from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
October 11, 2000


A House-Senate conference on the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2001 yesterday approved a measure that would the criminalize “leaks" of classified information.

Under this radical provision, the unauthorized disclosure of any information that the executive branch considers properly classified would become a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. (Last year alone, the executive branch created over 8 million new secrets. All but a tiny fraction are considered “properly classified.")

In a last minute intervention, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry Hyde, and the Ranking Member, Rep. John Conyers, wrote to the House Intelligence Committee to oppose adoption of the leak statute, noting that they had been given no opportunity to consider the measure, though it falls within the jurisdiction of their Committee.

Reps. Hyde and Conyers further pointed out that the measure “has profound First Amendment implications, and goes to the very heart of the ability of the public to remain informed about matters of critical public interest, which often relate to governmental misdeeds."

“Moreover, since the Executive Branch asserts unilateral authority to define what information should be classified, this extension would grant the Administration a blank check to criminalize any leaking they do not like."

Finally, “We are particularly concerned that there have been no public hearings and no public debate on this measure, which is similar to measures Congress has consistently rejected for the past 50 years," they wrote.

Because the leak statute is such a radical deviation from established practice, and because it is being legislated in defiance of established procedures, it has already suffered a loss of moral legitimacy. As a consequence, one must expect that it will be frequently violated.

The intelligence authorization conference report is expected to come to the House floor on Thursday. The text of the Hyde/Conyers letter is posted here:


The Pentagon’s investigation of computer security violations committed by John Deutch has stalled because Deutch, who has a pretty good understanding of how the security system works, is simply declining to answer questions about his actions.

In particular, a Pentagon press briefer stated yesterday, “It's our understanding that ... material was indeed transcribed onto floppy disks, but we do not have those floppy disks; those have not been recovered. It would be a question we would need to ask of Dr. Deutch -- Do you still have them? Where are they? What did you do with them? --Questions of that sort."

“But he has declined, through counsel, to answer questions on that, so far, at least. And that's where we are."

The transcript of the Pentagon briefing concerning the missing Deutch diskettes is posted here:


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