FAS | Government Secrecy | October 2000 News ||| Index | Search | Join FAS

Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
SH-313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-3202

October 27, 2000

The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to express my grave concerns regarding section 304 of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2001, which passed both Houses of Congress on October 12, 2000. I urge you to veto this legislation because of the threat section 304 poses to our democracy.

This legislation, on its face, may seem well intentioned in its attempt to cut down on the leaking of classified information that could affect our national security. But make no mistake about it, this bill attempts to do so in such broad and vague terms, and without regard for the rampant over-classification of government information, that it will have profound effects on the ability of an informed citizenry to keep our government honest.

The proponents of this bill have attempted to quietly avoid this criticism of the legislation, by criminalizing only the disclosure of "properly classified" information. But in a classic example of legislative legerdemain, "properly classified" is then broadly defined to include any information that a person "has reason to believe has been properly classified by appropriate authorities."

This open-ended definition is an embarrassment of riches for those who claim that this bill will protect our national security. Instead, it would require all current and past government officials of any stripe to guess at what might be illegal, while the threat of serious jail time hangs over their heads. This will undoubtedly chill whistle blowers, dissenting officials, and those who occasionally point journalists to public information that is critical of the government.

Ironically, this would harm our national security more than it would protect it by shielding from the public broad categories of information vital to the public's discussion and evaluation of the government. We should never forget that one of the core purposes of the First Amendment was to prohibit the practice of governmental suppression of embarrassing information.

As Hugo Black presciently observed nearly thirty years ago in the Pentagon Papers case:

"In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government."

There may be ways to tighten our laws relating to disclosures of our most sensitive information without chilling the press and core political speech. But the legislation on your desk attempts to protect our national security at the expense of an informed public. And that, in the end, is really no security at all.


Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate

FAS | Government Secrecy | October 2000 News ||| Index | Search | Join FAS