from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 84
October 2, 2003


Indignation, righteous or otherwise, continues to mount over the reported Bush Administration leak of the identity of an undercover CIA employee. The subject almost completely dominated yesterday's White House press briefing:

Under the circumstances, it is easy to forget that not all leaks are undesirable acts of political skullduggery. To the contrary, for better and for worse, they are an essential component of the overall economy of news and government information.

In many cases, leaks are the most expeditious remedy to arbitrary or irrational government information policies.

For example, it is the position of the Central Intelligence Agency that the national security of the United States would be damaged if intelligence spending information from half a century ago were publicly disclosed today.

No serious person believes this. But it is the official Agency position, reiterated in a December 2000 Freedom of Information Act denial letter (and now the subject of pending litigation):

Fortunately, however, the CIA's ability to impose its peculiar concept of information security is limited. It is limited, among other things, by other agency disclosures that are beyond CIA's awareness or control.

David Barrett, a scholar of intelligence history at Villanova University, found a number of documents on historical intelligence spending in the course of his archival research for an upcoming book on congressional oversight of intelligence in the early Cold War era.

One of the documents he discovered in the papers of Rep. George Mahon (D-TX), a member of the House Appropriations Committee in the 1950s and 1960s, identifies the amounts of money (and lists their "concealed" locations in the defense budget) that cumulatively comprised the CIA budget for fiscal year 1953.

See the CIA's 1953 budget, courtesy of David Barrett, here:

This is not exactly a "leak" in the ordinary sense. But it is an inadvertent disclosure of CIA information, unauthorized by CIA, and containing information that the Agency has taken trouble to keep classified, even to the point of litigating to uphold its continued secrecy.

For such unauthorized disclosures, and the unauthorized disclosers who disclose them, one can only be grateful.


In a letter to Senator Bob Graham last week, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice dismissed for the foreseeable future the possibility of further declassification of the report of the congressional Joint Inquiry into September 11.

Based on their own knowledge of the classified report, several Democrats and some Republicans had urged the declassification of at least part of the censored 27 pages of the report concerning possible foreign involvement in the 9/11 attacks. That section reportedly addressed the role of Saudi Arabia. The White House said that none of the material could be declassified.

The congressional dispute with the White House had the potential to raise fundamental questions about national security classification policy. But the opportunity was squandered when the Senate Intelligence Committee decided it would not even attempt to exercise its own declassification authority, abandoning the field to the executive branch once and for all. (SN, 09/15/03).

See the September 26 letter from Condoleezza Rice to Senator Graham here:


A compilation of judicial decisions in Freedom of Information Act lawsuits around the country over the past three months has been helpfully provided by the Department of Justice Office of Information and Privacy.

See "New FOIA Decisions, July-September 2003" here:


A new bill introduced in the Senate would expand the sunset provision of the USA Patriot Act so that more of the Act's surveillance powers would expire at the end of a five year period. The bill applies to more than a dozen specific Patriot Act sections that are not covered by the existing sunset provision.

"Immediately after the Patriot Act passed, the administration draped a cloak of secrecy around its use," according to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). "When lawmakers and citizens have attempted to start a dialogue on Patriot-related issues, the response has been to ignore, insult or derisively dismiss them."

With that in mind, Senator Leahy, Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) and several other colleagues this week introduced The Patriot Oversight Restoration Act of 2003 (S. 1695).

"It will allow Congress to re-examine some of the important legal issues that abruptly confronted us in the weeks following September 11, and to re-assess our efforts with the benefit of hindsight and the luxury of time," Sen. Leahy said.

"In light of the serious concerns that have been raised, I think it is appropriate for us to add some triggers to the law that will force Congress to review and affirmatively renew these authorities," said Sen. Craig. "That is what the Patriot Oversight Restoration Act would accomplish, by sunsetting additional provisions that are not currently set to expire.

See the introduction of the Patriot Oversight Restoration Act on October 1 here:


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

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