SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 27
March 25, 2005

CONFRONTING EXECUTIVE BRANCH PROPAGANDA ACTIVITIES

The Bush Administration's repeated use of taxpayer funds to engage in unacknowledged public relations advocacy in possible violation of laws that are supposed to constrain such activity is the subject of a detailed Congressional Research Service analysis, newly updated this week and obtained by Secrecy News.

See "Public Relations and Propaganda: Restrictions on Executive Agency Activities," updated March 21, 2005:

Last month, the Comptroller General issued a legal opinion stating that "several prepackaged news stories produced and distributed by certain government agencies violated [the] prohibition" on the use of appropriated funds for purposes of "publicity or propaganda." See:

But two weeks ago, a White House memo rebutted that opinion with a Justice Department memo declaring that "simply because an agency's role in producing and disseminating information is undisclosed or 'covert'" does not mean that it is propaganda prohibited by law.

"Our view is that the prohibition [against propaganda] does not apply where there is no advocacy of a particular viewpoint, and therefore it does not apply to the legitimate provision of information concerning the programs administered by an agency," the White House stated.

The March 11 White House memo from Joshua B. Bolten of the Office of Management and Budget, with an attachment from the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel, was first cited by the New York Times on March 13 and reported in detail in the Washington Post on March 15. A copy is here:


IMPLEMENTING THE NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER

Ambiguities in the conception of the new National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) may lead to complications in its implementation, a new report from the Congressional Research Service says.

The NCTC was initially established by executive order in August 2004, and then enacted into law by Congress in December 2004. But there are inconsistencies between the order and the statute, the CRS explains, mainly concerning the duties of the NCTC director.

Although technically a statute trumps an executive order, these inconsistencies may nevertheless "complicate the inevitable growing pains associated with establishing an effective, nationally coordinated counterterrorism intelligence effort" the CRS said.

See "The National Counterterrorism Center: Implementation Challenges and Issues for Congress," updated March 24, 2005:

At congressional direction, most CRS reports are not made directly available to the public. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.


AN OVERVIEW OF THE US PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM

The infrastructure of the U.S. public health system and its limited capacity to respond to public health emergencies are explored in another new report from the Congressional Research Service.

"The biggest challenge for federal policymakers is to move beyond planning for each worrisome scenario toward a strategy based on analysis of threats and vulnerabilities -- in short, to understand which are the top priorities in a sea of competing urgent priorities," the report says.

See "An Overview of the U.S. Public Health System in the Context of Emergency Preparedness," updated March 17, 2005:


REOPENING GOVERNMENT

A Washington Post editorial yesterday provided a measured endorsement of legislation that would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act.

The Post noted that the executive branch "has aggressively sought to withhold material -- even such obviously nonsensitive data as aggregate intelligence spending from the late 1940s," and that the need for corrective action is therefore clear.

The editorial also correctly advised that the pending bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Cornyn and Leahy would not by itself remedy inappropriate agency withholding practices or defects in the judicial review process, but that "it would make useful improvements."

See "Reopening Government," Washington Post, March 24:

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

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