from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 1
January 4, 2005


The President's Daily Brief (PDB), the daily summary of foreign intelligence prepared for the President by the Central Intelligence Agency, is "inherently privileged," according to the CIA, and therefore cannot be publicly disclosed, regardless of age or content.

But the CIA claim that PDBs are somehow categorically exempt from release is being challenged in a new lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, even as two PDBs from 1967 have been newly declassified.

University of California historian Larry Berman filed suit in California last month after the CIA refused to release Vietnam War-era PDBs prepared for President Johnson. Useful background on the case is available from the National Security Archive, which is co-representing Prof. Berman.

See "Professor Sues CIA for President's Daily Brief," December 23, 2004:

Meanwhile, at least two PDBs were declassified and disclosed last month at the Johnson Presidential Library, in a seeming contradiction of CIA's normal PDB non-disclosure policy.

One of the PDBs was released in response to a request from researcher Peter Pesavento, who is studying the Soviet manned space program in the 1960s.

See this April 25, 1967 PDB, which was released to Pesavento last week:

The state of CIA classification policy is such that one no longer asks why information is withheld. Rather, one wonders why anything is ever released.

Why was this PDB disclosed? Based on conversations with library officials, archivists and others, Mr. Pesavento concluded that it could be released because it was not in the standard PDB format, but rather was transmitted to the President by cable when he was at the LBJ ranch.

"What is going on is that Style of Presentation is preventing the PDBs from being released," Mr. Pesavento wrote in an email message. "If it's in the 'Traditional' format, they are going to be resistant. If it's in a cable format, or another format, they will release it.... Whatever other researchers are being told, this is the current reasoning by the CIA."


Perhaps the single most worrisome trend in government secrecy policy is not the continuing growth in classification activity, but the proliferation of security controls on unclassified information.

While there are reasonably well-defined procedures governing classified information, including provisions for declassification and rudimentary oversight, nothing comparable exists when it comes to the multiple, ever-expanding and mutually inconsistent systems for controlling access to unclassified information.

The information control category known as "sensitive but unclassified" is the subject of a recent report from the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The 32 page report amply elucidates the statutes, regulations and directives that cumulatively regulate access to such information, yet it does not exhaust the subject.

See "Laws and Regulations Governing the Protection of Sensitive But Unclassified Information," September 2004 (thanks to RT):


Several major media organizations are working to promote a public dialogue on the value of open government during what they call "Sunshine Week" beginning next March 13.

The initiative seeks to encourage press and public attention to the virtues of openness and to communicate "why open government is important to everyone, not just to journalists." See:

With a few important exceptions, national political leadership in defense of open government has been lacking. But in many parts of the country there is a dawning recognition that something is very wrong with current government information policies, and that something vitally important to America is at risk.

"To a disturbing degree, we've abdicated our individual sovereignty since the [9/11] terrorist attacks," the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen, Texas editorialized last week.

"National security springs from capable intelligence and military organizations, not from autocratic, secretive government that cows ordinary citizens and muzzles the media on which those citizens depend to keep them informed."

See "Liberty Can't Be Traded for Security," Valley Morning Star, December 31, 2004:


For no good reason, most reports of the Congressional Research Service are still not made directly available to the public. New or newly updated CRS reports obtained by Secrecy News include:

"Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004: 'Lone Wolf' Amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," December 29, 2004:

"Border and Transportation Security: Overview of Congressional Issues," December 17, 2004:

"Intelligence Community Reorganization: Potential Effects on DOD Intelligence Agencies," updated December 21, 2004:

"The National Intelligence Director and Intelligence Analysis," updated December 3, 2004:

"Terrorism and National Security: Issues and Trends," updated December 21, 2004:


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

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