from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 112
October 27, 2006

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Keeping secrets from the press and the public may be frustrating and occasionally illegal. But executive branch secrecy directed at Congress is actually subversive to the extent that it undermines the performance of legislative oversight.

Such secrecy was on vivid display at an April 6, 2006 hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on the Department of Justice, the record of which has just been published.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, the sole witness, consistently evaded or deflected a wide range of basic policy questions.

He was so reluctant to give definitive responses to congressional questions that at one point he refused to endorse the well-established requirements of existing law.

Would the Bush Administration ever conduct "purely domestic warrantless surveillance between two Americans?" Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) wanted to know.

"I'm not going to rule it out," the Attorney General replied, unintentionally making headlines the next day.

The answers to many of the Committee's questions are classified, the Attorney General repeatedly stated, and could not be presented. Eventually, even Republican supporters of Bush Administration policies began to run out of patience.

"Mr. Attorney General, how can we discharge our oversight responsibilities if every time we ask a pointed question we are told that the answer is classified?" said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-WI).

"We need to have answers," he said. "And we're not getting them."

"I am really concerned that the Judiciary Committee has been kind of put in the trash heap," Chairman Sensenbrenner said at the conclusion of the hearing.

Aside from classification restrictions, AG Gonzales displayed a surprisingly weak grasp of many of the issues raised by the Committee; he said "I don't know" at least twenty-one times. He also declined to answer questions that touched on internal Administration deliberations. And he adhered to a view that classified intelligence matters are strictly the domain of the congressional Intelligence Committees, not the Judiciary Committees.

The newly published hearing record includes (in the PDF version) nearly 100 pages of somewhat more substantive follow-up questions and answers for the record, transmitted in September 2006. Topics included domestic surveillance, the President's classification and declassification authority, the possible use of military force against U.S. persons suspected of being terrorists, the use of Presidential signing statements, and so forth. Most of this material seems to restate previously articulated positions.

The hearing transcript features some sublimely obtuse moments.

"Do you have the highest security clearance that is available in the United States Government?" asked Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY).

"As far as I know, yes," the Attorney General said.

See "United States Department of Justice," hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, April 6, 2006 (PDF version linked within):

"We have legitimate oversight questions, and we're told it's classified, so we can't get to the bottom of this," a frustrated Rep. Sensenbrenner said.

"Maybe there ought to be some declassification," he mused.


Secrecy in science is the subject of a series of papers in the latest issue of the Duke University Law School journal Law and Contemporary Problems. The authors consider the consequences of secret science and "propose solutions to help balance the costs and benefits of such secrecy."

See a descriptive news release here:

The full text of the special issue on "Sequestered Science," edited by David Michaels and Neil Vidmar, is here:


The Congressional Research Service has produced its latest annual report on U.S. arms sales abroad. The CRS report, authored by Richard F. Grimmett, has become a standard reference in the field since it is based on closely held official data.

"This report is prepared annually to provide Congress with official, unclassified, quantitative data on conventional arms transfers to developing nations by the United States and foreign countries for the preceding eight calendar years for use in its various policy oversight functions."

Like other CRS products, this report is not made directly available to the public by CRS. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1998-2005," October 23, 2006:

Further information and analysis are available from the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project:

Among other noteworthy new products of the Congressional Research Service are the following.

"Weapons of Mass Destruction: Trade Between North Korea and Pakistan," updated October 11, 2006:

"Extradition Between the United States and Great Britain: The 2003 Treaty," updated October 10, 2006:

"Russian Political, Economic, and Security Issues and U.S. Interests," updated October 19, 2006:

"The National Institutes of Health (NIH): Organization, Funding, and Congressional Issues," October 19, 2006:

"Journalists' Privilege: Overview of the Law and 109th Congress Legislation," updated October 3, 2006:


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

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