SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2009, Issue No. 38
April 27, 2009

Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/

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OSC VIEWS NEW CUBAN LEADERSHIP

The political leadership of Cuba, which has undergone significant turnover in the past year, was profiled in a new publication this month by the DNI Open Source Center (OSC).

"Raul Castro has overhauled the leadership of top government bodies, especially those dealing with the economy, since he formally succeeded his brother Fidel as president of the Councils of State and Ministers on 24 February 2008," the OSC observed. "Since then, almost all of the Council of Ministers vice presidents have been replaced, and more than half of all current ministers have been appointed."

See "Cuban Leadership Overview," Open Source Center, April 16, 2009:

A handsome poster featuring photographs of dozens of senior Cuban officials was also compiled by the Open Source Center. See "Cuban Leadership Chart," April 16, 2009:

Like most Open Source Center products, these items have not been approved for public release. Copies were obtained by Secrecy News.


SPECTER BILLS SEEK TO REIN IN EXECUTIVE POWER

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) last week reintroduced several bills that he said were needed to limit presidential power and to restore the proper constitutional balance among the three branches of government.

The first bill (S.875) would instruct courts not to rely on a presidential signing statement when interpreting the meaning of any statute. (Similar legislation was introduced in previous sessions of Congress, but was not passed.)

President Bush used signing statements "in a way that threatened to render the legislative process a virtual nullity, making it completely unpredictable how certain laws will be enforced," said Sen. Specter. "As outrageous as these signing statements are,... it is even more outrageous that Congress has done nothing to protect its constitutional powers," he said.

The second bill (S.876) would substitute the United States as the defendant in place of telecommunications companies in pending lawsuits alleging unlawful surveillance. (Sen. Specter also introduced such a bill in 2008.)

"It is not too late to provide for judicial review of controversial post-9/11 intelligence surveillance activities," Sen. Specter said. "The cases before Judge Vaughn Walker [alleging unlawful surveillance] are still pending and, even if he were to dismiss them under the statutory defenses dubbed 'retroactive immunity', Congress can and should permit the cases to be refiled against the Government, standing in the shoes of the carriers."

"The legislation also establishes a limited waiver of sovereign immunity... to prevent the Government from asserting immunity in the event it is substituted for the current defendants," Sen. Specter explained. (As for the likelihood that the Government would assert the "state secrets privilege" to abort such litigation, that is addressed in another pending bill.)

The third bill (S.877), which is new, would require the Supreme Court to review certain cases concerning the constitutionality of intelligence surveillance, statutory immunity for telecommunications providers, and other communications intelligence activities, and would eliminate the Court's discretion as to whether or not to grant "certiorari." The bill was necessitated, he said, by the Supreme Court's refusal to review an appeals court decision that overturned a 2006 ruling by Judge Anna Diggs Taylor which found the Terrorist Surveillance Program to be unconstitutional.

Sen. Specter discussed his approach to these matters in "The Need to Roll Back Presidential Power Grabs," New York Review of Books, May 14, 2009.


INFORMATION NEEDS IN A DEMOCRACY: REQUEST FOR COMMENT

While official secrecy is a serious impediment to democratic vitality, the continuing decline of news gathering, reporting and editorial capacity could be a potential catastrophe. It is still unclear whether new and nascent forms of information sharing can provide a satisfactory substitute.

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy is soliciting public input on a series of questions about information access and use, revolving around the most basic question: "Do you have the information you need to accomplish your personal goals and to be an effective citizen?"

To participate in the survey, go to:


PIRACY, ORGANIZED CRIME, AND MORE FROM CRS

At the direction of Congress, the Congressional Research Service still does not make its products directly available to the public. Recent CRS reports obtained by Secrecy News include the following.

"Legal Analysis of Religious Exemptions for Photo Identification Requirements," April 13, 2009:

"Federal Advisory Committees: An Overview," April 16, 2009:

"Piracy Off the Horn of Africa," April 21, 2009:

"FY2009 Spring Supplemental Appropriations for Overseas Contingency Operations," April 17, 2009:

"Organized Crime in the United States: Trends and Issues for Congress," April 16, 2009:

"Disconnected Youth: A Look at 16- to 24-Year Olds Who Are Not Working or In School," April 22, 2009:

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

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