SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 21
March 8, 2005

GOVERNMENT SECRECY CONTINUED TO RISE IN 2004

The production of national security secrets continued to accelerate last year, rising to 16 million classification decisions in 2004 from 14 million the year before, according to new government statistics.

Since the Bush Administration took office in 2001, annual classification activity has increased by a staggering 75%.

The latest figures were presented in congressional testimony last week by William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office.

"Based upon information furnished our office, the total number of classification decisions increased from 9 million in FY 2001 to 11 million in FY 2002, 14 million in FY 2003 and 16 million in FY 2004," he said.

The FY 2004 figure, which had not previously been disclosed, will be formally announced in a report to the President due at the end of this month.

Mr. Leonard preemptively cautioned that not all of this new secrecy is unwarranted.

"For the sake of precision, I would note that, during the period from FY 2002 through FY 2004, the U.S. Government built a new structure for homeland security and engaged in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and against al-Qaeda, so it cannot be said conclusively from these data that the increase during this period in the number of classification decisions was due solely or even substantially to the phenomenon of 'over-classification'," he told a House subcommittee on March 2.

A different set of questions was left unasked and unanswered in this account: Did excessive classification activity leave the nation needlessly unprepared for the attacks of September 11? Did excessive secrecy prematurely foreclose debate on the best way to constrain Iraqi WMD programs and confront Saddam Hussein? Has secrecy inhibited accountability for violations of human rights norms?

Mr. Leonard testified at a hearing of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays, on the subject of "Overclassification and Pseudo-Classification."

Prepared testimony and related materials from that March 2 hearing are posted or linked here:


HANS BETHE

Physicist Hans Bethe, who died Sunday, was a scientist and a citizen of extraordinary stature.

Much of what needed to be said of him can be found in this expansive obituary by William J. Broad of the New York Times:

What remains to be said is difficult to say, since a suitable vocabulary is lacking. Bethe embodied a conception of citizenship anchored in scientific activity, which gave it substance, direction and a kind of dignity. He was a last, late exemplar of 19th century German Bildung, which emphasized the disciplined self-cultivation of the personality. And though he did not think in such terms, his life may perhaps be considered a final echo of the aborted German-Jewish encounter of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

As an FAS sponsor, Bethe spoke with clarity and courage on issues of arms control and disarmament. In a 1997 letter, he urged President Clinton to declare an end to U.S. development of weapons of mass destruction of all kinds.

His 1997 letter, the President's response, a New York Times story and an appreciation by the late Sen. Moynihan, may be found here:

Three lectures by Bethe have been posted online by Cornell University here (flagged by www.armscontrolwonk.com):


HISTORICAL INTELLIGENCE BUDGETS: ANOTHER VOLLEY

In the latest round of a continuing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit over whether the CIA should be obliged to disclose historical intelligence budgets, the CIA said that it should not be compelled to reveal the size of the 1963 CIA budget to the Federation of American Scientists, because FAS already knows what it is!

"Indisputably, plaintiff has in his possession the very budget figure that he now demands," the CIA told a federal court March 1, asking that the matter be dismissed as moot.

That is faulty reasoning, we replied March 7. "There is no FOIA exemption for information that is already in the public domain, or for information that may already be known by the requester."


TAX BENEFITS FOR SECRET AGENTS

Homeowners who sell their primary residences after two years enjoy substantial tax benefits from the profits of the sale. A new bill introduced in the Senate would extend those benefits to U.S. intelligence personnel who are serving abroad and are thus unable to fulfill the residency requirement.

"If they had been stationed away from home while serving their country, they were essentially punished with higher taxes on the sales of their homes," observed Sen. Jay Rockefeller, introducing the bipartisan legislation on February 28.


NEW OFFICIAL RESOURCES

The Department of Energy released its latest report to Congress on inadvertent disclosures of classified nuclear weapons information in declassified files at the National Archives. Out of 1.4 million pages of publicly accessible documents examined, reviewers found a thousand or so containing classified information of varying levels of sensitivity. See this October 2004 report, released February 2005:

The State Department has published the latest volume of its official documentary history called Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), which deals with the United Nations from 1969-1972. Among the salient issues of the time were the question of how to structure Chinese representation and the selection of a new Secretary-General to succeed U Thant. The entire volume is posted online here:

New legislation introduced by Senators Cornyn and Leahy to amend the Freedom of Information Act was assessed by the Department of Justice Office of Information and Privacy, which blessed the initiative as "a development that holds the possibility of leading to significant improvements in the Freedom of Information Act." See:


PRC VIEWS HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE US

Last week the U.S. State Department issued its 2004 annual report to Congress on human rights practices around the world.

Within days, China countered with its own report on "The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2004."

"As in previous years, the [State Department] reports pointed fingers at the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions (including China) but kept silent on the US misdeeds in this field," the new PRC report said. "Therefore, the world people have to probe the human rights record behind the Statue of Liberty in the United States."

Consisting largely of boilerplate criticism based on Western sources, the PRC response illustrates that the State Department human rights reports have a struck a nerve. But it also shows how the U.S. has increasingly come to be perceived as hypocritical on questions of human rights and social welfare. See:

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

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