and to exploit the Internet and commercial databases for counterterrorism purposes, among other changes.

The new Guidelines ignore the history of the domestic surveillance scandals of the 1970s and simply jettison many of the resulting constraints on the FBI, without providing a compensating oversight mechanism. But there is no reason that an aggressive and highly competent FBI could not coexist with an effective and demanding system of oversight.

Attorney General Ashcroft assured the public yesterday that the expanded FBI powers would be used only "for purposes of preventing terrorism" and would "not ... be abused for other purposes." But he did not indicate exactly how abuses would be prevented or detected, short of a recurrence of past excesses.

The new Investigative Guidelines were published yesterday on the Justice Department web site. A copy (in large PDF files) along with related materials on FBI reorganization may be found here:

An initial critique of the substance of the new Guidelines prepared by James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology is posted here:


SECRET DEPORTATION HEARINGS RULED UNCONSTITUTIONAL

In a rebuff to the Bush Administration, a federal judge ruled this week that the Administration's practice of conducting closed deportation hearings against an untold number of September 11 detainees "violates the Constitution."

The Court agreed that closed hearings may be appropriate in individual cases to protect sensitive information, but found that to presumptively close all immigration hearings connected with the September 11 terrorist attacks was contrary to the First Amendment.

The May 29 decision by Judge John W. Bissell is posted here:

The Justice Department was not happy with the decision, and was expected to appeal. "The closure of these hearings is vital to the ongoing efforts of law enforcement to take reasonable but necessary steps to protect our national security," according to a press statement. "These considerations will inform our decisions and response to the district court's order." See:

Also this week a federal court in Washington heard arguments from the Center for National Security Studies and other groups that September 11 detainee identities must properly be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.


PENTAGON READINESS REPORTS PRESERVED

Congress rejected a Pentagon request to eliminate reporting requirements on military readiness or, alternatively, to limit them to classified formats, writes Elaine Grossman in Inside the Pentagon on May 30. Outside analysts say the readiness reports enable them to contribute to oversight of the vast defense budget. See:


FACTUAL ERROR FOUND ON INTERNET

"The Information Age was dealt a stunning blow Monday, when a factual error was discovered on the Internet," reported The Onion, the satirical online magazine, on May 22. See "Factual Error Found on Internet" here:

Secrecy News will be away next week. Publication will resume the week of June 10.

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

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