SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 7
January 21, 2005

SEN. CORNYN ON FREEDOM OF INFORMATION

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) is emerging as a new congressional leader on freedom of information policy and openness in government.

A hardline conservative Republican, he is one of the few members of his party to explicitly identify public access to government information as a positive value. (Rep. Christopher Shays, a moderate House Republican, is another.) More often, openness seems to be viewed by Republicans as an unwelcome assault on executive authority, particularly in national security affairs.

"The cause of open government has been a top priority throughout my career in public service," wrote Sen. Cornyn, who was previously Attorney General in the State of Texas.

Two years ago, Sen. Cornyn helped broker an amendment to limit the scope of an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act that was sought by the National Security Agency (SN, 05/22/03). Last year, he was among those Senators who voted in favor of disclosing the annual intelligence budget total, a perennial proposal which serves as a threshold test of sanity on classification policy.

"I have an ambitious open government agenda for the 109th Congress as well," he wrote recently, including increased oversight and proposed revisions to the Freedom of Information Act.

Senator Cornyn explained his principles of open government and outlined his plans for the current session of Congress in the Fall 2004 issue of the LBJ Journal of Public Affairs (www.lbjjournal.com).

A copy of that article, entitled "Ensuring the Consent of the Governed: America's Commitment to Freedom of Information and Openness in Government," is posted here:


GONZALES QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Attorney General nominee Alberto R. Gonzales last week submitted some 200 pages of answers to questions posed by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The written responses amplify and in some cases modify Mr. Gonzales' previously stated positions on the laws of torture and related issues.

A copy of the written responses is posted here (thanks to KC):


AUTHORITY TO DESIGNATE SSI EXPANDED

The Department of Transportation has expanded the authority of its senior officials to designate information as "sensitive security information" (SSI), i.e. information related to transportation security to which public access is prohibited.

The role of the SSI control marking has become controversial as critics have charged that it is used excessively to inhibit oversight and public accountability.

"The Secretary [of Transportation] is delegating to the Administrators of all Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies, the General Counsel, and the Director of Intelligence and Security the Secretary's authority to determine that information is Sensitive Security Information and available only under prescribed circumstances," according to a January 18 Federal Register notice.

The policy change was first reported by Justin Rood in Congressional Quarterly Homeland Security.


AN ASSESSMENT OF DOD BASIC RESEARCH

New restrictions on the participation of foreign students and scientists in some basic research sponsored by the Department of Defense pose a threat to the scientific health of the country, a new report from the National Academy of Sciences says.

"If this trend continues or expands, inadequate access to engineering talent will be a strategic problem. The solution to the problem will, at best, cost the United States dearly; at worst the problem could cost the nation preeminence in vital areas of technical competence," the report stated (p. 23).

See "Assessment of Department of Defense Basic Research," National Academy Press, 2005:


SECRET GEOGRAPHY IN RUSSIA

A Russian topographer has been charged with illegally divulging state secrets after he sold a catalog of geodesic coordinates for the Republic of Mari El, part of the Russian Federation.

"Investigators are trying to establish what damage has been done, as a result, to the state," according to a January 19 report from Tass News Agency.

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

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