from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 3
January 12, 2004


Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman last week provided the most detailed critique of Bush Administration secrecy policy yet offered by any presidential contender, and proposed a plan outlining specifically how he would tear down what he called the "Bush wall of secrecy."

Under President Bush, "the federal government--which is supposed to be 'of, by, and for the people'--is doing more and more of its own business in the shadows," Lieberman noted in a January 9 statement.

Bush Administration secrecy is "eroding the public's confidence in their leadership and making it harder for independent watchdogs to hold our government accountable," he said.

Sen. Lieberman outlined what he would do differently as President, beginning with a reversal of many of the secrecy positions advanced by the Bush Administration.

He would annul the October 2001 Ashcroft memorandum of Freedom of Information Act policy, which encouraged agencies to withhold information whenever legally possible. He would "commit to no more secret task forces," a pointed reference to Vice President Cheney's controversial closed-door Energy Task Force.

He would "reverse the Bush executive order on presidential records," which imposed extraordinary restrictions on public access to the records of past Administrations. And where the Bush Administration had moved to purge government web sites, he would "ensure that key government information that has been posted on the Internet will remain available to the public."

The most innovative proposal is one to "grade agencies on fighting secrecy," which is intended to inculcate openness as a positive value throughout the executive branch. The Lieberman statement explained:

"In the Bush Administration, secrecy sometimes seems to be a form of loyalty. Joe Lieberman will require and reward openness--by mandating that all agency heads establish and implement an openness plan and then requiring agency officials to disseminate the most information possible, consistent with national security. The plans will be audited and scored in annual Open Government Report Cards," the Lieberman statement said.

The January 9 Lieberman statement on secrecy almost completely escaped public and media attention. A copy is available here:


The Supreme Court today turned away a petition to review the Bush Administration's policy of withholding the names of hundreds individuals detained after September 11. The disclosure of detainees identities and related information had been requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Supreme Court action leaves in place a June 2003 appellate court decision that appears to significantly expand judicial deference to executive branch secrecy. See:

A critical view of that decision was provided by the plaintiffs in the case, led by the Center for National Security Studies, in their petition to the Supreme Court:

The reply from the Office of Solicitor General, which successfully argued against Supreme Court review of the case, is here:

(Italicized portions added after publication on January 12.)


In its "global war on terrorism," the Bush Administration has mistakenly conflated several distinct types of national security threats into a single monolithic threat, according to a new study published by the U.S. Army, and "in so doing ... may have set the United States on a course of open-ended and gratuitous conflict with states and nonstate entities that pose no serious threat to the United States."

"Of particular concern has been the conflation of al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq as a single, undifferentiated terrorist threat. This was a strategic error of the first order because it ignored critical differences between the two in character, threat level, and susceptibility to U.S. deterrence and military action."

"The war against Iraq was not integral to the [war on terrorism], but rather a detour from it," the study, which does not represent an official Army view, concludes.

The study was reported today in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

See "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism" by Jeffrey Record, originally published by the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, December 2003:

(Italicized portions added after publication on January 12.)


The Department of State today published the latest volume in its official Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) documentary series on U.S. foreign policy, focusing on the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

"The volume documents U.S. policy immediately before, during, and after the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war and includes newly declassified documentation on the USS Liberty incident," referring to the 1967 attack on a U.S. naval vessel by Israeli forces in which 34 American lives were lost.

The Liberty incident was the subject of an excruciating and occasionally quite nasty session at a conference on the new FRUS volume at the U.S. State Department today.

Among numerous noteworthy items, the new FRUS volume includes excerpts from the President's Daily Brief relating to the 1967 war.

An editorial note says that the PDB excerpts were "improperly declassified and released." Furthermore, the State Department editors assert, "The declassification and release of this information in no way impacts or controls the declassification status of the remainder of this PDB, other PDBs, or the PDB as a series" (document 151, footnote 1).

In fact, however, the declassification and release of these PDB excerpts demonstrates that such information can be declassified with no adverse effect on national security, contrary to White House claims.

See the full text of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume XIX, "Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967":


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

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