ISOO Urged to Compel Vice President to Report on Secrecy

05.31.06 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) should exercise its authority to compel the Office of the Vice President to disclose how frequently it classifies and declassifies information, the Federation of American Scientists urged in a letter (pdf) to ISOO Director J. William Leonard.

For the third year in a row, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) has failed to disclose such data, as all executive branch entities that handle classified information are required to do for publication in the ISOO annual report to the President.

But the OVP did not simply neglect to report the data, it declared that it had no obligation to do so.

OVP spokeswoman Lea Ann McBride told the Chicago Tribune last week: “This has been thoroughly reviewed and it’s been determined that the reporting requirement does not apply to [the office of the vice president], which has both legislative and executive functions.” (“Cheney Keeps Classification Activity Secret” by Mark Silva, Chicago Tribune, May 27.)

There is no basis for this claim that the OVP is exempt from reporting.

“Nothing in the executive order excuses the OVP from reporting on classification activity in the performance of its executive duties merely because it also has separate legislative functions,” I wrote in a May 30 FAS letter to ISOO.

“Since the OVP has publicly staked out a position that openly defies the plain language of the executive order, I believe ISOO now has a responsibility to clarify the matter. Otherwise, every agency will feel free to re-interpret the order in idiosyncratic and self-serving ways.”

FAS asked ISOO either to directly compel the OVP to comply with the executive order under threat of sanction, or else to formally request a determination from the Attorney General on the applicability of the executive order to the OVP.

“I recognize that the OVP’s classification activity is quantitatively small, by comparison with other executive branch elements, and that it could easily be overlooked without much detriment to the aggregate statistical reporting by ISOO,” our letter stated.

“But by casting its non-compliance as a matter of principle, the OVP has mounted a challenge to the integrity of classification oversight and to the authority of the executive order. In my opinion, it is a challenge that should not go unanswered,” I wrote.

“You raise some valid points,” wrote ISOO Director Leonard in an initial email response on May 30. “I will pursue.”