from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 107
December 11, 2003


Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet has intervened to prevent the partial declassification of a 1968 issue of the President's Daily Brief, overruling for the first time an interagency panel that had ordered release of the document.

DCI Tenet invoked the authority that was granted by a March 2003 Bush executive order which permits him to block the declassification decisions of the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel.

Independent historian Peter Pesavento had requested declassification of the President's Daily Brief (PDB) dated November 26, 1968 because it reportedly discusses the status and implications of the Soviet manned lunar program, a subject of his current research interest.

Remarkably, the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), an executive branch body composed of representatives of five member agencies that considers declassification appeals, sided with Pesavento and voted in favor of partial declassification of the requested PDB. That is, a majority of the panel rejected the CIA's position and said the document could be safely disclosed in part.

But then DCI Tenet stepped in to block disclosure. Exercising the new secrecy powers granted him by President Bush for the first time, he vetoed the ISCAP decision.

Pesavento said that, pursuant to the provisions of the executive order, the National Archivist, an ISCAP member, has appealed the DCI's veto to the White House. But to date, no response to the appeal has been received from the White House. Under existing bylaws and orders, there is no deadline for response, ever.

J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office and ISCAP executive secretary, today confirmed Pesavento's general account but said he could not discuss it in detail because "it is a subject of pending deliberation."

Trying to imagine CIA's rationale for blocking release of the document, Pesavento speculated that "If this PDB gets okayed for declassification, then this will be the 'opening of the floodgates' it is feared to all PDBs now in the LBJ archives...and beyond...."

In fact, CIA has consistently treated PDBs as sacrosanct and beyond the purview of ordinary mortals. Regardless of their specific contents, the fact that the PDBs served as their intelligence conduit to the President should render them permanently beyond legal access and independent review, the CIA seems to believe.

The CIA approach is far from the ideal of a threat-based information security policy, in which classification is strictly limited to sensitive information that could damage national security. It represents instead a kind of fetishism on the part of CIA officials.

Most recently, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks that is investigating September 11 clashed with the White House over access to PDBs, finally reaching an arrangement for limited access by a subset of Commissioners.

President Bush this year weakened the ISCAP by giving the DCI veto authority over the Panel's decisions to declassify CIA records. See executive order 13292, section 5.3(f):

The CIA had challenged ISCAP in the past, but in a 1999 opinion the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) determined that ISCAP was authorized by the President to declassify CIA records over CIA objections. That authority has been drastically curtailed by President Bush, leaving CIA free to classify, and over-classify, at will. See the 1999 OLC opinion here:

Peter Pesavento and space expert Charles Vick of are authors of a groundbreaking new study of the Soviet lunar program. Their paper, entitled "The Moon Race 'End Game': A New Assessment of Soviet Crewed Lunar Aspirations," will be published in Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly in three parts beginning in January 2004.


The mindless, reflexive secrecy surrounding the President's Daily Brief (PDB) is also evident in an internal CIA memo discussing how to respond to a request for PDBs and other intelligence materials that were sought by requester Michael Ravnitzky.

"I don't believe we can get away with an NRL on the subject case," the May 2002 memo states with startling candor. NRL here stands for "no records located."

Following some impudent commentary on Ravnitzky's motives and intentions, the CIA memo concludes by proposing redaction and release of "specified NID/CIBs" [referring to the National Intelligence Daily and the Central Intelligence Bulletin] while recommending that the Agency "deny the PDBs in accordance with out current policy."

Another CIA official concurs. "We may be in a stronger posture to defend the PDBs if we have made a reasonable accommodation on the CIBs."

A copy of the CIA memo on the Ravnitzky Case, marked "Administrative - Internal Use Only," was obtained by Secrecy News and is posted here:

Mr. Ravnitzky expressed surprise at the memo, pointing out that he had filed his request in good faith, seeking only a small number of specifically identified documents.

"Such intelligence briefings should be released unless their release would cause harm to national security, or would disclose sources and methods, or would cause some articulable harm," he told Secrecy News.

"The CIA is handling these ... requests in such an unusual manner because they cannot articulate any harm that would be caused by the release of portions of these ancient and historically invaluable daily briefings," Ravnitzky said.


"We can no longer keep our nation safe if we do not commit ourselves to learning the languages and cultures of critical areas around the world," said Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ).

But "more college students currently study Ancient Greek (20,858) than Arabic (10,596), Korean (5,211), Persian (1,117), and Pashto (14) put together," he said.

Accordingly, Rep. Holt and several colleagues this week introduced a bill entitled the National Security Language Act that use federal grants and other incentives "to strengthen the national security through the expansion and improvement of foreign language study." See:


Whole libraries of unclassified government documents continue to quietly vanish from the public domain, as more and more government web sites are moved behind a firewall to an access-controlled network.

Such is the case with the Army's Reimer Digital Library, one preeminent source of online doctrinal publications that is "in the process of transitioning to a new website" which will be password-protected.

Much of it is already gone, like the March 2000 Army Field Manual 100-12 on Theater Missile Defense Operations, which used to be here:

But those members of the public who, um, forgot their password can still find the document here, courtesy of


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

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