SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 27
April 1, 2003

ACCESS TO PRESIDENTIAL RECORDS REVISITED

A 2001 Bush executive order that imposed new restrictions on public access to presidential records from past administrations would be overturned under bipartisan legislation that was introduced in the House of Representatives last week.

A White House decision in March 2001 to defer the public disclosure of unclassified Reagan-era records that had been mandated by the Presidential Records Act was one of the earliest signs of the new climate of secrecy favored by the Bush Administration.

The November 2001 executive order 13233 on presidential records pressed that secrecy to an outlandish extreme, proposing a novel form of executive privilege that could be passed on to a deceased President's descendants like some kind of hereditary kingship.

"The Order violates not only the spirit but also the letter of the Presidential Records Act," said Rep. Doug Ose (R-CA) last week. "It undercuts the public's rights to be fully informed about how its government operated in the past."

Rep. Ose and several co-sponsors of both parties reintroduced legislation on March 27 that would legally revoke the Bush order on presidential records. (Prior legislation along the same lines expired with the last Congress.) See his introductory statement on "Revocation of Executive Order Limiting Access to Presidential Records" here:


CHUCK HANSEN, NUCLEAR HISTORIAN

Chuck Hansen, a pioneering researcher into the technical history of nuclear weapons whose creative exploitation of the Freedom of Information Act helped open up an ocean of previously classified historical records, died last week.

His documentary spadework quietly nurtured the burgeoning field of nuclear history. References to his work are commonplace in footnotes to scholarly publications in the field and his name, as often as not, can also be found in the authors' acknowledgments.

Mr. Hansen's 1988 book "U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History" came as a lightning bolt that illuminated an entire landscape of technological endeavor, and quickly became a collector's item. A document collection titled "Swords of Armageddon" followed in 1995 on CD-ROM.

Mr. Hansen was not noticeably troubled by the question of the role of declassified technical data, if any, in facilitating nuclear weapons proliferation. That, he seemed to feel, was somebody else's problem. The same perspective is apparently shared by one online bookseller in New York who is offering a copy of his "U.S. Nuclear Weapons" for $595.00 with the blurb "Buy it before Osama does!!"

There are lots of neat "Chuck Hansen stories" that deserve a place in the social history of the Freedom of Information Act, if such a thing is ever written.

In one remarkable episode, an FOIA request from Hansen prompted an FBI investigation because, the government wrongly believed, there was no legitimate way that he could have known about the specific document that he was requesting. See "File an FOIA Request and Meet the FBI" in Secrecy and Government Bulletin, Feb/Mar 1994:

An obituary, "C. Hansen, collected nuclear arms data" by Dan Stober, appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, April 1:


GRAHAM ON MOYNIHAN ON SECRECY

"One of the most fitting tributes we could pay to Pat Moynihan would be a heightened recognition of the damage that excessive secrecy exacts on our Government's credibility, and to recommit ourselves to a Government which trusts its people to know the truth."

So said Sen. Bob Graham in an homage to Senator Daniel P. Moynihan on the Senate floor on March 31.

While many public figures have lately spoken out in praise of Moynihan, Senator Graham, who is expected to seek the Democratic presidential nomination next year, is the only one who has stressed Moynihan's work on secrecy, in what might be seen as a bid to claim the late Senator's anti-secrecy mantle for himself.

"As a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I can tell you that this administration is being excessively cautious in keeping information from the American people," Senator Graham said. See his March 31 statement here:


OFFICIAL RESOURCES

The Supreme Court's decision early last month to send a Freedom of Information Act case back to a lower court (Department of Justice v. City of Chicago) was assessed by the Justice Department Office of Information and Privacy in "Supreme Court Vacates and Remands in ATF Database Case," March 25 here:

Presidential directives as an instrument of national policy were discussed by information policy expert Harold C. Relyea of the Congressional Research Service in "Presidential Directives: Background and Overview," updated February 10:

The CIA's Historical Review Panel presented recommendations to the Director of Central Intelligence concerning "the Agency's position that budget figures from the early years of the CIA must remain classified," the Panel's latest report notes. Though the report does not explicitly say so, the Panel obviously told the DCI to modify this anachronistic position, a move that may have legal significance as budget secrecy is litigated. See the latest Panel report here:

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

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