DoJ Attorneys Damaged Secrecy Oversight, FAS Complaint Says

01.03.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Attorneys at the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel violated the executive order on classification and damaged oversight of the secrecy system last year when they refused to process a request from the Information Security Oversight Office for an interpretation of the order, according to a complaint filed yesterday (pdf) by the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy.

Last January, J.William Leonard, the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), wrote to the Attorney General seeking an opinion on the applicability of classification oversight requirements to the Office of the Vice President after that Office ceased to cooperate with ISOO oversight.

But in July, Steven G. Bradbury of the Office of Legal Counsel wrote back that the Justice Department “will not be providing an opinion addressing this question.”

By refusing to provide an opinion, Mr. Bradbury appears to have violated the President’s executive order, which requires that “the Attorney General… shall render an interpretation” of any disputed matter when requested by ISOO. A response is not optional, and yet no response was provided.

Yesterday, FAS asked the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate the Office of Legal Counsel’s handling of the dispute between ISOO and the Office of the Vice President (OVP).

In his July letter (pdf), Mr. Bradbury explained his failure to respond by claiming that the dispute had been resolved. But Mr. Leonard said last week that “from my point of view, the matter is not closed.”

Mr. Leonard, who retired this month, told Newsweek last week that the unresolved conflict with the Office of the Vice President was a “contributing” factor in his decision to leave government.

By refusing to process the ISOO request and to adjudicate the conflict with the OVP, as required by the executive order, the Justice Department deprived ISOO of one of its Presidentially-authorized tools for conducting oversight of the classification system.

And by yielding to the OVP’s extreme view, the Justice Department has introduced new deformities in the classification system. So, for example, the classification activities of the Vice President’s National Security Advisor are now said to be exempt from ISOO oversight even though the classification activities of the President’s National Security Advisor must be reported to ISOO.

This incoherent new policy is attributable to professional misconduct by Justice Department attorneys, the FAS complaint argues, because they were obligated to respond to the ISOO request and refused to do so.