In compliance with a requirement imposed by Congress, the Central Intelligence Agency declassified and released the executive summary of a CIA Inspector General report (pdf) that was generally critical of CIA performance prior to September 11, 2001.
From a secrecy policy point of view, the most interesting thing about the disclosure is that it was the result of a congressional initiative undertaken against the wishes of the executive branch.
“While meeting the dictates of the law,” said CIA Director Mike Hayden in an official statement, “I want to make it clear that this declassification was neither my choice nor my preference.”
In theory, the CIA’s “choice” or “preference” should be irrelevant to the declassification process. The President has directed categorically that “Information shall be declassified as soon as it no longer meets the standards for classification under this order.” (Executive Order 13292, section 3.1). It is clear from the release of the Inspector General report, which was partially redacted, that it could be declassified. And therefore it should have been.
But the executive order is not self-enforcing and declassification does not occur spontaneously. Without some external stimulus it may not occur at all.
In this case, Congress provided the missing ingredient, thanks to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who authored the amendment to the recent legislation implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
While giving the needed push, Congress did not declassify the document itself, which is arguably within its power, nor did it define the precise terms of declassification, stating only that the document should be “declassified to the maximum extent possible, consistent with national security” — as determined by the CIA.
A more ambitious and unprecedented declassification action is the congressional requirement to disclose the amount of the 2007 National Intelligence Program budget, which must be declassified and released by October 30. No exercise of discretion is permitted.
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