SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 105
November 29, 2004

UNIONS CHALLENGE DHS NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy that requires employees to sign binding non-disclosure agreements for certain types of unclassified information is "clearly illegal," according to an analysis by two major federal employees unions.

In a rare and potentially momentous expression of resistance to official security policy, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which together represent more than 60,000 DHS employees, asked the Department to immediately rescind the non-disclosure agreement and the related directive that requires it.

"Our members fully appreciate the need to safeguard classified and other highly sensitive information against unauthorized disclosure, as do we," wrote NTEU President Colleen Kelley and AFGE President John Gage in a November 23 letter to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge.

"The Directive and Non-Disclosure Agreement, however, go well beyond this legitimate purpose. They cover a virtually unlimited universe of information that is relevant to important matters of public concern and whose disclosure would have no adverse impact upon the national security."

"The possibilities for abuse inherent in a regime that authorizes unlimited searches and provides supervisors unbridled discretion to censor employee speech by simply stamping documents 'for official use only' are obvious," wrote NTEU and AFGE general counsels Gregory O'Duden and Mark Roth in a detailed analysis of the policy.

Furthermore, "the Directive and Agreement violate both the First and Fourth Amendments. Therefore, we urge you to immediately withdraw the Directive and stop the further dissemination of the Agreement." See their analysis here (1 MB PDF file):

The DHS Directive, which was first reported by Secrecy News on June 11, is posted here:

The DHS Non-Disclosure Agreement, first disclosed by Secrecy News on November 8, is here:

See also "Homeland Security Employees Required to Sign Secrecy Pledge" by Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, November 16:


TRACKING CIA OVERCLASSIFICATION

"What should Congress and the people do about an intelligence service they cannot trust?" asks author Thomas Powers in a searching essay in the latest New York Review of Books (12/16/04, not yet online).

The basic untrustworthiness of the CIA extends beyond fateful matters of high policy, such as whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, to the most mundane details of classification policy.

Clearly, there are innumerable aspects of intelligence that are properly and necessarily classified. But just as clearly, CIA habitually overclassifies, whether from an abundance of caution, or out of bad faith, or simply due to error.

One recent instance of erroneous CIA overclassification was spotted by arms control analyst and blogger Jeffrey Lewis. He noted that a table of historical Chinese nuclear weapons tests that was censored in a recent CIA publication, Tracking the Dragon, was published in full in another intelligence document. He provides copies of both for the reader's comparison.

See "Tracking the Dragon: Unneccessary Redactions" by Jeffrey Lewis in his blog ArmsControlWonk.com, November 26:


WEB WON'T LET GOVERNMENT HIDE

When government agencies withhold information unnecessarily and congressional overseers are dormant or complicit, members of the public are left at a serious disadvantage.

But they are not entirely helpless.

That is the message of two news stories that were coincidentally published today, and that both feature Secrecy News among several other public interest initiatives to promote public access to government information.

See "Web Won't Let Government Hide" by Ryan Singel, Wired News, November 29:

and "Activists Crawl Through Web to Untangle U.S. Secrecy" by William Fisher, Inter Press Service News Agency, November 29:

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

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