from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
October 21, 2000


The Washington Times again published the text of a classified document on Friday, providing a perfect illustration of what is wrong with the new law that will criminalize the disclosure of such documents.

The classified document obtained by the Times is a Secret, NODIS [No Distribution] letter dated 13 January 2000 from Secretary of State Albright to Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov, concerning Russian arms sales to Iran. The Times, and some Senate Republicans, claim to find evidence of Administration misconduct in the Albright letter.

But the important point here is that they would have found nothing at all, if not for the unauthorized disclosure of this classified document.

“Congress was not informed about Mrs. Albright’s letter," the Times reported. “We learned about it in the Washington Times," said Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).

If Members of Congress were able to connect the dots, they would realize that by criminalizing disclosures of classified information they are undermining their own ability to conduct oversight of national security policy. They would curtail their own access -- through the media -- to the information that they need in order to cope with executive branch misconduct.

Most of the text of the Secret Albright letter was published as a sidebar only in the hardcopy edition of the Washington Times on Friday. But the accompanying news story (“Senate to probe Gore's pact with Russian leader" by Bill Gertz) appeared here:


Should the locks on safes used for storing classified information held by government contractors be upgraded? In particular, should they be upgraded using a specialized lock known as the “X-07" that is manufactured by the Mas-Hamilton Company?

Oldtimers will shake their heads and groan. This is a security policy issue that has lingered for a decade now without a final resolution.

Congress, largely at the urging of Members whose constituents include Mas-Hamilton, has repeatedly appropriated money for acquisition of the new electronic lock (which is a sleek, elegant and expensive product).

The Pentagon, which insists that it has higher priorities for its security dollars, has repeatedly declined to spend the earmarked money.

Congressman Bob Riley (R-Alabama) vented his spleen on the subject in a speech published in the Congressional Record on October 17, and posted here:


The Department of Energy announced that it will ask the private Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to conduct an 18 month study of how to strengthen science and security at the embattled DOE national laboratories.

Among other things, the new study is to offer recommendations on “clarifying the boundaries between information to be protected for national security and other purposes and information to be shared openly with the scientific community and the public." It will also provide “an assessment of the impact of polygraphs and other security measures on the morale of the workforce."

It is hard to get too excited about this initiative, since Washington is littered with the reports of failed Commissions, and with reports of successful Commissions whose recommendations were cheerfully ignored. In security policy alone, one thinks immediately of the Aspin-Brown Commission on Intelligence, the Moynihan Commission on Secrecy, the Joint Security Commission, and others -- all of which failed to achieve their promise. The rather sensible report on lab security by Lee Hamilton and Howard Baker, completed only last month, came and went with no discernable impact.

In the very best case, however, the CSIS study may offer a venue in which some new and clever minds could be brought to bear on the knotty problems of security policy. Everything depends on the membership of the study panel, which has not been announced. The panel will be headed, however, by John Hamre, the former Deputy Secretary of Defense and President of CSIS.

It is a sign of the pathological state of the security apparatus that Hamre himself is now under investigation. The Pentagon’s Inspector General is seeking to determine if Hamre interfered with an earlier probe of John Deutch, Hamre’s predecessor as deputy defense secretary, that might have led to an earlier suspension of Deutch’s security clearance. May we suggest polygraph tests all around?

The new CSIS security study was announced Thursday by Dr. Maureen McCarthy, Chief Scientist of the National Nuclear Security Administration, at a forum hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

A DOE press release on the new study is posted here:


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