SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 91
September 19, 2002

SECRECY CONSTRAINS 9/11 INQUIRY

The joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into the September 11 terrorist attacks has yielded a substantive new interim report on intelligence warnings in the months and years leading up to the attacks.

But Committee members and investigators said they received uneven cooperation from executive branch agencies in acquiring and declassifying the information they need, reinforcing sentiment in favor of establishing of an independent commission of inquiry.

The new report, presented to the Committee by Joint Inquiry Staff Director Eleanor Hill, provides significant new information about the volume and types of warnings collected by intelligence agencies concerning the potential for al-Qa'ida strike on American targets, as well as the agencies' responses. See the September 18 report here:

But Ms. Hill highlighted the refusal by Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George J. Tenet to declassify two issues.

The DCI, she said, insisted that "any references to the Intelligence Community providing information to the President" must remain classified even when the information in question has been declassified.

The DCI also refused to declassify "the identity of and information on a key al-Qa'ida leader involved in the September 11 attacks... despite an enormous volume of media reporting on this individual," Ms. Hill testified.

The unnamed individual is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Kuwaiti who has claimed responsibility as an organizer and funder for the attack.

"The Joint Inquiry Staff disagrees with the DCI's position on both issues," said Ms. Hill. "We believe the American public has a compelling interest in this information and that public disclosure would not harm national security. However, we do not have independent authority to declassify intelligence information short of a lengthy procedure in the U.S. Congress."

Nevertheless, congressional action to declassify the contested information remains a possibility, said Sen. Carl Levin.

"I hope the [congressional] leadership will let the Administration know our committee will seek congressional authorization to declassify appropriate information if the executive branch refuses," Sen. Levin said.

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Bob Graham and vice chairman Sen. Richard Shelby have both criticized the executive branch for providing inadequate cooperation with their inquiry, and both leaders have now endorsed a separate commission inquiry into September 11, as have a number of other members.

"After September 11, I opposed the creation of an independent commission, because it seemed to me the Intelligence Committees could do the job," said Sen. Arlen Specter on September 17. But "I have now come to conclude that we need an independent commission."


"A PENCHANT FOR SECRECY"

"This White House, this administration, has a penchant for secrecy," said Sen. Robert Byrd in his mini-filibuster on the Senate floor on September 17.

For good and sufficient reason, the coinage "penchant for secrecy" is well on its way to becoming a cliche, having been used to describe the Bush Administration some 200 times in the past year.

Sen. Byrd displayed a particular affinity for the phrase, using it two more times in his rambling, pathos-filled statement. See:

"I have often felt, in recent days, as if this 84-year-old man--soon to be 85; within a few days--is the only thing standing between a White House hungry for power and the safeguards in the Constitution. That is not bragging, that is lamenting," Sen. Byrd said.


SECRECY IN THE NEWS

"Office of Management and Budget officials have been meeting with scientists, civil libertarians, librarians and others to gather advice on whether to limit public access to information that is 'sensitive but unclassified'," reports William Matthews in Federal Computer Week. See "OMB Weighs Info Classification," September 16:

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

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