from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
September 12, 2001


The September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has left a void that surpasses human comprehension. Above and beyond the countless individual tragedies, the sophistication of the attack and the extraordinary skill that was harnessed to accomplish its mission of death and destruction reveal a dimension of evil that is usually hidden.

Just as the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor provided much of the impetus for creation of a "central" intelligence agency, so the terrorist attack of September 11, which apparently killed an even larger number of Americans, is likely to shape the future design of U.S. national security policy in equally fundamental ways.

But the lessons learned from the cruel attack need to be drawn carefully and, insofar as it is possible, dispassionately.

"Tragic events almost inevitably result in the promulgation of legislation/executive action that reacts to the moment," according to one Administration official with long experience in such matters. "Most often, these 'solutions' turn out to be short-sighted."

Within the little world of government secrecy policy, "additional classification categories are something I would not be at all surprised to see invoked or suggested," the official said. Also, "Agencies like the CIA and DOD may very well use this occasion to note that declassification is nice, but it is diverting resources (money and people) from their primary missions."

Today, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lashed out at unauthorized disclosures of classified information and said such disclosures are interfering with the nation's response to terrorism. Speaking at a Pentagon press briefing he said:

Secretary Rumsfeld did not explain what prompted his comments, but he may have been responding to remarks by Senator Orrin Hatch quoted in the Washington Post today. Sen. Hatch cited U.S. intelligence intercepts of communications between supporters of Usama Bin Laden referring to the attack as evidence that Bin Laden was involved.

See excerpts from Secretary Rumsfeld's briefing here:

One response to the latest crisis that is already on the agenda is a sharp increase in the intelligence budget, even though there is no clear correlation between intelligence spending and agency performance.

"The Intelligence Community is our nation's vital early warning system and we must support its mission to the fullest extent possible," said Senate Intelligence Chairman Bob Graham in a September 6 press release on the FY 2002 Intelligence Authorization Act. "The funding increase for intelligence contained in this bill represents what must be the first installment of a multi-year effort to correct serious deficiencies that have developed over the past decade in the Intelligence Community." See:

The new bill does not include the controversial proposal to criminalize unauthorized disclosures of classified information, but it does require the Justice Department to assess the need for such a measure and to report back by May 1, 2002.

House Judiciary Committee members Rep. John Conyers and Rep. Bob Barr wrote to the Senate Intelligence Committee on September 6 asserting their committee's jurisdiction over any such anti-leak legislation and urging the Senate committee to dispense with it altogether. See:


The Bush Administration has moved for the third time to delay the release of White House papers from the Reagan Administration in an apparent violation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978.

In an August 31 letter to the National Archives, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales said rather obscurely that yet another delay was required "to review the many constitutional and legal questions raised by potential release of sensitive and confidential Presidential records and to decide upon the proper legal framework and process to employ in reviewing such records on an ongoing basis."

American University historian Anna K. Nelson said the White House action to withhold the records placed the Bush Administration at odds with the clear requirements of the Presidential Records Act.

"I think it's a scandal to hold them back," she told the Associated Press. "The whole point of the Presidential Records Act is to open documents. It goes against the spirit of the law."

See the correspondence from White House counsel Gonzales here:


The State Department's "Foreign Relations of the United States" (FRUS) series, which is the official record of US foreign policy, is not being published in the timely fashion required by law, according to a new Senate Foreign Relations Committee report.

A 1991 law requires that FRUS provide a "thorough, accurate and reliable documentary record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant U.S. diplomatic activity" and that it be published not more than 30 years after the events described.

"A decade after the law was enacted, the Department remains out of compliance with this provision," the Senate Committee found. "The Department has yet to publish 11 of the 34 volumes from the Johnson Administration, which ended in 1969. The main reason for the shortfall, says the Department, is the 'time-consuming declassification process'."

In its defense, the State Department told the Committee that it has received uneven cooperation from the Central Intelligence Agency, which has recently imposed restrictions on research by State Department historians. See excerpts from the Senate report here:


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

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