from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
November 13, 2000


While some unauthorized disclosures of classified information may cause damage to national security, even senior intelligence officials admit that other leaks can positively serve the public interest.

CIA Inspector General Britt Snider recently described a case from 1975, when he was a staff member on the congressional Church Committee investigating the U.S. intelligence community, in which a leak to the press served a beneficial purpose.

The Church Committee had been seeking to arrange a briefing from the National Security Agency -- without success. But then:

"In early August, a press leak appeared in an article in The New York Times alleging that NSA had eavesdropped on the international communications of US citizens. The article discussed in general terms the matters we were investigating, and it was a source of considerable consternation for the Committee as well as NSA. The leak had the salutary effect, however, of breaking the bureaucratic logjam that had stymied us. With the allegations now a matter of public record, NSA wanted to explain its side of the story. So, in late August, NSA told me that a briefing was being arranged."

The possibility of such a real-world benefit from an unauthorized disclosure of classified information was not acknowledged in the now-vetoed congressional initiative to criminalize all such disclosures.

Britt Snider’s anecdote appeared in an article published in the unclassified edition of Studies in Intelligence, Winter 1999-2000, which is posted here:

The congressional sponsors of the ill-fated legislation to outlaw all leaks responded to the President’s veto with "howls of betrayal," writes Vernon Loeb of the Washington Post. He reviews the veto and its aftermath in his online column IntelligenCIA:


The State Department has published a new volume of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series concerning U.S. policy towards Korea during 1964-1968. The FRUS series, established during the Abraham Lincoln Administration, is nowadays composed largely of declassified government records that document the official history of U.S. policy.

The latest FRUS volume notably includes an extensive compilation of records concerning the North Korean seizure of the U.S.S. Pueblo, an American intelligence gathering vessel, in January 1968. The crew of the Pueblo was held hostage by North Korea for nearly a year. The ship itself was never recovered, in what was described as an unprecedented compromise of U.S. cryptologic operations and techniques.

The text of the new FRUS volume is posted here (see documents 212-331 on the Pueblo Crisis):

Publication of a companion FRUS volume on U.S. relations with Japan from 1964-1968 has been blocked, because the Office of the Historian at the State Department was unable to secure declassification of numerous key documents. As a result, "the Japan ... volume did not constitute a ‘thorough and accurate, and reliable documentary record of major United States foreign policy decisions’," as required by law. "This volume on Japan will not be printed until it meets these standards. The Historian and the Advisory Committee will continue to seek declassification of the documents withheld," wrote outgoing State Historian William Z. Slany in his Preface to the new volume.

A major obstacle to publication of the FRUS volume on Japan is presumed to be the CIA’s "covert" funding of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, since the CIA has not acknowledged its role in financing the LDP. Nevertheless, one can read about it in a front-page story by Tim Weiner that appeared in the New York Times on October 9, 1994 ("C.I.A. Spent Millions to Support Japanese Right in 50's and 60's").


Walter Goad, a nuclear weapons physicist who spoke out against the government’s handling of the Wen Ho Lee case, died November 2.

Speaking with the authority of a senior weapons designer who had participated in the development of the first thermonuclear weapons, Goad declared that government assertions about the severity of Wen Ho Lee’s actions were "exaggerations, grossly misleading in their import."

Goad’s disinterested and straightforward arguments, along with those of a few colleagues, helped to deflate the government’s more extreme claims and to lay the groundwork for the court’s eventual apology to Wen Ho Lee.

The full text of Dr. Goad’s May 2000 declaration in the Wen Ho Lee case is now posted here:

According to an obituary notice circulated by the Stanford Alpine Club, "memorial donations may be made to the Wilderness Society, 900 Seventeenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006-2506, or to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, P. O. Box 80915, Albuquerque, NM 87198."


To subscribe to Secrecy News, send email to [email protected] with this command in the body of the message:

To unsubscribe, send email to [email protected] with this command in the body of the message: Secrecy News is archived at: