SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 77
August 15, 2002

JUSTICE DEPT IMPEDES PATRIOT ACT OVERSIGHT

In a challenge to congressional oversight of its activities, the Department of Justice is evading a series of probing questions concerning the government's implementation of the anti-terrorism USA PATRIOT Act that were submitted by the House Judiciary Committee.

The House Committee sent a series of 50 questions to Attorney General Ashcroft in advance of an anticipated congressional hearing, inquiring as to how the Justice Department had used the "new investigative tools" that were granted by the USA PATRIOT Act, enacted by Congress last year in the aftermath of September 11.

See the June 13 letter sent by Committee Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. and Ranking Member John Conyers Jr. here:

In a partial reply dated July 26, Assistant Attorney General Daniel J. Bryant refused to provide certain classified information requested by the Committee concerning counterintelligence and counterterrorism surveillance activities.

Although the information is clearly within the Judiciary Committee's oversight jurisdiction, Mr. Bryant wrote that it would only be provided to the House Intelligence Committee. That Committee is not conducting oversight of the USA PATRIOT Act.

In its 27 page reply, Justice Department did provide answers to some of the Committee's questions. The Department reported, for example, that criminal wiretap information had been shared with the U.S. intelligence community on two occasions to date.

See the Justice Department response here (1.75 MB PDF file):

The exchange was first reported by Adam Clymer in "Justice Dept. Balks at Effort to Study Antiterror Powers" in the August 15 New York Times here:


THE SECRECY THREAT TO SCIENCE: A CLARIFICATION

Secrecy News yesterday cited a striking statement by Dr. Ronald M. Atlas, quoted in the New York Times, indicating that proposed security policies could imply a change in the very definition of the scientific enterprise.

Contrary to our reading, however, this statement was not intended as a response to new reporting requirements facing U.S. laboratories.

"The quote was misplaced in the New York Times article," Dr. Atlas, president of the American Society of Microbiologists (ASM), told Secrecy News.

At issue, rather, was a more radical proposal that has been floated that calls for withholding from publication the "methods" section of certain scientific papers. This refers to the standard part of a scientific paper that describes the experimental procedure followed by the authors. Publishing such information permits replication and validation of the experimental results, which is a fundamental part of the scientific process.

"What I have said is that if we were to eliminate methods sections or to take other steps to make science non-repeatable that we would be redefining science," said Dr. Atlas. "That would be a threat to science."

"ASM is not willing to take that route," he said. "We have asked the National Academies to host a meeting where these issues can be discussed."


PFIAB PLAYS SECRECY GAMES

The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which advises the President on intelligence policy, is claiming erroneously that the names of its members are a secret, to be disclosed only on a "need to know" basis.

This week David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation, called PFIAB to request a list of its members.

"That information is provided only on a need-to-know basis," he was told by Roosevelt Roy, PFIAB's administrative assistant.

See David Corn's August 14 account in The Nation online here:

In fact, however, the names of the PFIAB membership have previously been published, Corn reported, by the Bush White House itself.

Although the current PFIAB web page does not identify them (as it did during the Clinton Administration), a White House press release on October 5, 2001, named the President's nominees to the Board. See:

The moral of the story is that PFIAB, like other parts of the intelligence bureaucracy, has difficulty distinguishing between truly sensitive information and the most mundane of public factoids.

As a consequence, its official pronouncements on what information must be kept secret cannot be taken at face value.

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

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