from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
August 27, 2001


The pending proposal to make unauthorized disclosures of classified information a felony would apply not only to the roughly three million persons who currently hold security clearances for access to classified information. It could also affect perhaps ten million or more American veterans and retirees who formerly held such clearances.

This point was made by former intelligence analyst Allen Thomson in several usenet discussion groups recently, spurring some vigorous debate.

Mr. Thomson cited the language of the proposed law, which is broadly written so as to encompass everyone who has ever had authorized access to classified information. It would be binding upon anyone who is:

How many living Americans have ever had authorized access to classified information? Ten million, in round numbers? "It could be much more," said an Administration security official. "It could be less. Nobody keeps those numbers."

The official noted that until ten or fifteen years ago, the Air Force and possibly other military services used to clear all of their members. Since that time, the clearance process has become somewhat more discriminating, he said.

The official indicated further that although the number of Americans who were formerly authorized for access to classified information might be very large indeed, that does not mean that all of them actually had such access. "The overwhelming majority have nothing to leak."

But given the capricious nature of the classification process and the fact that authorization alone -- not actual access -- creates the vulnerability, the anti-leak proposal, with its penalty of up to three years in jail, is bound to give pause to those millions of veterans and former government employees who have possessed a clearance, even if it was fifty years ago.

A report in the St. Petersburg Times today says that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman is seeking a compromise position on the anti-leak proposal. "Even though he supported Shelby's bill last year, Graham is looking for ways to satisfy the concerns of the media." See "Graham is referee in battle between secrets and leaks" by Sara Fritz:

Four news organizations asked the Senate Intelligence Committee to defer the scheduled September 5 hearing to allow time for further deliberation, the Washington Post reported on August 25. See:

But the proposed legislation may be so inherently flawed as to be beyond compromise.

"By prohibiting disclosure of anything that the executive branch says is 'classified,' the anti-leak measure would delegate to the executive branch the power both to define a crime and to prosecute it." See "Anti-leak Proposal Threatens Good Government" by Steven Aftergood from the August 27 Washington Times reprinted here:


The criminal complaint and supporting affidavit against Brian P. Regan, the National Reconnaissance Office contractor employee who was arrested last week on suspicion of espionage, may be found here in an html version:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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